Remember when ‘Cars’ was the music for a TV booze ad?
‘Premier Hits’ originally appeared in the mid-1990s thanks to ‘Cars’ being used on an advert for Carling Premier lager. Hence the album title.
The lager, lager, lager mix of the track isn’t actually on this double vinyl set (the first time ‘Premier Hits’ has been released on vinyl), which is probably for the best. Instead, four prime Gary Numan cuts have been added: ‘Metal’, ‘We Are So Fragile’, ‘Films’ and ‘Me, I Disconnect From You’. But it is a jolt to remember that Numan’s stock in the 90s was in a very weird place indeed, his music shilling booze while Britpop ruled the roost and bouncing him back into the Top 20 yet again.
‘Cars’, though, eh? It is possibly the most peculiar Number One single of all time. The song is essentially over in a couple of minutes. It has no chorus, just two parts – the verse and the, erm, other bit. But Numan was all too aware of the power he could pull out of those ARPs and Moogs, so he hands over the remaining two minutes of his biggest hit record to them.
This strange song structure marks out a lot of Numan’s work. He happily eschews traditional forms, almost like he isn’t particularly aware of their existence in the first place. ‘Metal’ is another one; a killer bass riff, some lyrics about clones or some such sci-fi claptrap that come in across the beat (“The sound of me-tal”), line upon line of unsettling synth atmospheres, a key change, and that’s it, song over. Go home now. Numan has finished with that idea. A little perverse and quite brilliant, much like the man himself.
If you’re looking for the ultimate Numan-as-isolated-synth-god argument, ‘Films’ may well be the place to go. The growling soundscape is perhaps the ultimate musical representation of our man’s paranoid rejection of those things his peers seemed to enjoy. “I don’t like the film,” he shrieks, audibly affronted. “And I don’t like the scenery / And I don’t like the set / So pull it all down…”
The squashy 80s production standards that gradually pulled Numan under as the decade took its grotesque turn for the yuppy initially emerged on the fretless bass semi-funk of ‘We Take Mystery (To Bed)’. It’s a pretty successful attempt to fuse his own signature icy synth sound to the emerging value system of night clubs, flick perms, popping bass and saxophones. It sounds like he figured that, since Japan had split up, there was a fan base he could swallow whole. Which also explains ‘She’s Got Claws’ (featuring Japan’s Mick Karn on the aforementioned sax) and especially ‘Music For Chameleons’.
The sequencing of the album is also interesting: it’s non-linear, pulling up tracks from Numan’s pre-synth Tubeway Army days and throwing them into the pot halfway through. Inevitably, it leaves the hard-to-love material like ‘Sister Surprise’ and Paul Gardiner’s funereal ‘Stormtrooper In Drag’ in the twilight zone at the end of disc two, but ‘Premier Hits’ is a reminder that Numan has a fierce and loyal following for good reason.