Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Gary Numan - Telekon

Gary Numan

Released 1980 on Beggars Banquet
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 25/02/2007ce

Side One:
1. This Wreckage (5:26)
2. The Aircrash Bureau (5:41)
3. Telekon (4:29)
4. Remind Me to Smile (4:03)
5. Sleep By Windows (4:58)
Side Two:
1. I'm An Agent (4:19)
2. I Dream of Wires (5:10)
3. Remember I Was Vapour (5:11)
4. Please Push No More (5:39)
5. The Joy Circuit (5:12)

CD Reissue places single We Are Glass between the tracks that were Side One and Two and adds bonus tracks I Die: You Die, A Game Called Echo, Photograph, Down in the Park (Piano Version) & Three Gymnopedies (First Movement).

Gary Numan - Vocals/Minimoog/Polymoog/A.R.P. Pro-Soloist/JP4/Piano/Prophet 5/CP30/Compurhythm/Guitar/Synare/Minibass
Paul Gardiner - bass/backing vocal
Ced Sharpley - drums/backing vocal/percussion
Chris Payne - Viola/Piano/Polymoog
Rrussell Bell - Claves/Guitar/backing vocal/violin
Denis Haines - Prophet 5/piano/ARP/backing vocal
John Webb/James Freud/Simple Minds et al - Handclaps

Prompted by a recent review of Numan's performance of Telekon in the latest issue of Plan B to listen to it again makes me wonder if an ideal Unsung-candidate has been found with this record? Numan was reviled by the music press and decidely untrendy after he decided to retire following this album. Numan released many unsuccesful records afterwards, though in recent years with namechecks, a tribute album and with his take on industrial music, he has kind of found an audience again. Obviously I grew up knowing who Numan was, having a bit of a fondness for the obvious singles; a few years later working at a proto-Amazon workplace (Titles Direct) a group of us spent our time dramatically dropping titles at each other from two seemingly endless and ridiculous sources: Dr Who and Gary Numan. There's nothing quite like going up to a stranger in a pub and stating grandly "Me? - I Disconnect from You," "We Take Mystery (To Bed)", or "Everyday I Die." This lead in turn to getting a copy of the very epic Beggars Banquet compilation Exhibition and the slow realisation that Numan from Replicas to Telekon was something else (and amusingly the early Tubeway Army stuff is very Elastica/alt indie rock!). I even tolerate a few of the records after, though he went a bit jazz/funk before going Mad Max and then really losing it...

The review of Telekon on that South American website where many people buy music mentions Faust, while Jon Savage reported that Numan was getting heavily into Krautrock on the tour prior to this album. So like the early releases of the 80s from the similarly reviled Simple Minds or OMD (who had a b-side called '4 Neu') - though I guess Numan was probably turned onto Krautrock by the original Ultravox (with the '!') who worked with Conny Plank and made a Neu!-like template for the urban disaster world that would become Numan's with My Sex. Another attraction to Numan and Telekon is the fact that the usual suspects in cutting edge sci-fi are invoked - JG Ballard, William S Burroughs, & Philip K Dick. So, as untrendy as he may be, this is the kind of record I like. Perhaps he should release a version of it with a different cover and a suitable Krautrock name and see if people get excited without the stigma? Numan doesn't have an Unsung selection and I think a few of his albums warrant it, Telekon is the most interesting album I think...

His fourth album, Telekon, initially appeared to be a relative of Replicas, an album that had been based around an unpublished SF-novel Numan had written influenced by those usual suspects. There was even a storyline about something with telekenisis that sounds a bit Dying Inside or Flowers for Algernon. I'm not aware that those aspects are still there, though Numanoids would no doubt have the lowdown - Telekon ended up being the conduit for Numan's misery, the sleevenotes of the reissue alluding to the negative experience of fame, while in a more recent interview Numan hinted he had a form of Asperger's Syndrome. Telekon was probably the album where he lost a lot of fans - the hit singles werent' on it and he couldn't top Cars success in the US. It's all in a similar downbeat mood too, the bleak lyrics and the A.R.P. Pro-Soloist sound making it quite one dimensional, as well as frequent use of piano and violin

This Wreckage was bizarrely a single and scraped in the top twenty, the dirgey electronics and Numan's trademark moan probably didn't make anyone tap their foot, while lyrics like "And what if God's dead/We must have done something wrong" and "Suggesting fading to silence" aren't a million miles from someone like Ian Curtis (though maybe this is Numan's In Utero?). Trent Reznor has cited this album, as bizarrely has Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields - the Plan B feature quotes the latter saying that it has more emotion than Kraftwerk and means more. The Aircrash Bureau is another dirgey epic centring on the ghost of a dead pilot - wasn't there a Mekons song with a title like that? The title track has a sound that is pure '17 Seconds'-Cure, which is no bad thing where I reside...

The heavy electronic sound of The Pleasure Principle (1979) comes into play on Remind Me to Smile, which is more success woe from Numan, hypnotic waves of synths and a chorus that pretty much works - probably should have been a single? There's even a bizarre chant that sounds like the missing link between Mark E Smith and early Simple Minds. The first side ends on a minimal ballad Sleep By Windows, which shifts into ambient territory - this sound would lead to the direction apparent in the piano reworking of Down in the Park and the Satie-cover version found as bonus tracks.

The second side of Telekon opens with I'm an Agent, which is a bit more upbeat and again, would have made a decent single - there's something catchy about the refrain, "We are clean/Don't ask - I'm an agent." Once I'm an Agent is over though, Telekon becomes surpemely downbeat and heavy - the PK Dick-inspired I Dream of Wires (bizarrely covered by Robert Palmer), the piano-driven Remember I Was Vapour (a cyborg remembers being human pre-conversion?) and Please Push No More, and the closer, The Joy Circuit. The latter is quite unusual, a viola/violin riff opens the song, at odds with the downbeat piano and A.R.P. dirges that dominate Telekon. The lyrics have been getting more human and now the music is too - there are lots of bits here that could be Krautrock acts like Cluster, Faust and Neu! (though I haven't picked up on any Amon Duul II trademarks as suggested in the Amazon overview).

Telekon was the height of Numan's accidental pioneer work in electronic music - along with Replicas, The Pleasure Principle & the Living Ornaments trilogy, Telekon showcases a fertile period which while sounding of its time still stands up. It would be silly for me to big-up folk like Cabaret Voltaire, Silicon Teens, Suicide and Throbbing Gristle, while ignoring the less trendy likes of Numan, OMD, Simple Minds, and Ultravox. Telekon is a gorgeously downbeat collection of electronic driven songs dripping with depression and paranoia. & like many a Numan fan might say, more than just Are 'Friends Electric? and Cars...

I do promise not to write an Unsung review for the Bill Nelson-produced jazz/funk album Warriors!

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