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Gary Numan isn’t music that normally gets reviewed on Sonic Fiction and I have to admit to having been more interested in the man’s personal struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome as a musician and human than a Numan fan, with the exceptation of his biggest hits. However, in recent years my interest has been piqued and now that Numan’s back and more high profile than he has been for years I checked “Splinter” and decided to give it a review.

The album was written during and after a period of years of depression that Numan experienced and as such the album is full of songs that talk about fear of getting older, struggling with having children, the depression and its affects including how his marriage almost broke up. So while the lyrical content is fascinating but on a similar thematic lines the music is very diverse ranging from the “creaky, gothic atmosphere of ‘Where I Can Never Be’ to the minimalism of ‘Lost’ via the dramatic, poisoned string arrangements of ‘The Calling’, monster disco floor-filler ‘Love Hurt Bleed’, the ultra catchy ‘Who Are You’ and slow build anthems ‘Everything Comes Down to This’. Numan even digs back into his with the brooding and relentless title track recalling the sound of his debut album “Replicas” (1979).” 

The album opens with ‘I Am Dust’ which begins with clanging percussion a feedbacking synth and guitars thatfeel both digital and dusty. Numan’s lead vocals and a screaming digital lead synth enter for the first verse, a hi-hat pattern drops part way through and gives the rhythm forward momentum. Then there’s a breakdown/bridge before the epic, tortured sounding chorus. When the verse kicks back in there’s a full rhythm track and ripping synth riff in place and the track powers forward!! The rhythm also gives the bridge and chorus an extra lift and more synth layers, there’s some a little more joyous in the chorus now. Next up is ‘Here in the Black’, scraping sounds and synths rise out of the dark, they give way to the dramatic strings, pizzicato synths melody and heavy guitar riff and thick bass. Everything drops away then Numan enters again singing in a whisper over thumping industrial beats, synths and deep bass. The second section returns with the strings amping the drama further and a vocal synth part cutting for a delay covered solo. Numan enters for a nasally lead vocal part, then everything drops away again. The verse section and whispering vocals enter again, halfway through a great drum break enters before the song is lifted up again for the instrumental chorus and then the nasally vocals.

‘A Shadow Falls On Me’ opens with deep echoing bass drum and cracking industrial snare/clap, swiftly joined by a feminine sounding vocal from Numan and treated detuned sounding lead synth. Hi-hats drop in around one minute in to fill out the beat and drive the track forward. Cruching guitar kick in for the last minute as a delicate melody falls over the top of tough backing track. ‘We’re the Unforgiven’ combines fizzing distorted electronic snare, subtle stuttering electro drums and cascading lead guitar during its intro. The intensity builds with the entrance of two rhythmic synths lines. Then everything falls away to make way Numan’s vocal on the first verse. Again synths build the intensity before things drift away and a synth and guitar briefly solo. The guitars and dirty synths take over the with a huge filth riff for the last two minutes of the song. The album closes with the emotive ‘My Last Day’, its opens with distant filtered percussion and synth textures that crawl along underneath reverb heavy piano and Numan’s lead vocals. Around two minutes the synth comes into view properly for a moment then everything is filtered away and the piano and vocals take over again. Three and a half minutes in the synth lead rises again and the percussion is unfiltered and tumbles beneath the piano and synth lead. There’s a yearning to the synth and piano melodies offset by the tribal percussion.

With “Splinter” Numan has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. A man once paralysed by depression emerges to deliver a great throughly modern album that doesn’t attempt to cash in Numan’s 80’s legacy or newly heralded position as a influential figure for everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Basement Jaxx. This is Numan’s (and collaborator Ade Fenton) truimph, so lets hope it isn’t anyone seven years before we get another one.

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