The comeback kid

Gary Numan’s second act

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Gary Numan's "Savage (Songs from a Broken World)" is based on a loose narrative about a not-to-distant future in which the world has been ravaged by climate change.
Courtesy of BB Gun Press

In September, Gary Numan’s new album, Savage (Songs from a Broken World), entered the U.K. Album Charts at No. 2.

This, Numan’s 22nd album, marked his highest chart position since 1980’s chart-topping Telekon.

Numan cried for about 10 minutes when he found out.

“I did,” he says. “I had waited so long to be in that kind of position, to be back in the charts again — 35 years or more since I’ve had any kind of success like that. I’ve had an incredibly long career considering how little success I’ve actually had. It amazes me really that I’m still around because I don’t have a lot to show for it, just reputation and legacy, I guess.

“The outpouring of emotions… I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t have any sense that I felt that deeply about it. My wife came over to me and said, ‘It’s No. 2’… ” he stops and laughs a little.

“Even now I get upset.”

For an Englishman whose career was built in the early ’80s on a deliberately android-like persona who delivered dystopian songs about humanity’s relationship with machines, Numan’s really a softie.

It’s early November when we catch up with Numan, who’s home with his family in Los Angeles between the European and North American legs of his tour for Savage.

“This is just a quick 10 days to catch up on what’s happening at the house — we’ve got lots of animals… and children.

“Children and animals,” he corrects. “Every time I come home the children have rescued another cat, so it keeps growing.”

He’s lost count of how many cats his three daughters have brought home, but he thinks there are nine. He couldn’t name all the cats if his life depended on it, but he’s positive there are three dogs.

As for that reputation and legacy he mentions, it’s no joke: a diverse array of artists that includes Kanye West, Prince, the Foo Fighters, Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor have cited Numan as an influence. But those acknowledgments are recent, within the past decade or so, part of what Numan sees as a sort of “reevaluation” of his massive body of work (further evidenced when he received the Ivor Novello Inspiration Award for songwriting this year).

His career began in 1979 with his band Tubeway Army’s hit “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” which became a stepping stone (following Kraftwerk’s 1975 single “Autobahn”) in the synthpop genre that birthed bands like New Order, Depeche Mode and Soft Cell. Pioneering the electro sound, Numan went on to have massive success with his first solo album, The Pleasure Principle. The dream-like synths and staccato vocals on “Cars” made it a classic that still gets airplay today, while the hit “M.E.” has been sampled and covered by electronic artists like Basement Jaxx, Nine Inch Nails and Foxy.

His second solo album, Telekon, was his third consecutive No. 1 album — and his last.

But Numan never stopped making music and, apparently, the 22nd time’s the charm.

Savage is a concept album loosely based on a narrative about a not-too-distant future in which the Earth has been ravaged by global warming. Water is hard to find in the expansive desert that now makes up most of the world’s terrain. There is no joy, only survival.

It’s a story borrowed largely from a science fiction book Numan’s been working on for the last five or six years (an “embarrassingly long time, really”).

He didn’t intend for Savage to be a concept album, but while Numan began to write songs, Donald Trump began to gain steam in U.S. politics.

“He was saying so many things about global warming that I just didn’t agree with. These songs that I’d written down so far became far more relevant than I thought they would be because I’m talking about what may happen if we don’t control the temperature and the whole thing becomes the catastrophe they are warning it might be.

“It’s not meant to be political,” he says. “I’m not pointing my finger at Donald Trump saying, ‘You’re an idiot.’”

He pauses to consider his next statement. “Though I do think that, to be honest, but the album wasn’t meant to [be political].”

Savage works with industrialized plays on Middle Eastern themes, from the dark melodies that run throughout the album to the accompanying artwork and imagery. The lead single, “My Name is Ruin,” features Numan dressed in layers of beige (a sort of reimagined version of Luke Skywalker’s wardrobe on Hoth) moving about a vast desert with his 11-year-old daughter, Persia, who sings on the track.

“In the world I’m thinking about, religion is long gone,” he says. “There’s no place for it. Nobody has any faith any more because of what has happened. There’s no divide between Eastern and Western culture. What fragments remain have become part of one great, big melting pot.”

Political or not, Savage is a triumph for Numan, and a reminder for us all that the future is now.