Synthpop star strikes back with ‘Songs From a Broken Mind’
With the army of artists trying to resurrect their prime, Gary Numan is often looked upon as a washed-up one hit wonder. He’s best known for the 1979 staple “Cars,” a primitive synth-pop track with minimalism and an overly catchy hook. But the pop edge faded with the pioneerism of industrial and darkwave music, and Numan has spent the last three decades trying to perfect and blend these sounds. Despite a few flops, Numan has arrived at newfound maturity with “Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind),” his twentieth studio album released Oct. 14 on Mortal Records.
If you take a look at the singer these days, Numan wears the image of an aging rocker grasping to keep up with recent trends. He has just hit the age for AARP mailings, and his coiffed, smokey-eyed appearance may paint a caricature more than a statement of reinvention. But the singer-songwriter has avoided getting lost into the dark forest of bad genre-melding and turned a new leaf, making for a critically successful piece that’s virtually without fault.
“Splinter” begins on a strong note with “I Am Dust,” a track carrying considerable industrial influence that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Instead of choosing the sometimes-corny synth ploys of his heyday, Numan utilizes pointers from predecessors Throbbing Gristle and “Pretty Hate Machine”-era Nine Inch Nails, who often opted for darker frequencies instead of pop melodies or outright thrash. Many of the tracks, notably “We’re the Unforgiven” and the single “Love Hurt Bleed,” continue in this fashion, making for a cohesive piece in a career that’s been peppered with mishaps.
Sometimes the album’s darkness comes off as shallow. While the melodies of each song are intact and avoid crossing the line of being too dark, many of Numan’s lyrics are shrug-worthy. Following in the tradition of modern industrial rock acts, some of his poetic license is largely derivative, mimicking the callousness and self-deprecation of Trent Reznor’s early catalog.
But even though “Splinter” sporadically contains bad songwriting, Numan can be cut some slack, for the album was born out of depression and struggles with parenthood, a challenge for everyone involved. “Lost,” a sparse track written from the point of view of a new father, only cements this idea, allowing for some reason behind the vague, dark lyrics found on the rest of the album.
Overall, “Splinter” is a solid album and serves as a potential comeback. It’s Numan’s first Top 20 album in the UK in the last 30 years, and the man’s drive should be admired if he managed to crawl out of his hovel so quickly. But the takeaway is this: while his latest material revolves around concepts of mental illness and life struggles, the recent exorcism of personal demons has him dancing on a high note, which is where Gary Numan should rightfully stand.