Chart for stowaways – 9 November 2019

Here are the top albums this week:

  1. Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  2. Underworld – Drift Series 1
  3. Armin Van Buuren – Balance
  4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
  5. Zero 7 – Record
  6. Röyksopp – Melody am
  7. Gary Numan/Tubeway Army – Replicas
  8. Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle
  9. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Souvenir
  10. The Beloved – Single File

Richard X – Presents His X-Factor Vol. 1

I’ve very probably mused about the nature of time here before, but the fifteenth anniversary of Richard X‘sPresents His X-Factor Vol. 1 is a pretty strange one to celebrate. He’s still producing artists, but has never bothered to follow this up, but as a collection of great retro soundclashes, it’s really pretty good. What blows my mind now is that some of the things he samples were as old then as the whole album is now.

It opens with the brief Start, in which a voice says “x” a few times, before Liberty X (remember them? They lost The X Factor, or something) turn up to introduce themselves over the introduction to Being Nobody, a soundclash between Ain’t Nobody and The Human League‘s Being Boiled. It’s brilliant in a way that pop seemed to stop being after Richard X‘s brief reign on the charts.

The Human League are probably the omnipresent force on this album, turning up briefly on Rock Jacket alongside a number of other influences and samples. This one’s a filler, though, carrying us along until another guest vocalist turns up.

This is really a who’s who of early 2000s British pop music in some ways, but I had no memory of who Javine was. Apparently she represented the UK at the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest, finishing, unsurprisingly, excruciatingly close to the bottom of the table. You Used To is a decent pop song, and who knows, maybe it could have been a huge hit too. Pop music is unpredictable sometimes.

Annie is next, pretty much right at the beginning of her career with the brilliant Just Friends, which is brilliant, and then for IX, a German computer repeatedly spells out Richard X‘s name, which makes a nice little interlude. Then the huge voice of Caron Wheeler, of Soul II Soul fame, turns up for the dull but worthy Lonely.

Deborah Evans-Strickland delivers vocals on the next two tracks, an eccentric posh version of Walk on By, and then Lemon/Lime. Pleasant, but there isn’t a lot of point in these unfortunately. Although some of the lyrics on the second track are pretty funny.

Finest Dreams brings Kelis, and was the third single from this album, peaking at number 8 in the UK. It marries another Human League track The Things That Dreams Are Made Of with The S.O.S. Band‘s 1986 hit The Finest (then fifteen years old), and works very well indeed. In fact, it performed better on the charts than either of the tracks it samples, which is impressive.

The unexpected vocalist on the next track is Tiga, who performs You (Better Let Me Love You X4) Tonight. It’s brilliant, but then most of Tiga‘s work seems to be of an extremely high calibre. It’s just a bit too repetitive though, and as with several of the tracks on here, it drags a little towards the end.

The next track, Mark One, is a moment that anyone who grew up in the 1990s will appreciate, as Mark Goodier turns up to do a very meta in-album advert for this album. It’s a brilliant transition to Sugababes‘ Freak Like Me, sampling Gary Numan and Tubeway Army‘s Are “Friends” Electric? for the backing track. I suspect this might be how the album started out, as Richard X‘s original bootleg version had been a near-hit a couple of years earlier.

Into U is lovely, bringing together a new vocal by Jarvis Cocker with a sample of Hope Sandoval, and some unusually underplayed backing. It makes a great final track, closing out a pretty good album. The actual closing track is the brief End, which is one of the nicer interludes, and then the album is over already.

So in summary, despite a strong cast of extras, Richard X‘s debut may not be the best album ever produced, but it’s pretty good, and it did bring us some of the best pop hits of 2002 and 2003. In short, it’s definitely worth a listen.

You can still find Richard X Presents His X-Factor Vol. 1 on wide release.

Tubeway Army – Replicas

If you’re a Gary Numan fan, I suspect you’ll want to tell me about how he invented popular music; how he was the first person to ever play the synthesizer; how he developed the art of “singing”; and a whole lot more. I get the impression, probably from entirely unfair sources, that this is what Numan fans are like.

For me, he’s always just been a pop star with a pilot’s licence. Occasionally a very good pop star, undeniably, but just a pop star nonetheless. He owes a lot to his own influences, and really if he did anything, it was to help popularise electronic music by borrowing other people’s ideas and making them his own.

None of which is even remotely a reason to dislike him, and actually the truth is that despite a bit of general respect for one of the forefathers of electronic music, I know relatively little about Numan. So here’s a review of my second ever listen to his second ever album Replicas, at which point he was still part of a band called Tubeway Army.

Replicas kicks off with a pleasant but largely meaningless track called Me! I Disconnect from You, which I can’t help but feel like Dude (Looks Like a Lady) has the emphasis in the wrong place in the title. But it’s a good enough track, and it’s also a far sight better than some of what would follow, both in Numan’s career and also on this very album.

It’s tempting to wonder if the oddly emphasised titles are an intentional theme, as the wonderful Are ‘Friends’ Electric? follows. This is where Gary Numan is at his finest, and it’s difficult to deny how excellent it is. It would also be very difficult to deny the influence of a certain Düsseldorf-based quartet, and I think it’s probably fair to say that it’s not quite up to their standards. Never did Kraftwerk have to deny on real bassists and drummers! But minor quibbles aside, Are ‘Friends’ Electric? is, of course, one of the most important tracks in the history of electronic music, and is also absolutely brilliant.

After this moment of groundbreaking electronica, anything was going to be an anticlimax, and so it is with the pleasant but dull rhythmic rock of The Machman. This is, unfortunately, a theme which continues into the equally dull but pleasant Praying to the Aliens, although by this point Numan’s squeaky semi-spoken voice is starting to become just a little bit annoying.

Down in the Park is a considerable improvement. It’s always a little tempting with an album like this to wonder how much of it was organically created and how much was written to try and fill the space or make some kind of point. This track is definitely the former, and turns out to be very pleasant after all. And with this, for all its faults, half the album has passed already.

Side B kicks off with another pleasant-but-meaningless track You are in My Vision, and this is followed by the title track Replicas, which is another slower track. The general theme of fairly grizzly synth sounds mixed with Numan’s snappy, intentionally almost inhuman vocals continues. This album was a UK number 1 in early 1979, and it’s fascinating to try to think about what else was going on in the world of music at this point. While Sheffield was already overflowing with artists doing this kind of thing, there really can’t have been much of it at the top end of the charts.

I’m particularly intrigued by the artwork, in which an almost vampire-like Numan stands by the window, accompanied by someone who clearly isn’t his reflection, looking out over a moonlit view of “the park”, with its neon sign. It would be fascinating to know what the world was that Numan was trying to create with this album.

It Must Have Been Years is another more 70s-styled rock track, which was probably pretty contemporary back then, but sounds extremely dated now. I’ll doff my cap to the bassist though, who carries this track more than anyone else.

The instrumental When the Machines Rock is a nice idea, but seems to struggle somewhat with its identity, and leads us into the final track I Nearly Married a Human, surprisingly another instrumental, and a rather pleasant one too.

Buy the remastered version, and you get another side of vinyl’s worth of bonus tracks, although I’m not sure I was blown away by any of them. We Have a Technical, although a little too long for its own good, was probably the best of the bunch.

All told, despite my uncertainty about the idol-worship that Gary Numan always seems to get, I tried to approach this album with a relatively open mind, and in so doing I’ve actually found it extremely rewarding. It was definitely early days for electronic pop music, but in this case that was no bad thing.

If you’re looking to make a purchase, the correct version of this album would be this one.