Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Gary Numan ~ I, Assassin

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Style: synth pop, jazz-rock, British
Label: Blanco Y Negro Records
Year: 1982
Home: England

Members: Gary Numan ~ vocals/synthesisers/guitar
Roger Mason ~ synthesisers
Pino Palladino ~ bass/guitar
Chris Slade ~ drums/percussion

Additional: Thereza Bazar - b. vocals
John Webb ~ percussion
Mike ~ saxophone/harmonica

There's a point in GN's career where he vanishes from a lot of people's radars & becomes that one hit synthesizer wonder. Though, really he never stopped making music, he just stopped having hits & appealing to the same quasi-mainstream audience. His music also moved from the cold synthesizer heavy pre-industrial "Cars" into a strange new wave-ish fusion territory before reappearing in its old form due to the advocation of student Trent Reznor whose Nine Inch Nails GN has confessed was the music he wanted to do & was trying to do but was facing the wrong way creatively. His 80's is a strange place with highs & lows. Those expecting "Cars" will probably be disappointed on some level. What makes his 80's output both bad & good is GN never stopped experimenting & exploring. The problem was that those who were imitating him were going in a different & more successful direction, while he seemed to be moving farther from "Cars" into more pop, jazz & funk directions ... or, to put it another way, his students were continuing what he started, while he was going farther away from what he started trying to move closer to more known musical elements. Funky rhythms & lots of jazz became the modus operandi of GN in the 80's, which is warm & interesting, but also over-indulgent with weak songs that meander horribly & find a strange home between experiment & pop song. It's all the material that is the opposite of "Cars" & his group Tubeway Army & the reason most folks enjoy GN. His rock outings at the same time also try to hard just with different instrumentation. For a taste of the 80's one place to go that won't disapoint is I, Assassin, his third album of the 80's, which is one of his stronger forays into bringing together synth-funk basslines & some good songs. He was always avant-garde, now he's avant-garde in a new way, more akin to 70's funk fusion then Kraftwerk. Before I go into some of the highlights of the album I should say that if I'm sounding critical, yes, maybe I'm overly critical here I'll confess. But, know that I like GN, give him a lot of respect, but while some albums have interesting musical notions they are not something I want to listen to, outside a few tracks, repeatedly. This is the problem I have with GN's 80's output. It lacks focus & doesn't get my focus. I also like my GN cold & industrial. I expect some disagreement, though some critics have called I, Assassin the end of the line for some years before things get too unhinged for their own good. Though, really, few will disagree GN was at his best in the 70's. The key to I, Assassin & the reason I recommend it is, like other critics, I feel this has the best of everything without veering off too far in any direction, while keeping focused. It's a bit of a bridge or transition album in that sense. From now on GN would flirt would different styles never staying place that creates mixed results. Whether this is due to the pressures of the business or his own creative urges I don't know. "War Songs" has the electro-synth background more familiar to some ears, though feels too short like GN wants to not dwell on the past, & "The House Is Cold" goes back in time to earlier GN days. "We Take The Mystery To Bed" also goes right to the old sound but with a funky bass that is a nice mix of the two styles of new & old. Funk & heavy percussion attack "White Boys & Heroes" & "This Is My House", with fretless jazz bass sliding through "A Dream Of Siam" & the instrumental "Glitter & Ash" as a lead instrument. This jazz bass is really the dominant feature of the album & would come to play an important part in GN's 80's output & where things go off for many fans. So, while I might enjoy this album others might. It's strange that way. But, then, "Cars" was just as polarizing. Perhaps if GN was doing this today it would be better received, but the fusion he was aiming for was a minority musical position of such folks as bassists Randy Coven, Billy Sheehan & T.M. Stevens, but with almost too much free-flowing jazz for GN's own good. The low point is the wandering piece "A Dream Of Siam" that paints a strange Asian picture or the dreamy "Music For Chameleons". It's too much, too wandering, too unfocused trying to do the free flowing jazz thing when we know GN for calculated cold music. In the end, I think this era of GN's career is important in his history, if not the most enjoyable musically. He didn't vanish away but was a very consumate musician, even though many might forget that, & its a fact that needs to be recalled to give him justice. He might be a one hit wonder but he didn't drop off the musical earth. He actually always made music for a minority, so the 80's didn't see anything different happen ... its just potentially a different minority. I was shocked when I first started to get into GN beyond Tubeway Army & his few hit records into this more fusion arena. Even if I don't listen again it expanded my view of his musical world. It also disappointed me, but I'll let you decided which tilts the balance too far in what direction.


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