Gary Numan takes real issue with nostalgia. As a pioneer in both electro and industrial music, Numan has made an entire career out of looking forward. It was his reason for exploring electronic music in the first place, and it continues to be a driving force for him today. As someone who honestly believes that “you’re only as good as your next album or your last album,” with Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind), Numan is poised to rise to a level that rivals his biggest successes with his first band, Tubeway Army. With Splinter, Numan sonically captures Tubeway Army, as well as the harder, darker sounds heard on later albums like Pure and Sacrifice. As tracks like “Love Hurt Bleed” bridge his present with his past (even perhaps acting as an “Are Friends Electric?” for the modern age), always keep in mind that despite having reluctantly done a few “retro” tours, Numan is in no way trying to live off his past glories.
Many weaned on music from the ’90s may not be able to get past the striking aural similarities here to Nine Inch Nails. From the very opening of Splinter with “I Am Dust”, it’s tempting to think that Reznor took over the studio. But, in spite of the heaviness and electro sludge reminiscent of that often found in Reznor’s material, “I Am Dust” manages to capture what Numan found interesting with Reznor and merge it with trademark Numan vocalizations. “Here In Black” also has a very strong NIN feel, at times even sounding like it could have been included in early demos for The Downward Spiral; but, when it comes to Nine Inch Nails and Gary Numan, it’s a serious case of the chicken and the egg.
Splinter is Numan’s first album of entirely new material in over seven years, following 2006’s critically acclaimed Jagged, but this album didn’t take a full seven years to make. The title was revealed shortly after Jagged’s release, but as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” During Splinter’s development, Numan and his wife both suffered bouts of depression, much of which was related to becoming parents (three times over) and the drastic changes that parenthood brings to the individual, as well as a couple.
One result of this emotional turbulence is “Lost”, easily the true heart of the album. A soft, delicate song totally absent of any of the cold, harsh electronics or dystopian technoscape heard elsewhere on Splinter, the sparse “Lost” is easily one of the most beautiful, elegant pieces of his entire career. It’s written from the perspective of a protagonist who has walked out on his new family because he couldn’t handle the changes in lifestyle and life in general, a narrative that seems to act as an exorcism of Numan’s personal fears.
Gary Numan is easily poised for a comeback, even though he never really went anywhere, and Splinter is easily his strongest album in years. Though it may not sound like it, it’s also the product of a man who is very happy with where he is in life. Numan will be the first to admit that he has failed at least three times in his career, including “an absolutely shit album called Machine + Soul,” but with Splinter, Numan has once again found his voice and an inspiration behind his craft.
Essential Tracks: “Lost”, “I Am Dust”, and “Love Hurt Bleed”