It’s always amazing when an album that was recorded and produced at one point in time is still considered fresh, innovative, and most importantly, innovative years after its release. There are quite a few albums out there that have shaped the sound of Rock, Hip Hop, Soul… many of which is passed on from one generation to another with the same impact that when it was first heard, but the results of its interpretation is different. Gary Numan’s Telekon (1980) is an album that is hailed as one of his finest, but also one of his most influential. And on September 5th, 2010 it celebrated 30 years, this year it marks 33 years.
The first time I heard Gary Numan was back when I was in 8th grade. I was listening to a lot of grunge, metal, and punk rock at the time. My friends and I were basically feeding off of each other, but eventually at one point they stuck to punk. To me, it got tiring and repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, I love my old grunge, punk rock roots but at that point in time it just became so repetitive and bland. I couldn’t tell one band from the other. The only thing for me to do was to venture out on my own and start listening to other stuff. That’s around the time I got into electronic music, primarily with industrial and eventually dance music.
Within that time period, I was listening to a lot of radio because back then you did hear different bands on the radio rather than the same songs over and over like you do today. Eventually, the radio played itself to where I didn’t even notice that the 80’s segment started. Here’s where most of these hits were played and you can dance along, bop your head while the rest of the day was more current songs with an 80’s song thrown somewhere in the mix. My ears opened up a lot, and I actually give credit to this segment because I fell in love with these songs. And right then and there, I heard ‘Cars’. The song that sparked an interest and made me research Gary Numan. One song made me want to find out what the hell is going on because it was like nothing else played before or after.
A while passed and around that time Marilyn Manson was making their rounds with Portrait of an American Family (1994) album, and the video to ‘Lunchbox’ was on MTV and on radio. Lunchbox was released as a single with a cover of Numan’s ‘Down in the Park’. I first heard the album through my friend Diana who seemed to be on top of new music all the time, my neighbor Rita had the single. We were kinda on the same wave length at that time, listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, Pantera… a lot of industrial and metal. Although the Marilyn Manson version was really good, it influenced me to seek out more of Numan’s own work. Which was beginning to be a difficult task because the only thing readily accessible was ‘Cars’. In 1996, I managed to purchase Premire Hits, which is a greatest hits compilation that does a great job collecting songs from his career. One that stood out the most was ‘This Wreckage’, among others songs. The opening notes were chilling and quite aggressive. I knew I had to get this album in its entirety because if this was a great representation, imagine the rest of the album! One song lead me to a compilation album that introduced me to a whole career of a man who pretty much changed my ideas of what a keyboard can do.
Telekon is an album that finds a delicate balance between live musicians and electronics. It’s a new wave album without it being bright and dance related. In a way, it’s a punk rock record… with a collection of songs about alienation, disappointment, heartache, and questions. ‘This Wreckage’ starts off with the line “And what if God’s dead? We must’ve done something wrong”… how unsettling is that? Synthetic rhythms throughout songs like ‘I’m an Agent’ and ‘Remember, I was Vapour’ are throughout the album which are perfect examples of a live band vs. electronics. Although, back then at least, the keyboards were played live and had that wonderful cold yet vibrant flow though out the songs. Much is credited to Numan’s songwriting skills but also his band which consists of members from his former band Tubeway Army, bassist Paul Gardiner and drummer Cedric Sharpley. The other band members include Chris Payne (viola, piano, minimoog, polymoog, and backing vocals), Rrussell Bell (guitars, violin, claves, and backing vocals) and Denis Haines (prophet-5, piano, ARP Pro soloist, Yamaha CP-30, whistle, and backing vocals) of which they later formed the band Dramatis with drummer Cedric Sharpley.
As a whole, this album reflects a time period of taking chances with sound. Unlike Kraftwerk which focused on rhythms, Gary Numan focused on leads and complimenting the more traditional instruments. The song ‘Please Push No More’ creates a romantic and humble vibe with the piano and vocals, which the keyboards create an fantasy soundscape. And I think that’s the attraction, it’s the fine balance between the two. One side of the record reflects more on aggression while the other side is more on creating atmospheres.
In 2010, my brother and I went to Orlando, FL to catch Gary Numan perform The Pleasure Principle in its entirety for its 30th anniversary. And although Numan is more in the industrial field lately, it was nice to hear these songs slightly updated and still sounding as fresh as the first time I heard them. It was a really good venue for such a show. The die hard fans were there supporting him and the album that probably changed their lives as well. He did a 30th anniversary tour for Telekon but I think those shows were only in the UK. Currently, Numan is promoting his 20th album, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind), of which we will be seeing him open up for longtime fan, supporter and friend Trent Reznor for the new Nine Inch Nails tour. How exciting is that?! Two of my favorites in one show!
Overall, if you’re a fan of New Wave music before it became completely Pop, this album may be one you’d want to check out. Although you should check out Replicas (with Tubeway Army, 1979) and The Pleasure Principle (1979) as well, Telekon is a fantastic album to jump into. The three albums are considered part of his most innovative releases, in the likes of how David Bowie has Low (1977), “Heroes” (1977), and Lodger (1979). Remember, this album is not going to be a happy, dance related 80’s record so make sure at first spin you’re listening to what’s going on instead of waiting for it to tell you what to do. After a while, the record grows on you and then you’ll be able to groove and dance around.
If you want to dance, I suggest looking up Robert Palmer’s version of ‘I Dream of Wires’. It’s the complete opposite of Numan’s version but with familiar moments. Palmer has worked with Numan on several tracks, so try to find those if you can. That collaboration really created some special and interesting moments. Also, Gary’s collaboration with Junkie XL on Radio JXL: A Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin (2003) and Afrika Bambaataa on Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light (2004).
PAIR THIS ALBUM WITH
O.S. Winery – Red [Columbia Valley, Seattle, Washington 2009]
This is a great wine, so be ready for a nice strong yet silky tone. Red is a blend of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. So it’ll have a nice strong presence on your palette but with a smooth finish. It’s a little high on the tannins, so make sure to aerate properly and let it balance itself. Blends like this one is quite flexible with different meals, but I would drink this one alone or with a tapas style of meal. Consisting of medium toned cheeses, salty salamis, heavy seasoned crackers, and some nice juicy steak slices and sausages.
The bottle also has somewhat of the same color scheme as the album, so feel free to decorate around that pattern!
Vinyl & Vino rating: 4 out of 5
TOP FAVORITE TRACKS
I Die: You Die
Remember, I was Vapour