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In The Days Of Pyramid Power: The Pleasure Principle

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I’ll bet that, like me, you have A-lists and B-lists of favourite artists.  My A-list is way too long, my B-list longer.  And sometimes (depending on my mood) artists migrate from one list to another.  One of those migrants is the quite brilliant Gary Numan.

Like most fans, I suppose, I first heard Numan when “Cars” became a smash hit in 1979.  I eagerly bought the album it appeared on, The Pleasure Principle, and I’ve likely played that record (yes, record) four or five hundred times in the intervening years.  I’ve played it so often that I’m sick of it and can’t stand to hear it any more.  But, dammit, I still play it over and over.  It’s that good. 

“A Pioneer”

There’s nothing drearier than forcing yourself to watch an “influential” movie or listen to an “important” artist.  (I finally watched The Birth of a Nation, and it’s just awful – I don’t care how important a contribution it made to “the grammar of film.”)  So don’t be put off, if you don’t know Numan’s work, by all the assertions you hear that he was a pioneer of electronic music.  I mean, it’s true – he was – but he is enjoyable as more than a piece of homework.  What will strike new listeners are the same things that strike this old listener every time I cue up The Pleasure Principle: the songs are really good, Numan’s voice is hypnotic, and the playing is an intoxicating and (to modern ears) unusual blend of heavy synthesizers and good old-fashioned rock-and-roll drums, bass, and guitar.  In fact, Numan acknowledges the importance of his musicians on the inner sleeve: “Special thanks to the band, who turned basics into songs.”

So What About Those Songs?

First of all, they all have single-word titles (“Airplane,” “Complex,” “Tracks,” “Cars”) – undeniably cool. Second, they have lyrics about alienation and fear of the future – the best-known of the lot is of course “Cars,” but perhaps my favourite is album closer “Engineers”:  “All that we are/Is all that you’d love to be/All that we know/Is hate and machinery/We’re engineers.”  Every song, however, is catchy (in a scary-robot kind of way), and you don’t even need to see Numan performing with Nine Inch Nails (though you can in the video below) to recognize the influence Numan had on Trent Reznor and (thus?) on industrial and techno.  But I’m not asking you to look into or go back to The Pleasure Principle to trace influences; I’m asking you to listen to it because it’s a damned good album.


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