What day is today? Why, it’s Gary Numan’s birthday! That’s right, the man himself has just turned the big 5-5, and we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate with a mixtape! Now, if we have an axe to grind (and if you read this site regularly you should know we’re practically running a hatchet sharpening business on the side), it’s that there’s a habit, even amongst those who have grudgingly admitted Numan’s genius to segregate his body of work into the first four albums and then whichever post 1992 LP is most current.
It’s our stated position that it’s a disservice to an artist whose Discogs entry runs nine scrolls deep to take such a segregated view of his expansive catalogue. So in the spirit of celebration, we set ourselves the goal of cobbling together a one hour mix of tunes which avoids many of the obvious hits and instead paints a broader portrait of the man we hold in such regard. Sure, we had to skip a few records here and there (for the record, there is no representation from Tubeway Army, Warriors, Metal Rhythm, Outland, Machine and Soul or Dark Son Rising), but we feel this collection of deep cuts, B-sides, remixes, collaborations and the odd single from the post-Telekon era shows a side of Uncle Gary not everyone will be totally familiar with. Tape streams and is downloadable from the widget at the bottom of the post: strap yourselves in, this is Music for Chameleons. Happy Birthday Gary, and thank you for everything!
“Photograph” (B-Side from the This Wreckage single, 1980)
A lovely organic bit of piano that adds some synths and production typical of the classic Numan sound. Here’s an experiment for you: keep this in mind as you listen to some of the later material on the tape, the line between them is distinct and clear as day.
“Berserker” (from Berserker, 1984)
Numan’s mid-80s output is dotted with tracks that follow the template of “Berserker”, but none were as properly anthemic as the original model. Some of the better drum programming of the era, plus some serious guitar wailing push this over the top.
“Bleed” (from Sacrifice, 1994)
While Exile coincided with renewed critical interest in Gary as numerous artists began copping to his influence, the preceding Sacrifice was his proper return to artistic form. Buoyed by newfound confidence, he began allowing himself to write darker stormers like this.
“My Breathing” (from Strange Charm, 1986)
One of the more productive and esoteric outcomes of Numan’s long-running love for Prince. Coming across like a cross between “Around the World in a Day” and Tears For Fear’s “Pale Shelter”, this is the highlight of Strange Charm for our money.
“Call Out the Dogs” (from The Fury, 1985)
Numan has written a few songs about his relationship with the press (like the cut that lends its name to this website for example). This one in particular sticks out, firstly as a transitional point between the new wave of his early years and the funk of his middle career, but also as an acknowledgment of his diminishing critical relevance as the Me Decade unfolded.
“The Leather Sea” (from Ade Fenton’s Artificial Perfect, 2007)
Ade Fenton was the co-writer and producer on both Jagged and Dark Son Rising, bringing some distinctive and deep studiocraft that properly suited the latter Numan oeuvre, an era occasionally tarnished by sub-standard productions. No surprise then that Uncle Gary would make a characteristically blasphemous vocal appearance on Fenton’s as yet only solo LP.
“Stormtrooper in Drag” (from Paul Gardiner’s Stormtrooper in Drag 7″, 1981)
The closest thing to a hit to be featured on this comp, it’s easy enough to forget that “Stormtrooper” was technically released by Numan’s first crucial collaborator Paul Gardiner. Though he passed in 1984, his work with Gary after the latter’s first “retirement” yielded this great, vaguely campy NuRo killer.
“Dark” (from Exile, 1998)
Numan’s problems with organized religion aren’t embodied anywhere else to the extent that they are on Exile. “Dark” might be one of the least blatant of the numbers on the album to deal with issues of faith and the hyprocrisy of the church, but you gotta admit, it makes for a great lyrical backdrop for this lush bit of, well, darkness.
“The Sailor in Love With the Sea” (from The 6ths Hyacinths and Thistles, 2000)
The senior staff are somewhat divided on Stephin Merritt, but are unanimous in their respect for his very public admiration of Gary since years before it became fashionable again. After Merritt’s Magnetic Fields did a great job of “I Die: You Die” on the Random tribute album, Numan repaid the tribute by appearing on Merritt’s The 6ths project’s second album.
“A Question of Faith (Anubian Lights Mix)” (from The Mix, 1998)
A remix from one of those Cleopatra releases, which for better or for worse did play a part in making many of the less celebrated Numan records available to the American public, albeit frequently stacked with nonsense bonus tracks from different eras and poor mastering jobs. No idea who Anubian Lights are or were, but this mix is dated in a way we find kind of appealing.
“Music For Chameleons” (from I, Assassin, 1982)
Numan’s early 80s fretless bass obsession yielded plenty of great tracks, but perhaps none so swinging as this. Word to Steve Coogan.
“Little InVitro” (from Pure, 2000)
This song is absolutely, utterly heartbreaking. Like we wrote back in our piece about GN’s latter works it’s a remarkably personal and unoccluded retreat into sorrow from an artist who has often painted himself as the naif or the cynical observer.
“We Are So Fragile” (B-Side from the Are ‘Friends’ Electric? single, 1979)
We finish off with an absolutely murderous B-Side from the early days (and our mixtape series’ namesake!). Managing to sum up both the android paranoia and the pure new wave rock of Numan’s early days, it’s a great example of how many different aspects to Gary’s work there have been since day one.