It's a strange time for Gary Numan. At the end of the 1970s, the British science-fiction freak was the king of synth-pop. In the mid-'90s, long after his star had faded, he turned his back on the comparatively lightweight subgenre in favour of a continuing fascination with dark, industrial goth rock. Yet now, 25 years after he first "retired", things sound curiously familiar.
Last year, Coldplay - as traditional a rock band as you'll currently hear - worked Kraftwerk's Computer Love into their Talk. Perhaps 2005's best Australian album, Beams, by the Presets, was created largely on keyboards. And it seems everyone who hadn't caught on in 2004 has finally bought the synth-tastic Hot Fuss, by the Killers."It is funny, isn't it?" Numan says. "This whole sort of synth thing now appears to be bigger and bigger everywhere and I've kind of gone the other way. But I think, just, that's the nature of the way I am. I am so anti-nostalgia.
"The easiest way to describe it is: I'm much more interested in what I'm gonna be doing tomorrow, musically, than what I did yesterday."
He points to his reluctance to re-release a couple of his songs that have re-entered the public consciousness thanks to other artists: the Sugababes's Freak Like Me - "which was really my Are Friends Electric? with a different vocal" - and Where's Your Head At? by Basement Jaxx, which speeded up a loop from Numan's 1979 track M.E.
"I'm very flattered and very proud that Sugababes are No. 1 with it again, but I'm proud that they're No. 1 with it again. If I was No 1 with it again - yeah, the money would be nice, but I'd feel like I'd sold my soul. It's just not what I want to do. I want to be successful with the music that I'm making [now]."
It wasn't always how Numan felt. His most famous song, Cars, was re-released in Britain in 1995 as the soundtrack to an advertisement for Carling Premier lager. The new version was titled Cars (Premier Mix).
This turned out to be the "lesson that made me realise that that's not the thing to do" after he wound up on the English chart show Top of the Pops. "I get there and I think, 'What the f--- am I doing?"' Numan says. "There I am, doing a song which was, y'know, a hit a decade before, and everyone else is doing their new stuff and I'm, 'Never again."'
The music he has been making since has culminated in a new album, Jagged. The obvious reference point for its brooding soundscapes and abrasive electronic rock is the US industrial powerhouse Nine Inch Nails.
Numan acknowledges the kind of symbiosis that exists between him and such bands. "I tend to listen to things that I think I can learn from. If you talk about Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, for example, they've covered my songs and they talk about me being influential on them. And now I definitely listen to them to try and get ideas.
"It's not something where you take an idea and just repeat it. You're looking for little sparks that will ignite your own imagination and your own ideas that you then, hopefully, can turn into something which is unique to you.
"I think that is a win-win situation for everybody. Y'know, the music that we are making constantly improves and progresses, the music that the fans are being given is constantly evolving and fresh. Who loses out of that? Nobody."
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