Gary Numan

Machine + Soul

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If there was ever a point where the sometimes too-insular-for-his-own-good Numan couldn't have been more out of sight, out of mind -- even to his central fanbase -- the often-bizarre Machine + Soul is it. It makes his striking return to form on Sacrifice and his wider acceptance and influence in the following years all the more remarkable. Ten years before Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At" and the Sugababes' "Freak Like Me," Numan couldn't get himself arrested with this release. The album was admittedly recorded in somewhat dire circumstances for Numan, facing a crushing debt and trying to create something for commercial success first and foremost. Unfortunately, his models for that success -- '80s Madonna, Jesus Jones, the Jam & Lewis production team, and others (not to mention mid-'70s Bowie, "Emotion" being an obvious clone of "Fame") -- had just been definitively shunted aside by the alternative/G-funk explosion, rendering Machine + Soul an instantly outdated, flailing affair. Heard from a distance, one can detect those impulses that would definitively lead back toward a darker, more involving approach, especially in the lyrics -- the poisoned ballads "I Wonder" and "Love Isolation" in particular stand out from the pack, both in words and in music. However, when most of the songs are slathered over by end results that made the strident yup-funk that plagued Berserker, say, seem the equal of the Pleasure Principle days, it's hard to forgive. About all Numan has going for him is his voice and the occasional guitar riff, and even those are often downplayed too much; as for the attempt to rap on "Poison," well, never mind. Perhaps the most jawdropping effort was a cover of Prince's brilliant duet with Sheena Easton, "U Got the Look," arguably single-handedly responsible for Prince wanting to change his name in sheer terror at the result.

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