THE BEST REISSUES OF 2019: The First Recordings of Two Gary Numan Classics

In honor of their 40th anniversaries, Beggars Banquet unveils early mixes of The Pleasure Principle and Tubeway Army’s Replicas

Gary Numan ’79

Gary Numan’s “Cars” sounded like nothing else on the radio in 1979. Far too formal to be punk, its chilly austerity was also far removed from the pop overtures of new wave.

Nor did it readily fit into any other category, like post-punk, No Wave, goth rock, or what have you. It stood on its own and left a lasting impression; it really did sound like it was created by a being from another planet. Forty years on, it’s become Numan’s signature song (and his only single hit in the US), with its naked plea for isolation resonating as strongly as ever; who hasn’t wanted to lock themselves away to escape the insanity of the outside world?

“Here in my car/I feel safest of all,” Numan proclaimed with cool determination, and hey, maybe he was on to something.

 

VIDEO: Gary Numan “Cars”

It was Numan’s first single released under his own name, from his first solo album, The Pleasure Principle, now newly reissued in a 40th anniversary edition, along with an anniversary reissue of Replicas, the last album by Numan’s previous group, the Tubeway Army, both albums bearing the subtitle The First Recordings. These aren’t straight reissues, as they consist solely of earlier versions of the final songs. And they’re sequenced in the running order on the original tapes, making them in effect previews of what was to come.

The songs on Replicas: The First Recordings are drawn from two studio sessions, and a John Peel session for BBC radio. It’s clear listening to the different versions that Numan had a strong sense of where he wanted to go musically and lyrically, even when working on his demos. There are three versions of “Down in the Park” for example (an early version, an outtake mix, and Peel session version), and none of them sound too terribly different from the final version that appeared on the original album (though the radio session version sounds more energized; this is true of the other Peel sessions songs as well). Clearly, Numan had worked out exactly where he wanted to take the songs before even stepping into the studio.

Gary Numan/Tubeway Army Replicas: The First Recordings, Beggars Banquet 2019

What really makes this more of a work-in-progress look at the album is hearing the songs in a different running order. Replicas’ dystopian world of dread and alienation was laid out in cool, clinical detail from the haughty opening of “Me! I Disconnect from You” to the closing instrumental, wryly entitled “I Nearly Married a Human.” Listening to First Recordings, with the songs not coming in that familiar track listing, is like rummaging around in a box of building blocks, before Numan’s decided exactly how he wants to juxtapose place his creations.

That’s much the case with The Pleasure Principle: The First Recordings as well, though in this instance the album also features six previously unreleased tracks. One of those is the first demo version of “Cars,” with a thinner sound and less robust synthesizer work (conversely, the Peel session version has more confidence and is even a little freewheeling). “Tracks” is another previously unreleased cut, and it’s startling to hear Numan singing in a normal, conversational tone in the opening verse, far more laidback in comparison to how he sounds in the final version. 

Gary Numan The Pleasure Principle: The First Recordings, Beggars Banquet 2019

The original Pleasure Principle is such a complete work you can’t imagine any other songs being considered for it. But First Recordings has a few tracks that didn’t make the final cut. Most striking is his venture into classical music with Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1,” which would have fit right into the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange. “Asylum” is as spooky as its title, while “Random” is exactly that, meandering and sounding unfinished.

Numan’s work in electronic music and industrial rock lay the groundwork for so much of what followed in his wake, from the Human League and OMD, to Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. He understood how to make synthesizers have the same kind of punch as a guitar, and that rock instruments can play a role in creating electronic music as well.

These First Recordings editions provide some insight into the careful precision with which Numan crafted his dark visions.

 

VIDEO: Gary Numan Live 1979

Gillian G. Gaar

Seattle-based writer Gillian G. Gaar covers the arts, entertainment, and travel.

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