- Numan still loves his “Cars” era, but not what came afterward.
Best known in the States for his 1980 hit “Cars” and the Top 10 album The Pleasure Principle, Numan found himself dealing with a bout of writer’s block, partly due to pressure to follow up on the success of 2013’s Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind), an outing that was his highest-charting album in the United Kingdom since 1983’s Warriors.
Things turned around when the London native started nicking ideas from a science fantasy novel he’d been working on for the past few years. The book is set in a post-apocalyptic world beset by the aftereffects of global warming. And while he was struggling to figure out how to make that realistically happen, Donald Trump began his presidential run.
“As I was stealing ideas from this book about an apocalypse caused by global warming, I began to notice Donald Trump undergoing his attempt to become president,” Numan recalls. “We had the Paris Accord and it very much looked like the problem was in hand; the world was recognizing it as a problem, and they were doing something about it.”
Cue America’s belligerent deus ex machina. “Arguably, the wrong person comes along at the wrong time,” says Numan of Trump. “And before I knew it, I’d ended up with this concept album. I hadn’t really intended that when I started, but because of Trump it made it so relevant really.”
Returning to the studio with Ade Fenton, a former fan who Numan first started working with on 2006’s Jagged, the storied synth-pop artist emerged with a dozen songs rooted firmly in the science fantasy world he’s been creating in his fiction-writing side project.
The album also focuses on the melding of Eastern and Western cultures, and setting aside religious ideology in order to address the real-life concerns of day-to-day survival. The cover imagery finds Numan swathed in layered clothing and headcovering while standing in a desert setting. The typeface used on the album looks vaguely Arabic. And on a sonic level, Numan creates ambient soundscapes infused with Middle Eastern melodies and instrumentation, driving his point home on the Depeche Mode-flavored “When the World Comes Apart” and the Nine Inch Nails-style “Pray for the Pain You Serve.” Most impressive is “My Name Is Ruin,” the album’s first single, which is sung by Numan’s then-11-year-old daughter Persia. Rightfully proud of her involvement, the 59-year-old Brit is adamant in pointing out that her contribution was a combination of meritocracy, opportunity and need.
“I hadn’t intended for her to be on it, and it’s really not a dad trying to shoehorn his kid onto a record,” he insists. “She is an absolutely amazing singer. She came home from school, and I was working on ‘My Name Is Ruin,’ and I couldn’t get it to work with my voice during these certain parts,” he explains. “She popped into the studio to say she was home and I asked her if, while she was there, she would mind doing some singing for me. I told her it would be really easy and only take a few minutes.
“So she did it and absolutely nailed it,” Numan says. “There is this Arabian chanting thing she did, then she multi-tracked it and she absolutely got it right and ended up doing three completely separate parts, multi-tracked and everything. It really made a difference to the track. And then BMG, the label, decided to put it out as a single and we made a video for it that she’s in. What makes me proud is that she’s genuinely contributing something to this record that I couldn’t do. As a dad, I couldn’t be prouder.”
On the current tour, Numan will focus on material from his last two albums, along with a handful of songs from the very beginning of his career. “I have to say that people need to expect that,” says Numan. “We’re very much focusing on Savage, and we do a fair amount of material from the previous album Splinter as well. I do about a half dozen things from the “Cars” period and the rest of it is much more recent.”
Numan readily admits to caring little about many of his mid-career recordings.
“I don’t really touch anything in the years in between, so there’s something like a 35-year gap,” he says. “I was really happy with what I did in the beginning of my career. Those songs are also quite easy to translate, and you can rework them so they sound quite comfortable alongside what I’m doing right now. So that’s what I’m doing really. It’s the opposite of nostalgic.”