Can it really be thirty years since Gary Numan led Tubeway Army over the top, out of the trenches and into the no-man's land of post-punk electronica? Apparently it can, and this deluxe reissue of Replicas, now bundled with a bonus disc of singles, B-sides and early versions of the original tracks, is an appropriate tribute to one of rock's renaissance men. Numan played everything, bar bass and drums, on the album, only recruiting his Army when he was ready to advance into touring. The shock and awe generated by the first single from this album - Are 'Friends' Electric? - was only reinforced by his part-robot, part-Bowie-as-alien image. Rapidly accumulating sufficient technology and self-confidence to go solo, Numan went on to blitz the album charts and invade stadiums around the world for half the next decade.
Replicas was the second album by the band, Tubeway Army, though by this point it was Numan who was the focus; going solo following the success of this album. He helped spearhead the liberation of synthesiser music from hideous mistreatment in the gulag of deadly serious progessive rock. Using early Ultravox and Bowie and Eno's Low as his touchstones he achieved commercial recognition while maintaining the icy dislocation, key to the sci-fi 'machine' phase of the Ashford boy's career. Filled with numbers that would withstand the ravages of time and remain in Numan's setlist for years such as Me! I Disconnect From You and Down In The Park, the album, amazingly, still sounds fresh.
A lot of this has to do with the current trend of all things analog and old-style. The fat, warm synth tones are employed (along with early drum machines - another cool modern trope) to great effect here. Allowing Numan's bleat to ride simple yet effective tunes. Numan's dystopian vision was responsible for a host of Marilyn Mansun-type sins. Yet that would be like blaming Black Sabbath for all the rubbish metal that followed in their wake. And like Sabbath the original material is still as doomily brilliant as ever. Replicas may not be the most sophisticated end of electronica, but its very simplicity makes it as timeless as hell.
Having confessed both to a hair transplant and a best-hidden admiration for Mrs Thatcher's premiership, his UK career underwent a nosedive in the '80s as desperately frightening as the one he piloted himself through shortly after gaining his pilot's licence. Yet it appears that Gary, after years of being the butt of so many jokes, is having the last laugh. --Al Spicer
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