Synth-crazed robot and occasional musical innovator Gary Numan has been responsible for some of new wave's most laughably dated moments, from "Are 'Friends' Electric" and the massive 1979 hit "Cars" to the dreary, sci-fi schlock typified by "Down in the Park" and "We Are Glass." Just as Numan borrowed heavily from Brian Eno and early Ultravox, his icy keyboard-dominated soundscapes and unintentionally hilarious deadpan vocals were the inspiration behind the nascent diddlings of mope-popsters such as Depeche Mode and Erasure, as well as Eighties video goons A Flock of Seagulls and Landscape. His chart reign was brief, though, and like David Bowie (the guy to blame for nearly all of this detached, robotic pop, not forgetting Kraftwerk), Numan has at least one retirement on his resume. Unfortunately that retirement didn't take, and for the past decade he has managed to crank out albums and singles at a prodigious rate for a small but rabidly loyal cult in the United States and abroad.
Exile and The Mix are Numan's first stateside efforts for Cleopatra, a techno-geared indie that is obviously hoping to make good on the ink their new signee has received thanks to covers and hosannas from solid sellers such as Beck and Foo Fighters. Cleopatra certainly has its work cut out for it, because Exile is a complete mess, an electronic funereal opus with leaden tempos, dramatic whooshes of horror-show synth, Numan's chilly vocal whine, and morbid, maudlin songs. (The titles tip you off to the fun in store: "Dark," "Dead Heaven," "Innocence Bleeding" -- you get the picture. Hell, in this gloomy context the live bonus cut of the oldie "Down in the Park" is a certified rocker.) In other words, this is Spi¬nal Tap for a mascara brigade unable to laugh at their hero's laughable misery.
The Mix, meanwhile, is Numan's bid for respect from the dance-crazed denizens of rave clubs and disco emporiums. Among the thumpa-thumpa fodder on this set you get two remixes each of "Are 'Friends' Electric," "We Are So Fragile," and "We Are Electric," plus three versions each of "Cars," none of which works half as well as Numan's primitive but undeniably catchy original. Granted, The Mix is more fun than anything on Exile -- at least you can dance to the stuff, if you're so inclined -- but unlike the entertaining retoolings of the B-52's hits on their 1981 EP Party Mix!, Numan's party platter is cluttered, cliched, and seemingly endless. The beat just goes on. And on. And on. (Cleopatra Records, 13428 Maxella Ave., #251, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292)
-- John Floyd
Gary Numan performs at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27, at the Carefree Theatre, 2000 S Dixie Hwy, West Palm Beach; 561-833-7305. Switchblade Symphony opens. Tickets cost $17.50.
Reverend Horton Heat
Dallas-based power trio Reverend Horton Heat's sixteen-track Space Heater was created and recorded in a mere sixteen days. Like the band's four previous CDs, the new album brims with frontman-guitarist Jim Heath's good-ol'-boy celebrations of drinking, cars, Texas, and elusive love. But this time around the band strays somewhat from its psychobilly roots to take up some more straight-ahead tunes. While the group -- Heath, bassist Jim Wallace, drummer Scott Churilla -- still manages to create some rousing rock, nothing here matches earlier classics such as "Martini Time," "Big Red Rocket of Love," or "Bales of Cocaine."
Heath hits full stride on "For Never More," stretching his gravelly voice to its limit. "Jimbo Song" catches the rhythm section in overdrive: Wallace slapping his upright with a rapid-fire action and Churilla pounding the piss out of his snare. Other standouts include the thundering "Lie Detector" and the deep-grooved "Revolution Under Foot."
Even though these songs were knocked out quickly with, as Heath indicates in the CD's accompanying press notes, "a devil-may-care attitude," they're certainly nothing to sell your soul for. Still, good for a roguishly pleasant listen.
-- Larry Boytano
You Can't Do That
Chicago harbored a lot of seminal blues artists in the Fifties. Many of them are household names today: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, and on and on. Unbeknownst to most of us, however, a guy named Dave Myers was there too, touring and recording alongside the greats, participating while history was being made. But for some reason the bassist and guitarist, a onetime member of the Aces -- considered by many the premier blues outfit in Chicago in the early Fifties, and which over the years featured harmonica legends Junior Wells and Little Walter -- never recorded a solo album. Until now.
Accompanied on You Can't Do That by disciples such as harmonica whiz Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and guitarist Rusty Zinn (who performs with Wilson when the harpist and vocalist is not fronting the T-Birds), Myers lays down a collection of tracks that shuffle and bop with genuine feeling. His guitar playing -- he set aside the bass for this disc -- is supple, and his vocals, while not especially graceful or particularly resonant, are delivered with emotion and joy.
Myers penned half of the fourteen cuts here, filling out the album with classics such as Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby" and Willie Dixon's "Oh Baby." Stylistic differences between the originals and the remakes are virtually nonexistent. Whether he's laying down the law to an unfaithful woman on his own "You Can't Do That" or begging for a little love and understanding on "Elevate Me, Mama" by influential Thirties and Forties harp player Sonny Boy Williamson I (J.L. Williamson), he does so over a musical backing that never strays from tradition. The instrumental track "Dave's Boogie Guitar" provides a playful clinic in post-World War II soloing, while "Ting-a-Ling" stomps and rambles like pre-Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins rock and roll.
Myers's musical sensibilities have remained intact partly because he switched from guitar to bass four decades ago and just recently broke out his six-string. He plays the guitar like he never left it behind. It is to our benefit that such an artist would emerge at this late date, picking and riffing and singing like the intervening musical evolution hadn't occurred. Why'd ya wait so long, Dave?
-- Adam St. James
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If we are to take Gerald Collier's word for it, the world is bleak, a place where occasional fits of anger sputter to life before dissipating into despair. That's the universe depicted on his eleven-song major-label solo debut, which comes amazingly close to falling over the edge into self-pity but, even more amazingly, doesn't. Singer-guitarist Collier -- a former member of the Seattle-based band Best Kissers in the World -- writes sharp, mordant, dark lyrics. In "Hell Has Frozen Over" he sings, "I'm glad that you can't see me here/Stumbling through the night/With all the porn stars shining/And bathing me in their light."
Musically, folk-rock and power chords comfortably coexist here. The opening cut, "Dark Days," a ballad shot through with frustration, and the second track, a bouncy rocker called "Whored Out Again," convey strong emotions but stick to garden-variety arrangements. Collier signals a willingness to take some risks on the two-part "Forgiveness from Revenge/God Never Lived in My Neighborhood"; the song opens with light, stark acoustic picking, but after a minute it shifts gears with seething, soaring electric guitar cutting in to transform it into a heady rush of emotion. Its simple yet anguished lyrics strike a balance between intensity and numbness: "God takes everyone except the ones he should." The song is reminiscent of the work of the late Jeff Buckley, as are the sadly pretty "Hitting the Wall" and the midtempo "Truth or Dare." Like Buckley, Collier isn't afraid to aim for the grandiose and then temper it with something soft and lilting. As an example, "Truth or Dare" segues into a placid cover of Pink Floyd's "Fearless" (from 1971's Meddle), proving that Collier can find a small gem in the catalogue of even the most overblown band. He's able to pull off both big and little gestures, and the outcome is an album that's consistently intriguing.
-- Theresa Everline