There will be thinkpieces for days with regards to this album. And frankly? I welcome it.
Savage (Songs From a Broken World) is the latest album by pioneering English new wave/industrial musician Gary Numan. The record is a concept album, envisioning life in a desert in a post apocalyptic world, ravaged by climate change. Part of the concept involves the blending of Western and Eastern cultures which, for the most part, Numan deftly handles. There are a few odd songs out: most notably “Broken”, which sounds so generically Eastern at parts that you’d expect it to hear piped out of a pavilion at Epcot. Likewise, the vaguely Arabic looking script on the album cover itself and the generically Bedouin aesthetic Numan has for the music videos are dodgy at best, problematic at worse. It’s a good thing the music’s good enough to make you forget about the visuals.
The reason why there will be thinkpieces for days is due to one of Numan’s inspirations for the album: Donald Trump. Numan stated that part of Savage was inspired by Trump’s actions as he threatened to pull out of the Paris Peace Accords and the impact on the world such an action might have. Numan’s lyrics are nebulous yet simple enough that fans can (and probably will) enjoy doing a deep dive to piece together what he might be referencing (if he’s referencing anything in the first place) in this ode to the apocalypse. The simplicity of the lyrics is a beautiful choice, recognized concepts pushing against a harsh, industrial sound.
Savage succeeds in its instrumentation. The first single, “My Name is Ruin,” pairs simple lyrics and Numan’s haunting voice with layers upon layers of hard synths and electronica. Distortion is wonderfully used as the song goes from the relatively calm verses, building up to a chorus of beautiful noise. The higher tones in the synths and the backing choir add an extra layer to the chorus. This is a grandiose song that ends on a grandiose note, a well-crafted attack that lands amazingly well as the first single and amazingly well within the context of the album.
The main problem with Savage is that it’s hard for the album to shake it’s soundalikes. As a whole, this album sounds remarkably like a Nine Inch Nails album. While Numan manages to keep everything sounding relatively modern, there are a few times when the album strays dangerously close to the 1990s industrial rock sound or even early/mid 2000s nu metal. Numan has stated on record that he enjoys Nine Inch Nails and the two acts share mutual admiration for each other, covering each other’s songs and sharing the stage at concerts. There was even talk of Numan and NIN frontman Trent Reznor collaborating in the studio at one point. What starts as criticism morphs into an odd chicken-and-egg situation. Considering the two’s long history together, is it a valid criticism to say that Savage sounds way too much like Nine Inch Nails?
The soundalike game continues with other songs. “And It All Began With You” is a conventional love song wrapped up in this postapocalyptic package. Simple lyrics about love but up wonderfully against the electroclash sound and beautiful discordia. It also sounds remarkably like the Chris Isaak classic “Wicked Game” at points. Although considering everybody and their mother in the British music scene has sampled/covered/made their own music suspiciously similar to Numan’s songs at some point, I’m willing to overlook the sonic similarities.
Savage never manages to shake off what it sounds like. But frankly? This is such a well put together album, an amazing piece of industrial music that revels in it’s 1990s sensibilities and aesthetic, that I’m perfectly fine overlooking it. It’s the soundtrack to a Mad Max computer game that never got made. While the concept of said concept album is a little gimmicky, Numan makes it his own, giving us a fully fledged, amazingly well put together album in the process.