Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The name Gary Numan conjures up the hit "Cars," and perhaps the idea of "the 80s." Contrary to popular thought, "Cars" was released just before the beginning of that decade, in 1979. And although "Cars" is Numan's most successful and popular hit, it is by no means his best work, at least not according to the artist himself.

Prior to becoming solo artist "Gary Numan," Gary Webb formed a group in 1977 with friend Paul Gardiner and uncle Jess Lidyard, under the name "Tubeway Army." Not to call it legend, but story has it that someone left a Minimoog inside their recording studio, and it was programmed to a sound that caught Numan's attention. The subsequent release in 1979 was a number one album, "Replicas."

Speaking on theme, what is characteristic to Gary Numan's atmosphere in the album "Replicas" is, "[his] fascination with dystopian science fiction and, more importantly, synthesizers." Source. An almost identical infatuation is held by Australia's Midnight Juggernauts, whose seminal album took exactly that title, Dystopia. As well, Philip K Dick's science-fiction novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" which heavily inspired Numan, would later become the adopted screenplay for "Blade Runner," in which the few robots were labeled "Replicants."

At the time, the celebrity single that gathered all the attention was "Are Friends Electric." Whilst this single topped the UK charts, is credited as being the first successful synthesizer-based record after the punk era, and not typical because it lacked a conventional chorus, my interest lies in the first single that was a commercial failure during and prior to the release of the LP, "Down in the Park."

The opening line to this song is, "Down in the park . . ." Truthfully speaking, I have not and I do not want to inquire as to what "the park" truly is, or for that matter, what happens down there. From the looks of the cover (bizarre, yet fascinating), it appears that the park refers to an early form of an amusement park, or is it the sort of park particular to Europe, a garden? What happens in the Park? Who goes there? We are all familiar with the idea of a park by night, and we know well to avoid it. The park hides the homeless, couches the drunk, attracts those that are lost, and among the shadows and barely visible always sits mystery. Incertitude is infinitely more attractive than something familiar, and I choose to leave it that way, at least for myself.

As a song whose ambiance is predominantly dreadful, but promising during its peaks, a song that reconciles dark walls of synths, with climaxes of hope, "Down in the Park" is among the best songs I have come across in a long time, even for those of us who know Bowie, Moroder, Kraftwerk, or least to say, those who supposedly know the 80s. So personable, this song leaves room for only word to describe it: awesome.

Tubeway Army - Down in the Park (1979)

From the same album, Numan's first use of a drum machine:

Tubeway Army - I Nearly Married A Human (1979)

Coincidentally, at the original time of writing this, a new Replicas Redux album was being prepared for production, and was released in March. The album is available for purchase at Amazon.

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