Gary Numan

Strange Charm

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For the first time in nearly half a decade, Numan, to a large if not total extent, recaptured the sense of compelling darkness at the heart of his music on Strange Charm. Though Numan himself had a difficult time with the recording of the album, speaking in later years about his struggles with then-new technology and how best to make it work for his music, the end results often justify the expense of effort. For the first time in a long while, Numan actively uses silence and less-crowded arrangements to create a more dramatic impact -- it lets the songs breathe a bit more, while further foregrounding his vocals. Flat-out successes such as "The Sleeproom," with its haunting, quite beautiful chorus, and the concluding ballad "This Is Love," with heavily echoed piano and singing leading the way, show how his decision worked wonders. Even more impressive was how he resolutely refused to simply revisit the past -- songs like the compelling "My Breathing," with its blend of Arabic-tinged orchestrations and rhythms with Numan's more familiar electric nightmares don't actively ape the approaches of Replicas or Dance. Equally noticeable was how the use of elements which previously seemed to only serve in the creation of unsuccessful commercial sludge (saxophones, prominent female backing vocals, wailing guitar solos) here often contributed to a nightmarish, mysterious atmosphere instead. Numan has a strong sense of how to employ those additions to the advantage of the song, to throw everything just a little off-kilter. Even those cuts that derive all too clearly from the Berserker aesthetic, like "Unknown and Hostile" and "I Can't Stop," come across as more unsettled and unexpected, making Strange Charm an imperfect but still noteworthy success. That said, "The Need" probably didn't need to make it past the demo version.

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