Gary Numan ‘Berserker’ – Numa variations

February 6th, 2016

‘Berserker’ was the first album released on Gary Numan’s own label after he decided to up sticks and move on from his previous long established Beggars Banquet/WEA home. Numan mentioned in his ‘Praying to the Aliens’ autobiography how he felt that he had outstayed his welcome there, with the attitude that his success had plateaued at an acceptably comfortable level of sales, as evinced by the lack of promotional support, particularly for 1983’s ‘Warriors’ album. Intended as a fresh start, this new home, ‘Numa’ records, would see three Numan album releases in its original incarnation from 1984-1987, before Numan inked a new deal with IRS records for 1988’s ‘Metal Rhythm’ – though Numa would be reactivated again in the 1990s for further new album releases (and reissues).

Gary Numan - Berserker - Numa editions vinyl LP, cassette and (re-issue) CD - front cover designs

^ Gary Numan – Berserker – Numa editions vinyl LP, cassette and (re-issue) CD – front cover designs

This initial ‘Numa’ era came complete with a new sound, with the familiar analogue synthesizers of previous albums largely pushed aside for a more precise, harder edged, sequenced and sampled sound courtesy of the newer generation of digital synths, the PPG Wave in particular proving to be both hero and villain over the course of Numa time, with Numan’s eventual self-confessed over-reliance on it as a source of ideas. (Ironically, Gary has since noted in interviews that it wasn’t actually until much later in his career that he himself would master the art of sequencing and sampling by himself, when it became more a matter of survival when finances dried up.)

Gary Numan - Berserker - Numa editions - vinyl LP, cassette and (re-issue) CD - back cover designs

^ Gary Numan – Berserker – Numa editions – vinyl LP, cassette and (re-issue) CD – back cover designs

As well as the new sounds, this debut Numa album release also witnessed for the first time a new approach by the release of differing versions of the album for different media formats, with the cassette edition of the album containing extended length versions of most of the songs. As well as the ‘Berserker’ album, similar extended versions would also appear for ‘The Fury’, ‘Machine and Soul’, ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘Exile’ over subsequent years.

When later released on CD format, it was the extended versions, as per the cassette release, that made up the first Numa records CD release of ‘Berserker’ (Numa, NUMACD 1001). (There would be a 1991 re-release as well.) As a direct comparison, here is a list of the approximate track timings as a guide, the original vinyl durations as compared with the extended cassette/CD versions.

Vinyl LP Extended Cassette / CD
Berserker 5:50 6:40
This Is New Love 6:15 8:45
The Secret 5:54 6:40
My Dying Machine 5:33 9:04
Cold Warning 4:03 6:57
Pump It Up 4:45 4:45
The God Film 4:41 4:41
A Child With The Ghost 4:04* 4:04
The Hunter 4:31 6:47

* Note: The vinyl LP label states 3:04, but actual track time is 4:04

Following Gary Numan’s championing by a new generation of the great and the good (or, at least, popular…) and his subsequent critical rebirth in the mid 1990s, interest picked up such that ‘Berserker’ (as well as the other original Numa records albums) were re-issued on CD by the end of that decade – and in so doing, a hybrid version appeared, on the Eagle Records CD releases. Firstly, the ‘Numa Years’ 5 CD box set appeared (EAGBX025), but later on individual releases of each album also appeared, including ‘Berserker’ (EAMCD072). These versions mostly took the standard length versions from the original vinyl LP and added a selection of bonus tracks, but along the way, the extended version of ‘Cold Warning’ appears to have made the cut in preference to its standard length vinyl LP version – here is what appeared on the Eagle CDs;

Berserker (5:50)
This Is New Love (6:15)
The Secret (5:54)
My Dying Machine (5:33)
Cold Warning (6:01)
Pump It Up (4:45)
The God Film (4:41)
A Child With The Ghost (4:04)
The Hunter (4:31)

Bonus tracks:

Empty Bed, Empty Heart (3:12)
Here Am I (5:46)
She Cries (6:01)
Rumour (2:50)
This Ship Comes Apart (4:01)

Unfortunately, all is not quite right when it comes to the bonus tracks on this edition – all of them have been transferred at a slightly slower speed than they should be. However, they can all be found on other compilation CDs in the correct form, except for ‘This Shape Comes Apart’. At the time of writing, the Eagle CD editions are long out of print and appear to change hands for above average prices.

Numan’s American label of the time, Cleopatra, issued a largely similar version (Cleopatra CLP 0536-2), but with a different selection of bonus tracks – the extended versions of ‘Berserker’ and ‘My Dying Machine’ plus ‘Empty Bed, Empty Heart’ and ‘Here Am I’, the B sides from the two singles.

New dreams for old…

If you are unfamiliar with the album – and I dare say many may well be, as I think it was a crucial album for many existing fans as their point of departure in their fandom of all things Numan – it is worth a fresh listen. The combination of the increasingly funked-up music and the rather out-there blue hair/white pancake make-up look was probably a step too far, especially coming hot on the heels of the ‘Mad Max’ look of the previous ‘Warriors’ album/tour, causing a good many to move on. The somewhat unique blend of beautiful analogue synth sounds along with piano and viola to the fore of the classic ‘Pleasure Principle’ / ‘Telekon’ era had slowly been making way album by album – to the point where by ‘Berserker’ a cleaner, harder-edged, more precise sound was being fashioned from digital synths and drums, but with more mainstream funk-bass, female backing vocals and saxophone. The crossover tracks of both worlds are the likes of ‘Cold Warning’, viola still present and correct, and ‘The Hunter’, with a trace of the kind of anthemic sound familiar from the likes of ‘We Are Glass’. Elsewhere, ‘The God Film’ starts off pretty much a re-write of Brian Eno’s ‘Skysaw’ in its chord progressions. ‘This Is New Love’ had previously been premiered in a fairly different version on UK Saturday evening primetime TV earlier in 1984, the most striking difference being the complete absence of the female backing vocals, while in a fairly radical departure for Numan at the time, a fair amount of ‘The Secret’ is sung instead by guest vocalist Zaine Griff.

All in all, I still hold something of a soft spot for this album, even though it has less of the unique qualities of the earlier work.

Propaganda – ‘Complete Machinery’ Cassingle (ZTT, CTIS12, 1985)

January 27th, 2016

A particularly fine example of ZTT and their multi-format splendour that helped to foist Propaganda into the consciousness of the world with the polished perfection of ‘P:Machinery’, styled here as ‘COMPLETE MACHINERY – A CASSETTE COMPILATION OF PROPAGANDA’S THIRD SINGLE’. It was one variety of the first outing for ‘P:Machinery’ as a single in August 1985, which came with standard 7″ and 12″ formats plus this lovely cassingle. (It would soon be joined, in the UK at least, by clear vinyl versions and a ßeta mix 12″ not long after – and then, just before the year’s end, a second life in ‘Reactivated’ remixed 12″ and 7″ form… but that’s another story…) A QUARTER HOUR OF ‘P: MACHINERY’ PLUS ‘FROZEN FACES’, the inlay card for this card spells out nice and clear in capital letters. COMPLETE MACHINERY IS NOW NUMBER 107 IN AN INCIDENTAL SERIES. BETTER STILL IT IS A PART OF NUMBER TWELVE IN THE ACTION SERIES, it adds further.

Propaganda 'Complete Machinery' cassingle, front case design

^ Propaganda ‘Complete Machinery’ cassingle, front case design

What was found on the cassette’s eye-catching clear shell and Super Ferro spools as captured in bright sunshine here? Let me detail what made up ‘Complete Machinery’ (the same programme repeated either side of the cassetter, fact fans…):

  1. Introduction
  2. P:Machinery (Connected)
  3. Separation
  4. Frozen Faces

‘Introduction’ is a short 25 seconds or so snippet of vocal – Play, Prepare, Punish, Persist, Ply, Profit, Position, Propaganda, Perform, Machine – while ‘P:Machinery (Connected)’ is an exclusive mix, conjured up from parts of the original P:Machinery and the Passive and Polish mixes of same. ‘Separation’ is another short interlude, freeze-framing the machine beat rhythm bed and marimba-like sequencing – after a short break there is then the longer mix of the wonderful (and at this time exclusive to the ‘P:Machinery’ singles) ‘Frozen Faces’, as found elsewhere on the original 12″ edition.

Propaganda 'Complete Machinery' cassingle, insert rear

^ Propaganda ‘Complete Machinery’ cassingle, insert rear

‘P:Machinery (Connected)’ has since seen release on a couple of CDs – firstly on the German edition of the ‘Outside World’ compilation, it warranted the following fair warning on the cover: ‘A very rare track remastered from a tape recording, as the original master is not available. It is included on this set for its merit as a collector’s item. You may find that the sound quality may differ from the other tracks on this CD.’ Winding the clock forward to 2014, it saw another outing in improved quality on ‘The Art Of The 12″, Volume Three (A Soundtrack For Living)‘, the third volume of various mixes cobbled together under a nominal ZTT umbrella (at least this had some provenance, unlike a good few others on the admittedly well put together compilation).

Propaganda 'Complete Machinery' cassingle, case and cassette

^ Propaganda ‘Complete Machinery’ cassingle, case and cassette

Propaganda 'Complete Machinery' cassingle, cassette and insert

^ Propaganda ‘Complete Machinery’ cassingle, cassette and insert

He Said ‘Take Care’ UK LP (Mute, STUMM57, 1988)

September 30th, 2015

The second long player from ‘He Said’, the solo nom de plume of Graham Lewis, one quarter of Wire, deep into the digital synth territory of the late ’80s. This runs along the same timeframe as Wire’s ‘A Bell Is A Cup (Until It Is Struck)’, an example of the Wire canon that has tended to divide fans with its clean-lined and exaggerated production hallmarks of the time. If that Wire LP has you reaching for your revolver in reaction to the polished, layered, synth-scaffolded sonics, then be warned – this album takes such approaches not only to the edge but well over, with quite the sizable running jump beforehand for good measure.

He Said 'Take Care' LP front cover

^ He Said ‘Take Care’ LP front cover

To be fair, the latter part of the album is all instrumental and veers closer to what might seem more familiar Dome-patterned constructions of earlier works. In fact, the album started off on this tack originally – two of the instrumental pieces, ‘Get Out Of That Rain’ and ‘Hole In The Sky’, were originally worked up to soundtrack a ballet piece by Michael Clark (according to Lewis, quoted in the ‘Wire… Everybody Loves a History’ book by Kevin S Eden). Even the ‘conventional’ sounding pieces are a well warped take on pop,the sounds always that bit sour rather than sweet.

He Said 'Take Care' LP rear cover

^ He Said ‘Take Care’ LP rear cover

Unlike much of the earlier solo releases that Graham Lewis had been involved in, from Dome though Cupol, Duet Emmo and P’o, this work brought in a far more dance/pop oriented foundation to the customary noise/samples that were familiar sonic hallmarks. Plus of course the ever-familiar, instantly identifiable, deep, dark Lewis voice. Not alone on this occasion though – no, somewhat incredibly, there is a soulful vocal troupe of backing singers on ‘Not A Soul’ – almost inconceivable on a Wire-related record. Mind you, Cabaret Voltaire were equally as unlikely home for such embellishments, but ‘Code’ had previously seen such too. Elsewhere Tackhead’s Keith Le Blanc is found sprucing up ‘A.B.C. Dicks Love’ with finely tooled machine rhythms and keyboards.

He Said 'Take Care' inner sleeve (front)

^ He Said ‘Take Care’ inner sleeve (front)

My first listen of this album came in the long-running institution that is Edinburgh’s ‘Vinyl Villains’ – the opening track, ‘Watch, Take, Care’, came on and it sounded incredible – slabs of radiophonic reverb-drenched noise drifting over sledgehammer beats. I had no idea who this was until such time as the familiar Lewis vocal emerged – it was immediately recognisable. Listening on, it wasn’t too long before enquiries behind counter were made and a few pounds exchanged for this copy you see in the photos.

He Said 'Take Care' inner sleeve (rear)

^ He Said ‘Take Care’ inner sleeve (rear)

If you could buy into the synth and samples style and overtly dance/pop sensibilities on display, then this made for a fine album on vinyl and that was the version I lived with for a fair old while after first buying it. However, when it comes to versions, the CD came with a good deal of extra tracks and variants. In the equivalent of the regular album tracking, ‘Tongue Ties’ is noticeably different by dint of the fact that it fades out here on the LP, whereas the CD version is conjoined with the additional instrumental track ‘Screen’.

He Said 'Take Care' LP label design side A

^ He Said ‘Take Care’ LP label design side A

He Said 'Take Care' LP label design side B

^ He Said ‘Take Care’ LP label design side B