Gary Numan gives Planet Earth a voice on dark new album, ‘Intruder’

Image still from video by Chris Coner

Few artists can lay claim to a career as iconic as that of Gary Numan’s. The synthpop icon has had the rare sort of longevity that has, albeit at times quietly, spanned decades. The early dystopian electro-pop of his 1979 debut The Pleasure Principle would not only lay significant groundwork for what was to become the sound of pop music, but would break the boundaries of genre and go on to influence an alarmingly diverse generation of artists. That everyone from Nine Inch Nails to The Sugababes has cited Numan as an essential point of departure speaks towards the strength of his artistry. There’s always been a sort of future forwardness about Numan, not always with regards to his sound but rather his affinity for the tone of the zeitgeist. The artist’s latest album, Intruder is released by BMG and The End, and stands as further evidence of Numan’s innate knack for the discourse of our time. 

Intruder takes its inspiration from a poem written by Numan’s daughter about the destruction of the planet, and arguably a concept album which explores it’s thematic concerns of ecological devastation through the device of Numan assuming the voice of the Earth itself. This adopted point of view is used to its full creative potential on Intruder and with such a provocative central argument, helps avoid the album lapsing into Thunberg-esque trite didacticism. This tectonic role play also directly influences Numan’s aesthetic choices, presenting us with his most angsty collection yet. In characterising a planet at its natural breaking point, Numan seeks out a sound with the greatest potential to simmer and seethe, aptly arriving at industrial goth-rock. It’s Evanescence by way of Kraftwerk, with the flavour heavily informed by the desire for vengeance.

Lyrically, the songs follow suit and are mostly written from the first person perspective of Planet Earth as it prepares to fight back against the abuse it faces from humankind. It’s a dark turn for the artist, but one that looks to help us understand its eco-focussed manifesto by functioning as a sophisticated narrative device. The title track and And It Breaks Me Again, both brooding arias full of darkness and foreboding, are perhaps best demonstrative of this. Intruder in particular works by operating in a space that allows its lyrics to transcend the primary subject matter. It could just as easily be the scornful soliloquy of anyone who has experienced betrayal, and in doing this Numan allows us to relate to the Earth by humanising its plight. 

Such gargantuan thematic concerns tackled vehemently by Numan results in an album that is often breathtakingly cinematic in its scope. Betrayed opens the set with ominous, mournful chanting akin to a call to prayer or battle, and the rolling tribal beat of war drums add a tension and anticipation beneath a cacophony of retro darkwave synths. The same primal urgency courses through the heavier The Chosen. This track in particular sees Numan embrace goth at its fullest, delivering  spectral, lilting vocals on a requiem-like chorus and hardcore industrial synths carried by nu-metal style percussion. In fact, Numan’s vocals across Intruder demonstrate the evolution of his forays into the style of goth. On tracks such as The Gift and melancholic standout I Am Screaming, his usual New Wave style evolves into epic, dirge choruses with hymn-like cadences. 

Adopting a voice and style outside of his usual oeuvre allows Numan to push the boundaries of his artistry on Intruder in a way that he never has before. While 2018’s Savage (Songs From a Broken World) undoubtedly laid the blueprint for Intruder, that album saw Numan enter into darker territory by way of futuristic darkwave that often felt like a natural progression for his brand of synthpop and New Wave. Intruder presents us with a whole new side to Numan and his sound. To embrace the concept album at this stage in his career feels fitting and as the culmination of Numan’s dramaturgical exploits, Intruder is stunningly realised. That he embraces modes of characterisation in his songwriting and allows this to influence the music’s direction makes for an entirely immersive experience. There is a sense of anticipation that arises when listening from start to finish, and Numan manages to craft a body of work with an essential thesis statement that keeps you captivated across its entirety. See the video for Intruder directed by Chris Corner of IAMX below and download the album here

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