Gary Numan is one of pop’s hardened doomsday preppers, his albums long imagining robot-led dystopias or the end of days. And he’s learned a thing or two about survival after 45 years in the game. He’s been the chart-topping suburban android who caused David Bowie pangs of jealousy, successfully moved beyond the ‘90s wilderness years to enjoy his greatest commercial success since the ‘80s (his 2017’s ‘Savage: Songs From a Broken World’ reached Number Two in the charts) and is cited as an influence by everyone from Tyler, The Creator to Nine Inch Nails.
Numan’s late-career glow-up continues apace with ‘Intruder’. Sounding like Greta Thunberg in the local goth-disco, it furthers his fascination with ecological collapse and heavy industrial electronics. Inspired by a poem by his 11-year-old daughter, its concept ramps up the bombast, exploring global warming from the earth’s perspective, where the planet is angry, let down and ready to fight back. The track-titles ‘Betrayal’, ‘I Am Screaming’, ‘And It Breaks Me Again’ – say it all.
On paper, it might sound like it has the potential to be toweringly naff, but ‘Intruder’ unfolds as a cinematic experience that ripples with menace. It pulls off the veteran artist high-wire act of sounding fresh and ambitious while still retaining his core DNA. There are uniformly big choruses throughout (particularly on barnstorming single ‘Saints and Liars’) , sleazily paced anthemics, stark analogue synths and myriad references to his classic sounds.
Partially written and recorded during lockdown, ‘The Gift’ is that rarity of a pandemic-influenced song that doesn’t tip its tinfoil-hat to conspiracy theories (a la Van Morrison and Ian Brown), while its disconcerting electronics make it sound like Trent Reznor entering Eurovision. ‘Black Sun’ stars out as a plaintive piano lament, before rising into a Depeche Mode-shaped howl of doom-laden despair. Abetted by his long-term producer Ade Fenton, Numan here conjures up a storm of noise and chillingly sinister soundscapes, whether it’s the blast-furnace percussion of the title track, or the windswept love-in-the-gloom of ‘Now And Forever’.
This record’s author has always sounded slightly out of time – he was austerely futurist in 1979 and then, amid the electro-boom of the early 2000s – which included Sugababes reaching Number One by sampling ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ – was one of the few acts who perversely wasn’t trying to sound like Gary Numan. But in 2021, and with ‘Intruder’, he’s chiming with the times – and sounding thrillingly relevant in the process.
Release date: May 21
Record label: Numan Music