The world has been transformed by global warming into a desert, setting the scene for the bleak vision of ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ by synth pioneer Gary Numan: “We live in a windswept hell, where dust and death are neighbours.” The concept allows Numan to explore suffering, death, loss, waiting, God, pain and prayer — with heavy electronic music to match.
From the start, on ‘Ghost Nation’, the synthesizers make industrial, dystopian, war-machine noises. Taking the point of view of dead or suffering ghosts in the first person plural allows Numan to develop his outsider, misanthropic narrative, perhaps illuminated by Aspergers insights: “We hide from the world of man, from the cruelty that defines you.”
The unmistakeable voice of Numan summarises catastrophic events: “When the sky came down, when the sun went dark.” He deliberately echoes these sentiments in ‘When The World Comes Apart’: “And when the sun fell down, And when the moon failed to rise.” Again, on ‘Broken’, the imagery is cataclysmic: “I’ve seen the sky on fire… seen the whole world die.” Understandably, the album can feel repetitive, as the concept keeps taking Numan back to similar musical and lyrical tropes.
Atmospheric choir-like chants sound religious and north African or west Asian on tracks such as ‘Bed Of Thorns’, ‘My Name Is Ruin’ and ‘Broken’. Bereft survivors in Numan’s anguished world have left behind distinctions between western and eastern culture. Riffs from the Rif mountains combine with Numan’s bold and catchy synth sequences, which are a potent reminder of his post-punk and pop heyday with ‘Are “Friends” Electric’ (Tubeway Army) and ‘Cars’ in the late ’70s. His 11-year old daughter Persia contributes backing vocals on ‘My Name Is Ruin’, adding a touch of humanity to the machine music and thumping electrobeat.
Percussion is thoughtful, often dramatic, sometimes absent, then rolling menacingly, hinting at gamelan, or building a slow intimidating beat. Fans will be eager to hear these tracks live, when Numan tends to make the most of the nosebleed, eyewatering, legshaking low-end bass registers of his synths. The shafts of electronic noise and pressing, militant groove that break over the initially poetic, mystical, north African verses of ‘Pray For The Pain You Serve’ should be awesome in concert.
It may be close to a concept album, but this is far from a prog project — most of the songs take a pretty regular verse/chorus structure. Yet Numan abandons conventional lyrical form on ‘What God Intended’, his vocal on three dissimilar verses accompanied by snapping synths and discordant loops that suddenly soar into huge wordless choruses. This cinematic note is taken up in the mournful, devotional strings of ‘Broken’ and extra vinyl/deluxe CD track ‘If I said’, reminiscent of Ramin Djawadi’s best work for ‘Game Of Thrones’.
Sometimes the tunes are carried by synths, at other times by Numan’s singing, although his delivery can be akin to incantation on ‘Broken’ or poetry recitation on ‘The End Of Things’ and ‘Mercy’ — a nihilistic track that the short, blasted chorus makes clear is really about “No mercy”, one verse ending with “mercy’s overrated”, tempered by vocal key changes and symphonic synths.
Numan says it’s a post-apocalyptic dystopia that sets the context for these songs, but some of the lyrics hint at dark reality and distressing lived experience. The future appears to be imminent, with US president Donald Trump threatening to remove an entire nation and all its people from the face of the planet, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homes in south Asia, earthquakes devastating Mexico and monstrous hurricanes wracking the Caribbean. Numan has conjured a futuristic album that fits our troubled times perfectly.
Savage (Songs From A Broken World) is out now via BMG
‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ track list:
1 ‘Ghost Nation’
2 ‘Bed Of Thorns’
3 ‘My Name Is Ruin’
4 ‘The End Of Things’
5 ‘And It All Began With You’
6 ‘When The World Comes Apart’
8 ‘What God Intended’
9 ‘Pray For The Pain You Serve’
The vinyl format adds ‘If I Said’ (track 9) and ‘Cold’ (track 12) and ‘If I Said’ also features on the deluxe CD (track 10).