Gary Numan

Isolate: The Numa Years [Box Set]

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A hefty five-disc package that paints in the birth, death, and rebirth of Gary Numan's own record label -- licensed, at the time of this release in 2005 -- to Eagle Records in the U.K. and Cleopatra in the U.S.. The release of Isolate: The Numa Years along with Exile was supposed to signal the dramatic return of Numan to the forefront, riding the crest of a wave of renewed interest and reference from the late-'90s electronica crowd, but this seems to have fizzled in a rather boring manner, with nothing much coming of Exile, and this box set seeming to receive only lukewarm attention at best. This set being overlooked is something of a shame, however. Despite the presence of the limp pseudo-Prince Machine + Soul, The Numa Years manages to pack in some fine examples of Numan at his best, filling out the original albums with b-sides from the period (a big plus in themselves) though the various single remixes are overlooked here. On offer in this set are Berserker, The Fury, Strange Charm, Machine + Soul, and Sacrifice, the last finding Numan in a monumentally black mood (curiously enough, this latter album had a first U.S. release under the title Dawn, in a package featuring some very bright artwork from Michael Joseph Linsner.) There is a definite and severe stylistic shift between Strange Charm and Machine + Soul, resulting from Numan's three-album stint with the I.R.S. label and his move to a full home-based studio.

Demonstrated very well during the course of this set, and reinforced by the booklet notes (which draw from Numan's autobiography, Praying to the Aliens), is a single notion: that Numan committed one of the cardinal sins of the music business -- falling prey to panic as market trends swept new batches of short-term frontrunners past him, and subsequently setting out to chase the market as best he could, rather than capitalizing on everything he had. The I.R.S. deal set the stage for worse to come, though Numan did eventually climb back out of the financial abyss into which he had propelled himself, even finding a measure of redemption with the production of Sacrifice. Exile, the follow-up, and supposed harbinger of better times, was much delayed and much tinkered with by Numan, only to meet with a relatively lukewarm response. The Numan camp was decidedly quiet for some time thereafter, until the scheduling of Pure for late 2000. Whether or not this means that Numan has discovered the idea of staying power remains to be seen.

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