Artist: Gary Numan
CD Title: Spinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)
Label: Machine Music USA Inc.
Genre: New Wave, Synthpop, Alternative
Released: October 15th, 2013
It’s largely useless to discuss opinions in a music review; tastes are subjective, and subject to temporal conditions of character and environment. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another.
That being said, I would find it rather incomplete of me to finish this review without mulling over why the new Gary Numan album, Splinter: Songs From A Broken Mind, didn’t appeal as strongly to me as it might have.
To tell the truth, I really don’t know what it was about the album that failed to hook my interest. Was it Numan’s trademark high, mellifluous voice that failed to inspire a sense of gravitas? Was the musical arrangement too poppy and simple for my taste?
I’m not entirely sure. Because on its face, Splinter: Songs From A Broken Mind is good album. There’s plenty of bombast and energy, and the album is well-produced and slick. There’s plenty of differentiation between the songs, relieving us from the all-too-common drudgery of listening to variations on the same theme throughout the disc. So what’s wrong with it?
The cracks in the surface begin to show during “Everything Comes Down To This”, when the something is missing begins to show itself. The chorus feels stapled on, and though it does a decent job of inserting itself into your brain, it’s a little narrow and thin, and doesn’t hold up well on replays.
It’s a shame, because “I Am Dust” and “Here In The Black” are decent openers. Numan’s voice is flexible enough to alternate flawlessly between the lows and highs of the vocal melodies in “I Am Dust”, and the result is pleasant enough. Quick, staccato whispered vocals in “Here In The Black” are interspersed with orchestral-themed arrangements and a sung chorus. Numan again returns to the orchestral themes in “The Calling”, and it proves to be one of the better tracks on the album once the synth strings begin at about 2:00 in. Drum machines return about a minute later and are seamlessly integrated into the music, and only Numan’s voice serves as a distraction; his nasal (and somewhat whiny) vocals draw away from the strength of the song’s arrangement.
“Splinter” works better, partly for the female backing vocals serving to match Numan’s well, and the downtempo, relaxed meter of the song proves soothing rather than boring. “Lost” is one of the better songs on the album; to imagine Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”, but replacing the angst with a dreamlike reverie, would serve as an apt descriptor of the song.
With that in mind, “Love Hurt Bleed” has a nice, catchy chorus and subsequent bridge that evokes Nine Inch Nails well enough, although Numan’s rolling wail is very different in both style and substance from Reznor’s nasal caterwauling. “A Shadow Falls On Me” is surprisingly unmelodic for this point in the album, after a rigid adherence to melody, and I find it rather jarring and unengaging.
It’s a good point to insert “Where I Can Never Be”, a title that (once again) reminds one of Nine Inch Nails. The song itself feels hollow and thin, partially incomplete, and Numan’s vocals sit still and rigid atop the backbeat rather more flagrantly in this track than the others. “We’re The Unforgiven”, in contrast, finds the vocals leading the music in rather unexpected directions once the song gets going.
“Who Are You” gets rolling nicely right off the bat, and the rhythm is catchy and engaging. “My Last Day” is pleasant and bucolic, barring the introduction of synths of some kind at about 1:30 and then 3:30ish. “My Last Day”, in particular, is well-constructed, and the seamless integration of piano, synths, and a pounding rhythm track make for an engaging and satisfying album closer.
As I write the review, I’m finally struck what’s bothering me about the album, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the music. Splinter: Songs From A Broken Mind doesn’t deserve a bad review, and it won’t get one from me; I merely found myself wishing that Numan simply sang each track an octave deeper. With his signature vocal style being so prominently featured in the mix, and that not being quite to my tastes, I risked writing the album off as unengaging and dull. It’s not—in fact, it’s very good. Numan fans should like it, as well as industrial listeners who like a little less meat on the vocal bone. If you have no other reason to tune in, do so with respect to his influence in directing and shaping the evolution of electronic and industrial music over the last two decades. See if it’s for you. By now Gary Numan well deserves such consideration, and he deserves the consideration from his album reviewers to give credit where credit is due.
Listen to: "I am Dust"
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