In January 1982,
Gary Numan started
work on the follow-up to 1981’s Dance album. It had only been
9 months since his “retirement” from touring.
Numan had had time to reconsider this brash, youthful
announcement & his desire to be a performer to an adoring
public had led to a re-evaluation of who he was & who he
wanted to be.
Numan entered Rock City Studios with the intention of creating a
more up-tempo successor to the Dance album. He wanted to record
tracks that could be reproduced in a live context with maximum
bums off seats, dancing in the aisles potential.
Given the huge finale of the last “Numan” band, it was time
to explore different avenues. Numan recruited new musicians from
quite alien sources:
his powerful new drummer would be Chris Slade who’d recently
been tub-thumping on the Uriah Heep reunion gigs.
The new bassist was Pino Palladino, his previous claim to fame
was supplying some amazing fretless slide work in Paul Young’s
Royal Family backing band.
Paul Young was famous for being the only unsigned act to be
shown two weeks in a row on Channel 4’s new music programme
“The Tube”, there were two contributing factors: 1) Pino’s
2) The fact that his backing vocalists, The Fabulous Wealthy
Tarts, wore tight t-shirts & no bras!
Out of the “old” live band, Joe Brown look-alike Roger Mason
was the only survivor!
Numan recruited his brother, John Webb, on keyboards & the
elusive “Mike” on sax & harmonica.
Numan has since stated that working with Palladino brought out a
creative high in him. Pino’s fluid playing, whilst reminiscent
of Mick Karn’s Dance work, was more controlled & melodic.
His bass lines were pushed to the fore & worked in
conjunction with a heady mix of Slade’s thunderous drumming
& heavy electronic percussion. Peppered into the mix were
detuned bell chimes & heavy metallic clanks. It’s easy to
look back & say that Numan was using pre-sets from
new-fangled synth technology but hey, he had the money to buy
them & be first off the starting block!
When Mick Karn first heard Chameleons, he thought it was an
unused Dance track.. He announced on a radio interview that he
couldn’t believe that Numan had hired a bassist just to sound
like him.. I’d like to throw my hat into the ring &
postulate that Karn could not have played Chameleons with the
reserve & unswerving attention to detail that Palladino
displays on the track!
Onto the album:
White Boys & Heroes
A brilliant slab of white boy funk. Numan’s love of old
B-movie imagery litters the track. The programmed rhythm track
is the star of the show & rides high over Numan’s vocals!
Palladino performs one helluva bass line throwing in all kinds
of syncopations & hammer on/off techniques.
This was THE track that finally saw me pick the frets out of my
old Vox Jazz bass guitar & attempt fretless work!
Chris Nelson saw the potential of the interplay between bass
& percussion & mixed them to the fore on the U.S remix
At this stage, Numan’s lyrics held up the good guy image of
30s/40s film noir. He would later revisit the theme from an
alternate angle on Strange Charm’s “The Need”.
Numan had explored the trappings of fame on Telekon & Dance.
This track was a cheeky sideswipe that added that hell; fame
& money ain’t too bad after all! The lyrics included
punches at Steve Strange, Debbie Doran & those who felt that
Numan was racist?
The track features a wonderful choppy guitar line played by
Alas, like much of the album, this track is plagued by tape
hiss. This was the third album Numan recorded at Rock City,
strange then, that it should have production flaws.
A Dream Of Siam
Possibly the track that was most influenced by Numan’s
short-lived dalliance with Japan. Maybe he’d heard
“in-progress” tracks from Tin Drum, maybe not but the
Oriental feel to this track is hard to deny!
The lyrics hark back to Telekon paranoia but the music is
Pop your headphones on & listen to the last couple of
minutes: the interplay between the bass & metallic synth
stabs are something else! The fade-out whistle seems to be a
coda to a post-hit assassin walking away & blending into one
of William Burroughs’ beloved 1930s street scenes. Numan later
revisited this Oriental slant on Cold Metal Rhythm.
Music For Chameleons
What can I say? When this premiered on Richard Bacon’s
Saturday afternoon slot on Radio 1, I thought it was a new mix
of Slow Car To China… until that huge drumbeat kicked in! I
don’t know whether Numan actually read Truman Capote’s novel
but this was a superb single & a taster for where I,
Assassin was coming from!
Has that bass-line ever been equaled on a Numan track?
Pino, petrol money aside, surely you’re proud of this one?
Numan has tried to recreate this live 82/84 but it just
doesn’t seem to work. The vinyl album edit is nasty, cutting
out a huge chunk of the instrumental section & crashing back
in on the vocals.
This Is My House
A powerhouse of a track! The moody intro, the heroic finale, a
bloody bruiser! One of only a couple of tracks on the album that
deal with Numan’s emotions at the time.
Chris Slade beats the hell out of his kit on this track..
Subtlety be damned! One
of the Warriors 83 highlights!
On one of the rare occasions when I met Numan, he said he’d
love to reintroduce it to the live set.
A superb title track! Brittle electronic percussion, invaded by
Slade’s powerhouse drumming & some of the meatiest
analogue synths ever!
Numan adopts the persona of the hired hit man, called in to
clean up for a mobster. The lyrics are textbook Burroughs. Hell,
Numan could’ve been reading The Last Words Of Dutch Schultz as
he wrote this!
The finale is a revisit of the classic Everyday I Die 80 solo.
Did Mason play this at the shows? A similar solo graces the
wonderful This House Is Cold outtake!
The 1930s Rust
Hmm.. Let’s get the rumours out of the way:
No, it wasn’t written for Marti Caine.
No, BB didn’t envisage it as a shock single!
Numan has stated that the track came about from him jamming on a
newly bought acoustic fretless bass.
Numan was so pleased with this homage that it made the
Numan singing “babe”! Oh dear.. maybe Noise Noise
should’ve gone here instead!
We Take Mystery (To Bed)
Hell, almost a homage to stripped down 70s funk.. the break on
the 12” mix was pure disco! Sadly, mastering conventions at
the time prevented Numan from using the full-length mix on the
Lyrically, another kick at Debbie Doran.
This track became a live favourite for nearly a decade.
Strangely, when it made it’s live debut in the U.K the
following year, it was Pino Palladino’s tutor, Joe Hubbard who
Probably the starting point for all that woh-oh business!
Visually, the album the album harked back to Replicas.. even
down to the typeface. The Assassin wasn’t too far removed from
Numan’s “grey man” concept.
The rain-swept streets & blistered paintwork were lifted
wholesale from William Burroughs.
Perhaps, fitting then that I, Assassin’s release coincided
with the release of the paperback of Burroughs’ Cities Of The
Red Night, the first part of Burroughs’ Western Lands Trilogy
& arguably, his greatest works.
Both authors were at creative peaks..
Burroughs never wrote another novel after he finished this
trilogy. Numan went on to write “Warriors”.. a review for
I, Assassin was the point where Numan crossed over from an angst
ridden young man to an exponent of conceptual continuity that
I’d previously only encountered with Zappa & Dylan.
Numan had fun exploring the possible avenues of his
something he should sit down &
take stock of now. Lyrically, he revisits old themes
& plays with them. Not a lack of imagination, far from it.
Many years later, the IRS debacle made him drop this kind of
self-reference. Interesting that recently, another Numan /
Burroughs character “The Priest” has returned to the fold..
perhaps the Assassin will also come in out of the cold one day?
As mentioned in War Songs, the album is plagued by tape hiss.
Strange that neither Telekon nor Dance suffer from this problem.
Numan has said in the past that the old Rock City mixing desk
had a badly earthed metal strip across the front of it that
actually hummed if you touched it!
Original flip to MFC. Numan threw away a track strong enough to
sit on the album! The female vocals added a softer side to the
huge, cold electronic noise… Numan would continue to mine this
vein for nearly a decade!
Bridge? What Bridge?
Throwaway track. Initial session as early as the Night Talk
recordings? Features the vocal “talents” of David Van Day
& Theresa Bazar.
The Image Is
A wonderful track, perfectly in-tune with I, Assassin. Strange
then that it’s stitched together from various elements, some
that pre-date “Dance”!
We Take Mystery (Early Version)
An insight into Numan’s method of composing on the piano.
Could easily have sat on the Dance album!
Echo-laden spin on War Songs. More conceptual continuity!
Glitter & Ash
A throw-away jam.. Palladino & Slade prove their mettle over
another Oriental keyboard hook. a fitting finale to the I,
Assassin album? I