All-Time Albums: #46



1 Me! I Disconnect From You 3:22
Are ‘Friends’ Electric? 5:25 (UK single, #1)
3 The Machman 3:08
4 Praying To The Aliens 4:00
Down In The Park 4:24 (UK single, did not chart)
6 You Are In My Vision 3:14
7 Replicas 5:00
8 It Must Have Been Years 4:02
9 When The Machines Rock 3:15
10 I Nearly Married A Human 6:29

In today’s industry, an act would not survive three flops in a row at the outset of their career. Luckily for Gary Numan and his Tubeway Army, in 1979 this was not such an issue, and all was forgotten when single number four went all the way to the top of the UK chart.

“Are Friends Electric?” was a phenomenal record, driven by a monster rhythm section and the biggest f***-off synth/guitar riff imaginable. There wasn’t even a chorus, just that riff over and over again between verses. It sounded like the future. Punk rock, you’re having a laugh. THIS is where it’s at now.

And so Gary Numan would conquer the charts for a year or two, building up a very loyal fanbase that for a while would ensure his singles often debuted at their peak position (as such, he was about 15 years ahead of the game) and each album from 1979 to 1982 would go Top 10. Replicas is where it began, even though it wasn’t technically his first album.

If you were growing up in the early ’70s, then TOTP appearances such as the infamous Bowie/Ronson performance of Starman had the power to awaken something, if only a sense of “what the hell is this? this is fantastic! it’s from another planet!”. In the very late ’70s, the sight of a static, glaring Gary Numan performing “Are Friends Electric?” arguably had a similar effect. It did on me.

Until then, I really wasn’t fussed at all about pop music. Some of it was nice, and catchy, and you’d see ABBA or Wings or whoever on the TV and think of it as good entertainment, songs that might stick in your head. But this was completely different. It would take a couple more years for me to really “get” pop music in the way I do now, but Numan planted the seed with that record and its follow-up, Cars.

It was sophisticated electronic music (with a concept, too, not that I knew or cared about that as an 8 year old) and yet it had a directness, an attitude that a child could clearly understand and find appealing. I was never an outcast, that would also come a bit later on, so I wasn’t identifying with some sort of alienation. That bloody riff was just FANTASTIC. In the way the Dr Who theme might have been, or something from Star Wars. Quite a primal reaction. And, listening to the album some 25 years or so later on CD, that primal nature in the music was still very much there.

There are synths and (probably) drum machines, but it’s a hybrid of technology and a good old-fashioned band. And they absolutely rock (there’s even a track called When The Machines Rock). Replicas does not mess about. It has such a sense of purpose and focus, a get-out-of-my-way attitude that cannot fail to impress.

Its theme of humanoid clones (parallels with Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and of course the subsequent Blade Runner movie three years later) was pretty much fully formed and everything surrounding the album, from the lyrics to the artwork to the way Numan appropriated a stage persona to project these songs (and those from The Pleasure Principle and Telekon) is bound up in that conceit. But Replicas wasn’t a massive success and an influential album on the decade which followed it because Numan came up with a neat idea about aliens, it succeeded because of that gargantuan single.

“Are Friends Electric?” made a lot of people sit up and take notice, and when they looked deeper they found a very, very fine album.

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