Gary Numan | Pop review

Brighton Dome

Viewers of BBC4's Synth Britannia would have seen Gary Numan's peers virtually queuing up to heap praise on Middlesex's foremost purveyor of dystopian pop electronica. Which was something of a surprise: at the height of his fame, one of Numan's weirder characteristics was his ability to attract hatred from other musicians. His hero David Bowie had him thrown off a television show, then wrote a song about how much he disliked him. "I've never met the guy," chipped in Mick Jagger, "but he's one of those people you absolutely loathe."

Listening to him perform his biggest album, 1979's The Pleasure Principle, it's difficult to see why anyone was so upset by him, unless they had an aversion to choral-sounding synthesizers and songs about alienated robots: Engineers and Conversation bear the mark of a man adept at balancing commerciality with more avant-garde concerns. That's not to say there aren't problems here. In more recent years, Numan has reinvented himself as a godfather of industrial rock. Occasionally, The Pleasure Principle's songs sound awkward resting on top of the genre's standard-issue distorted bass guitar and pummelling drums, something that, to his credit, doesn't seem to pass Numan by. "That was a bit rubbish actually," he offers between songs.

Indeed, he seems more comfortable performing newer material. So do his fans: weirdly subdued even during Cars, they get more excited when he breaks out the distorted guitars, which must be gratifying for the man on stage: perhaps uniquely among his 80s contemporaries, Numan's fans seem less interested in his past than his present. Headbanging, synthpop's former whipping boy looks like a man enjoying the last laugh.

At Sub 29, Cardiff (02920 230 130) tonight, then touring.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Gary Numan
By the time he wheels out Cars and Are "Friends" Electric? to pandemonium, you start to wonder if this really is the Numan of 30 years ago, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

16, Sep, 2011 @4:53 PM

Article image
Gary Numan review – terrace chants for thrashing synthpop star
The Numanoids are out in force for their idol, who throws in guitar and beefy rhythms for this 40th anniversary tour

Alexis Petridis

24, Sep, 2019 @12:23 PM

Article image
When Gary Numan met Little Boots

He arrived in 1979, bringing synthpop to the masses. She is part of the bold new wave reinventing the genre for the 21st century. So what happened when Gary Numan met Little Boots, asks Paul Lester

Paul Lester

03, Dec, 2009 @9:35 PM

Old music: Gary Numan – Cars

George Chesterton: It's one of the greatest singles in pop history – and unlike many of its contemporaries, it has aged well

George Chesterton

05, Jul, 2012 @8:00 AM

Article image
Gary Numan answers your questions

The electronic music pioneer came online to answer questions from readers – here's what he said

Adam Boult

30, Nov, 2012 @2:32 PM

Article image
Gary Numan webchat – as it happened
He never listens to music, thinks America has better opportunities for women, and loves a Tesco shortcake. The electropop pioneer was here to answer your questions. Read the answers in full here

18, Mar, 2015 @2:25 PM

Article image
Gary Numan review – retooled android still sounds like the future
Revisiting his classic albums, Numan blows the PA as he leaves behind the cold, dystopian sounds and gives old “Friends” a new arrangement

Dave Simpson

16, Sep, 2016 @12:39 PM

Article image
Gary Numan and Mary Vango: how we made Are 'Friends' Electric?
Singer-songwriter Gary Numan and makeup artist Mary Vango remember getting a song about a robot prostitute to No 1 without anyone realising

Interview by Dave Simpson

18, Feb, 2014 @8:00 AM

Article image
Gary Numan: 'Critics said I was wooden on stage – I think it's true!'

The 80s electronic star on overcoming stage fright, surviving a midlife crisis and why he'll never do revivals tours

Michael Hann

10, Oct, 2013 @2:46 PM

Gary Numan, The Academy, Manchester

The Academy, Manchester

Dave Simpson

11, Dec, 2006 @10:05 AM