Crafting respectable music in these post- ‘Cars’ times has always been an important part of Gary Numan’s vision as an artist. Ever since he hit his stride with 1994’s Sacrifice, his explorations of darkwave and industrial have renewed his credibility as an artist. Yet, for all the newfound success and the frequent mentioning of his name as an influence by younger electronic acts, Numan will perhaps forever be under the shadow cast under that early 80s synthpop hit.
A shame, too, because his latest album, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind), though a continuation of the blueprint laid out in Sacrifice, (and amplified in later albums like 2006’s Jagged and 2011’s Dead Son Rising), is a stunning push into new creative territory. The tired and lazy comparisons to Nine Inch Nails do no justice to the lush and serene soundscapes that are complemented by the crushing pummels of industrial menace. The first track, ‘I am Dust,’ proves a fitting opener of overwhelming electronic pyrotechnics and wall-of-sound guitars, a trademark in Numan’s modern sound. ‘Here in the Black’ recalls bouts of depression in horrific, nightmare-laced juxtapositions of suffocating whispers and explosive shrieks.
The recognizable traits of the electro Godfather’s interpretation of industrial are all present in fiery, frayed spades (notably on lead single ‘Love, Hurt, Bleed’ and the short and manic ‘Who Are You’), but the most striking developments on Splinter are its cinematic arrangements and its new lyrical ventures. Both ‘The Calling’ and the title track roll and churn with enveloping sweeps of symphonic overtones, the latter dripping with haunting middle-eastern trances. Splinter is rife with Numan fanfare of defying God, tales of terror, and a loss of self, but ‘Lost’ sees him in a more fragile light as he recounts the disintegration of his relationship with his wife. No dense layers or vast waves of sound are on ‘Lost’—just Numan and a piano with some distant brooding atmosphere.
To completely move out of the shadow of ‘Cars’ would mean for this genre of music to assert itself to the limelight, and that does not seem to be in the cards anytime soon. Regardless, Gary Numan’s fortitude in pushing himself into that deep, beautiful black void of menace and darkness continues to be a remarkable entity in the underground. Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind) is a new frontier in the synthpop pioneer’s catalog.