It took him a while, but Gary Numan has found his way back to the beginning. On his latest tour, the electronic pioneer is revisiting his first three albums, playing 1979s back-to-back releases “Replicas” and “The Pleasure Principle” and 1980’s “Telekon” in full over the course of a three-night residency at Metro.
All three albums were largely integral, not only to Numans own career— establishing the reluctant star as the godfather of synth pop —but also to the origins of ‘80s New Wave and the more aggressive industrial era that came after it. The catchy noir of songs like “Cars” have had musicians from Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson to Dave Grohl gushing over Numans legendary influence; even Prince once heralded him a “genius.”
Still, Numan admits, “I went into [these shows] feeling I might be embarrassed about the really old stuff. I wrote the songs a lifetime ago in the 70s, and I had not given them much credit.” But in starting to perform them live again, he says, “[The music] still sounded really powerful, and I began to appreciate why it had the effect it did back then.”
Playing “Replicas,” “The Pleasure Principle” and “Telekon”
When: 9 p.m., May 15-17
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Tickets: $31 for single day pass; $71 for three-day pass
Back then, in the vibrant playground of late 1970s England, when punk and a cesspool of rock ruled the charts, Numan had hit upon something few other mainstream artists were doing at the time —unseating guitars and drums in favor of machines to produce a range of more alien sounds.
“It wasn’t a calculated move, just pure luck,” he says, remembering playing his first synthesizer at Spaceward Studios in Cambridge. Numan had booked time with his punk band Tubeway Army when he discovered a mini Moog in the corner of the studio.
“I had never seen a real one, but I was very geeky and liked the buttons,” he recalls. “I turned it on and the first key I touched had this huge bass growl and the whole room shook. To think that one finger could produce an earthquake, I was sold on it immediately.”
Though he initially had pushback from his label and eventually dropped the band, the forward-thinking, sci-fi-themed “Replicas,” “The Pleasure Principle” and “Telekon” shot up the charts, and made Numan an overnight solo star. His android alter ego also helped, fitting well into the character era, though initially it served to hide the crippling self-doubt that he admits still lingers nearly 40 years later.
“Every time I walk into the studio I’m nervous. I have to make myself go,” he admits. Even so, Numan has remained quite prolific, releasing 17 additional albums, though none ever lived up to the early hype. “I feel like every album I’ve made since 1982 has been labeled a comeback album,” he jokes.
In many ways, the 2013 album “Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)” did mark a notable return to form with some of the best reviews of Numan’s career, leading to one of his biggest tours to date and inspiring a couple of documentary features.
One of them, “Android in La La Land,” has been making the rounds at film festivals the last several months. It focuses on Numan’s move to Los Angeles in 2012 with his wife and young daughters and shows a familial side that he’s largely kept under wraps. Numan admits his wife had given him gentle pressure to move to the States the entire 24 years they’ve been together, but the transition has also admittedly provided him with renewed focus. After the success of Splinter, Numan is now working on his next album due out next year and says, “I’m thinking of moving to film or television [scoring] at some point.”
It would be a natural fit for the artist who says his interest in music has always been about sound and the enhanced technologies that are used to distort it. “I’m honestly not a good player, I don’t care about solos and all that s---. I just like noise,” he says. “That’s why I gravitated instantly to the synthesizer. And really I’m doing the same thing I did back then, it just seems to make more of a mark on me now that I’m looking back on it.”
Selena Fragassi is a freelance writer.