Ageless synth-rocker Gary Numan is back with a fierce and fascinating 14th solo album. ‘Intruder’ is a perfect foil to the sounds of the broken wastelands on his 2017, ‘Savage’ album. Numan gives our battered planet a voice that sonically rips through you, full of anger, sadness and betrayal.
Numan is undoubtedly making music he wants to make. Gone are many of the business & financial pressures that he felt back in the mid-'90s. In his revealing 2020 autobiography, (R)evolution, he ends the book looking ahead to his return to Wembley Arena, as part of the upcoming ‘Intruder' tour, following a gap of 40 years. Numan says himself that it "will be the final, glorious part of the jigsaw I've been putting together since 1981", after his regretful, knee-jerk statement, prior to the last time he played the venue, that he was quitting touring at the peak of his career. But this album, his 18th as a solo artist, is not an introspective spotlight on Numan, but more global - a much ‘bigger picture project.
Intruder follows 2017, post-apocalyptic Savage: Songs From a Broken World, his most commercially successful album in almost forty years. Intruder compliments the themes highlighted in ‘Savage’, however not from a human perspective, but from the viewpoint of our own, wounded planet. As Numan explains, “The planet sees us as its children with a total disregard for its well being. It feels betrayed, hurt and ravaged. Disillusioned and heartbroken it is now fighting back. Essentially, it considers humankind to be a virus attacking the planet. Climate change is the undeniable sign of the Earth saying enough is enough, and finally doing what it needs to do to get rid of us, and explaining why it feels it has to do it.”
‘Betrayed’ sets the table for the whole album. It is lamenting, mysterious, haunting and sonically huge. The Arabic instrumentation adds another level of depth to this opener. The lyrics go right to the core of the planet’s anguish - "I burn for you/you want death, so I'll die for you/you want pain, so I scream for you.”
There is a sense from Numan’s music that the earth has already made its decision to purge humanity so that it can hit the refresh button. You can’t help feeling tremendous sorrow that it may in fact already be too late for us to stop the juggernaut of destruction and re-creation. There is an element of this as you listen to the tracks, leaving a hollow emptiness within you.
The radio static intro of ‘The Gift’ could be straight out of David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ movie. The stripped-back verse builds into the grand, middle-eastern driven chorus, where you can imagine the swirling sandstorm, punctured by the sound of what could be a pack of howling wolves in the mid-section. The planet’s disdain roars through Numan’s voice - “Everything I promised is ending with you." Is the ‘Gift’ our wasted reward of life & nature that we have all abused, or is it a ‘Gift’ to the planet from itself, using Covid-19 as the first weapon deployed in order to eradicate mankind and once again flourish?
The title track ‘Intruder’ has those vast, signature Numan hooks in the chorus that make it one of the best tracks on the album. The invasion of mankind that has led to so much ruin on earth in the eyes of the planet contains a multitude of brilliant, anti-religious and brutal lyrics - "You can hide in the shadows and pretend I won't find you / You can drown in your sorrows and pretend that you're helpless / You can beg for God’s mercy and pretend that he hears you / Don't you just wish that you listened more?"
‘I am Screaming’ sounds like a final, desperate plea with a sprinkle of Far Eastern influenced synth keys to prolong the drama. It seems like we still have a fragile choice to make - "You're welcome to stand with me, you're welcome to stand alone."
‘Is This World Not Enough’ is mechanical and industrially tortured, one of the weaker outings on the LP. On the other end of the spectrum, the piano intro on ‘A Black Sun’ brings space and light to the proceedings, lifting us out of the industrial gloom and despair. There is profound melancholy on this track. It is regretful with the darkest shade of nostalgia - “When I was a child, the world seemed endless / I played the hero and held up the sky.” This track especially brings into focus how the likes of Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails were inspired by Numan, and as time passed, how Numan has been influenced by Reznor. Their music feels inseparable and seamless in many ways.
The late Keith Flint would be proud of the dance-fuelled, rhythmic ‘The Chosen.’ The planet’s disillusionment of our behaviour becomes manic and absorbing within these Numan beats - “How could you turn your hearts to stone / How could you steal their dreams away?"
The brooding guitar feedback on ‘And It Breaks Me Again’ is apocalyptic, making way for a sonically soaring chorus, with some brutally stark lyrics, “Is this how life is, just waiting for sorrow?” The synthesised riff in ‘Saints & Liars’ is exquisite, driving home the message of humanity’s recklessness and hypocrisy. ‘Intruder’ was recorded between sessions at Numan’s home studio in Los Angeles and at producer Ade Fenton’s studio in Bath. It represents their fifth studio album together since 2006.
The slower beat of ‘Now and Forever’ is the only time on the record that Numan lifts the bonnet on a more personal level. The song is a tribute to his wife, Gemma who he met in the early 1990s, and he credits with completely turning his career, and ultimately his life around. As the world seemingly descends into wreck and ruin, Numan has written this to document his eternal love for her, no matter what happens on a mortal level.
‘The End of Dragons’ is a haunting and mesmerising finale. The lengthy intro is followed by piano, leading into the verse. The tribal, metallic beat has a sombre peacefulness to it with complete poignancy in the lyrics - "Sometimes we're scared of the dark. Sometimes we're scared of the truth / Sometimes we are what we fear." - the most horrifying reality and potential cruelty that lies within all of us. Ultimately, we, the human race have become the harbingers of our own doom.
There is no doubt that this is a heavy, serious listen, with a rhythm that doesn’t stray too far off-beam from the industrial, synth foundation of Numan’s work. The production by Ade Fenton is super-slick, creating a wall of deafening sound, and Numan shows no sign of pulling back or slowing down. Although the message of the album is hardly visionary, it remains utterly shocking and devastating, which can be difficult to sit at ease with. However, the subject matter is something that should make all of us uncomfortable to begin to get people to take action and make a change in their own lives, no matter how little that change is. The time for talking is over; the time for action is urgently upon us.