To celebrate today's release of Ministry of Sound's 80's Mix, we investigate how Gary Numan helped spearhead the liberation of synthesiser music from hideous mistreatment in the gloom of deadly serious progressive rock
Tubeway Army has been seen as a seminal transitional record, linking the punk flavour of early singles "That's Too Bad" and "Bombers" with the electronic music and science fiction imagery of Replicas (The Group's follow up to Tubeway Army).
The fat, warm synth tones are employed (along with early drum machines - another cool modern trope) to great effect here. Allowing Numan to create a batch of simple yet effective tunes.
Numan's dystopian vision was responsible for paving the way to a host of Marilyn Manson-type sins. Tubeway Army may not be the most sophisticated end of electronica, but its very simplicity makes it as timeless as hell.
The lead-in track, "Listen to the Sirens", borrows its opening line from the Philip K. Dick novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, while "Steel and You" contains references to androids ("Just my steel friend and me / I stand brave by his side").
These and a number of other tracks feature primitive synthesizer effects, the legacy of Numan chancing upon a Minimoog in the recording studio one day.
Elsewhere the album’s lyrics generally inhabit a seedy world that has been compared to William Burroughs, an author whose influence Numan has acknowledged. "Friends" concerns male prostitution. "Every Day I Die" is about teenage masturbation. "Jo the Waiter" references drug addiction. "The Life Machine" is told from the perspective of a comatose man on life support who can only "watch from somewhere as the loved ones come and go".
The album was initially released in in 1978. Its initial limited-edition run of 5000 (known unofficially as the 'Blue Album' due to its coloured vinyl and cover) sold out but did not chart.
When reissued in mid-1979 by Beggars Banquet, the more commonly known cover art featuring a stylised portrait of Numan was introduced.This release made number 14 in the UK Album Chart.
This re-release came complete with a bonus CD consisting of a live performance recorded live from The Roxy. Moreover, the Beggars Banquet edition re-releases contain classic photographs and informative liner notes by Numan biographer Steve Malins.
If you are a fan of 80's Music then you have a lot to owe to a true pioneer of synthesizer music like Numan, who is often overshadowed by the likes of Kraftwerk and Devo.
For those of you looking to delve deeper into the wonderful music of the 1980's be sure to check out Ministry of Sound's brand new 80's Mix Compilation!
Words: Louis Curran
17 Nov 2014