Wednesday, 26 September 2007

GARY NUMAN: Berserker

In a 1984 Christmas full of goodwill and self-congratulation, a prosperous season of feeding worlds like virgins, Gary Numan seemed to be about the most contrarian presence in that season’s Top 40. “Berserker” was arguably even more of an anti-rest of 1984 chart hit than the Council Collective’s “Soul Deep” (“Nothing here for me now,” muses Numan halfway through, “I can’t believe the noise”) and thus did not progress beyond #32. There is something very splendid and logical about the single appearing on what used to be the Pye label (by 1984 it had become PRT, with Numan appearing on his own “Numa” imprint) since it indicates a crash landing to the journey initiated by Space’s “Magic Fly” seven years previously. Where Howard Jones wanted to shake everyone’s hand, Numan passively indicated that anyone attempting to shake his hand risked electrocution.

“Berserker” as Viking or robot warrior? Once again, Numan dies every day and wakes up with a transplanted memory dependent on the presumed symbiosis of his fanbase (“My face, the picture’s changed/Do you remember me?”). But the single is especially hard in its impact; pitilessly squealing guitars, plutonium landfills of synths, atomic thunder of drums (“Now I’m fighting to breathe,” complains Numan, understandably). He has been waiting for someone, or something, for far too long, and is now prepared to “trade new dreams for old,” but there seems no question of love or salvation here; the stark brilliance of “Berserker” rests in Numan’s fantastic use of his backing singers (principally Tessa Niles, she who two years previously had warned Martin Fry that love had no guarantee) from the demonically angelic acappella intro of “I’ve been waiting for you” to the triple perspective Numan lends them on each of his three choruses (the anti-Glitter beat of “Do you wanna come, do you wanna come, do you wanna come with me NOW?”); on each occasion nascent hope crashes to the sodden earth of despair – the full arrangement in the first chorus, the “c-c-c-come-come-come” cut-ups in the second (a nod to Frankie) and a sudden, dry acappella “with me” in the third, while Numan mumbles his own doom, lapsing over beats and finally fading into incoherent oblivion, the girls’ ghostly “I’ve been waiting too long” chorale meanwhile predicting another era of girls to come. The least fashionable record of its month, and typically one of the most enduring.