It used to be that I discovered new music (new to me) in a backwards or mixed up sequence. During the ’80s, my first exposure to many new wave artist came with airplay on college radio stations. They played music with no regard to when it was released like someone discovering a stash of records all at once. Once I heard something I liked and wrote it down, I’d go to the record store to seek it out. Often the import bins were as incomplete and erratic as the stations that promoted artist like Human League, Kraftwerk or Gary Numan.
Of those three, the music of Gary Numan (real name Gary Webb) seemed the most elusive – that was the price paid for being considered a one hit wonder in The States. The Pleasure Principle album and it’s first single “Cars” was a big hit in America in 1980. That year I was in the 8th grade and remember being transfixed by the catchy yet futuristic song and video. It was already old hat in England where a year before it was at the top of the charts. That delayed exposure meant that a prolific artist like Gary Numan might have released one or more albums before I was trying to catch up.
By my freshman year of college I was listening to Replicas, the album that came just six months before The Pleasure Principle. Finding artist information before Google was often difficult, so I often relied on encounters in the smelly campus record stores along High St. in Columbus. That was how I discovered Telekon, the follow up to The Pleasure Principle. Despite it’s cut out bin status, Telekon was the third in a trilogy of top selling releases that started with Replicas.
Numan had rapidly climbed to rock star status, eclipsing more established new wave/new romantic bands like The Human League and Ultravox seemingly overnight. Telekon was the last in a quick succession of highly successful albums from Numan – all in a span of three years.
Telekon captures the rapid evolution Numan’s music with expanding themes and musical palette (now with violin, piano and other electronic sounds). When those new sounds crossed paths as on “Please Push No More”, the result sounded like an outtake from the Blade Runner score. It’s also interesting because those sci-fi themed dystopian soundscapes merged with some of what made Replicas and to a smaller extent The Pleasure Principle so enjoyable. Despite the cold electronic synths, the production benefited from a solid drum, bass and occasional guitar foundation – like Replicas but turned inside out.
As the last of Numan’s chart topping albums, Telekon featured some of Numan’s biggest post “Cars” hits like “This Wreckage” We Are Glass” and “I Die You Die”. Oddly enough the last two hits were not included on the original LP, but added to CD reissues as they were recorded around the same time.
One of my personal favorites from this era “The Air Crash Bureau” flirts with funk in a oddly slow motion kind of way. There are other small traces of funk in the form of fret-less guitar that would show up more prominently on future albums. Much of Telekon came across to me as a kind of melodic almost calming blend of cold (synths) and warm (drums and bass). Not surprisingly, it was one of my favorite bedtime albums to listen to as it’s mostly middle tempo sound was great for doing nothing.
Telekon represents the last of the vintage Gary Numan albums. After it, there was quick succession of live albums and compilations. Although the follow up was just a year later, from my vantage point it seemed like years. Patience and import record markup had finally paid off as Numan had reemerged all funky and fret-less with the excellent Dance LP.