Spring in Ohio can be a murky thing. Not just because of the constant rain (or snow), but the fluctuating temperatures fight any notion of seasonal change and does not easily give in to warmer weather. During times like these, that’s when I like to hear music that reminds me of the weather. Few albums capture the seasonal flux of the wet to dry and back again like Gary Numan’s Dance from 1981. It’s very tone is at once slow and lazy, casting a gloom that’s both relaxing and creepy. Dance offers a break from the pop sc-fi drone of early electronic Numan and is mostly rewarding to anyone with the patience to hear out the abstract compositions.
It had been nearly two years since the release of The Pleasure Principal changed the world (and fortunes) for the former punk rocker turned electronic wizard gary Numan. In what he would call the “Machine Age” era of his career, categorized by cold synths with si fi lyrical themes, Numan would switch gears on his third album Dance.
Dance was unique in that it marked a switch from the style that won Numan such notoriety and in turn placed New Romanticism on the pop charts. In fact, Dance could be seen as the anti-new romantic album. Numan had seen the writing on the walls as the airwaves in Britain was flooded with bad Numan clones. With Dance Numan would focus on liquid melodies fueled by his growing experimentation with the fretless bass – free from the limitations of new romanticism.
With this new sound came a new image also. No longer appearing like one of the villains in Superman II, Numan had adopted a kind of 1930s gangster look. The new image combined with the slow bass driven sound of Dance visually gave Numan’s image a noir-like appeal, while retaining his trademark robot/replicant appeal. There was still enough make up to remind new fans that this was no tribute to the past.
It just so happen that other bands like Japan and a few others were doing the same thing musically around the time that Dance was recorded. Now that Numan was a star, he was able to recruit others with the same mindset. So its not surprising that Mick Karn and Rob Dean from Japan would be key players on Dance. In addition to them the album featured Roger Taylor from Queen on drums.
Numan’s original backing band was still present, now called Dramatis. They were part of the small army of musicians and technicians responsible for the minimalist layered sound on Dance. Many of the songs were slow and deliberate in a style not unlike a Brian Eno album. ‘Slowcar to China’ opens the album with an epic 9 minute track about a prostitute of all things. Numan was human after all and other songs would dive into the messy subject of lust and human relations. Other standout human track ‘A Subway Called You’ with its vaguely tropical percussion floating around a fretless bass.
Despite songs centered around drum machines, there were no truly danceable tracks as on previous Numan albums (‘Crash’ came close). This may explain why the album peaked at #3 when Numan’s last two releases debuted at #1 or made its way there in short order.
By some estimates, Numan’s career was already beginning to wane, but Dance marks a short but interesting period in his career when he went beyond the boundaries he helped establish if only for a moment. The actual video below is for the song ‘We Take Mystery to Bed’ from the I, Assassin , but with the song ‘Dance’ imposed.