When the week’s new releases in music drop on the same day, there can be only one winner. Thus Album WAR! This week, Gary Numan’s dystopic Savage (Songs from a Broken World) versus Prophets of Rage’s socially conscious self titled debut
Savage (Songs From a Broken World)
Gary Numan’s imprint on his genre has always been criminally underrated. While the artist has rarely lent himself to commercially accessible albums, it is his vision that has maintains him a fundamental touchstone to everything from EDM, House, 90s techno, ambient, prog, to experimental. To his credit, and immediately apparent in his latest release, Numan is of a minority of artists that can subsist on synthesizers and still convey a level of soul and conscious emotion.
Numan latest, Savage (Songs From a Broken World), bears its weighted title in every composition therein. Still immersive and nebulous in sonic landscape, Savage is stunningly disciplined in message. Numan is able to present thematic lyrics and arrangements that evoke both the disorientating alienation of an increasingly dangerous and out of control world and the anxious crush of globalization that brings our walls in on us closer every day. “When the world comes apart where we were you? Were you with me?”
The decision to craft Savage with such a clear and singular focus leaves Numan a path to carve where in past releases he would have been content to wander. This proves atypical if only that its tracks are well defined from one another with some flirting with singles. The album’s opener, “Ghost Nation” could do well opening the next James Bond film with its composition slick and brooding while charmingly accessible. Savage’s title belies the same biting edge and razored cynicism that are tailored in service to the album’s central conceit. To that end tracks like “Mercy” buzz from start to finish, led with surprisingly straight forward guitar work reminiscent of the late nineties mini metal renaissance.
The balancing act is limiting ones typically expansive palate with the discipline of focused themes. While Numan excels in creating a singular vista from Savage, unfortunately, it is not a particularly memorable one. Outside of the marching that opens “Pray for the Pain you Serve” there is very little to its backing track that stands apart from other offerings on Savage like “Ghost Nation” or “My Name is Ruin”.
What may be a matter of the chicken and the egg, if not moot entirely, there were several times on Savage that Gary Numan may have been singing but there was unmistakable lifts from Nine Inch Nails behind him. “Mercy”, for all its glorious ‘90s hallmarks, hits a little too close to the mark for its own good with a backing track nearly identical to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”. Likewise, “Pray for the Pain you Serve” shares dubiously similar affectations with Reznor’s work of Pretty Hate Machine.
The album’s closer, “Broken”, opens with a lush orchestral arrangement that blends with patient, meditative middle eastern horns. While evocative, the slow build leaves less than half of the track for Numan’s powerful final bars. A living elegy to the world he watches crumble around him, Numan laments, “If you had seen, you’d understand / if you had seen, you’d break like me / If you had seen all of the things that I’ve seen, you’d scream like I scream. / If you had seen, you’d feel like I feel, empty and broken at night”
Savage is an arresting release that holds no rust on Numan and instead captures him much like the world-weary explorer astride arid sand dunes that he portrays on Savage’s cover, now returned from his time in the desert. The tragedy that the explorer represents, of returning to a world changed without him and the cold realization he is as lost and alone now as he ever was, is as central to Savage as it appears to be to its creator. It is this undeniable labor of love and potent content that makes Savage (Songs from a Broken World) a dark horse capable of being argued as some of Numan’s greatest work in years.
Standout Track: “Ghost Nation” – While much of the album boasts of similarly engaging material, it is the album’s aggressive opener that sets the tone going forward expertly.
Rating: 4 out 5
Prophets of Rage
Prophets of Rage
It is still weird hearing a Rage Against the Machine (sounding) track open with that same distinct funk bass and dentist drill guitar only for Public Enemy’s Chuck D to deliver Prophets of Rage opening lines, supported in quick order with Cyprus Hill’s B-Real. When people talk of supergroups throughout the history of rock and roll, the pedigree of Prophets of Rage is nothing to sneeze at. None of the sums of its whole have lost anything in the interim as the self-titled release fires from all cylinders from opening to closer. Unfortunately, much of what they fire are blanks if not complete misses.
Much of POR presents itself as a tepid facsimile of Rage Against the Machine with Public Enemy fronting them. But it’s not, or at least it’s not supposed to be. Too much of the self-titled debut of Prophets of Rage comes across like a Van Halen restaffing rather than the genesis of entirely new band . Say what you will of Audioslave but there was at least a defined effort to sound like their own band, not merely a haphazard blend of Soundgarden and RATM.
Both RATM and POR may share equal measure of rage, but this latest iteration offers little else. Yes, the notion “no hatred, fuck racists, blank faces, times changing, one nation, unification, unfuck the world” is tonally on message as you would assume for the unit but the actual lyrics and compositions offered are dismally anemic throughout the release. “Legalize Me” opens with the eye rolling lines “They smoke in Colorado, they smoke in Cali too, they smoke all night but that’s all right we still fight on tomorrow” before going on to chronicle other marijuana-friendly states (and Toronto). Regardless of your opinion on cannabis legalization, “Legalize Me” is beyond hack considering the accumulated abilities on stage and the much more capable ways in which they’ve all shown they can tackle such timely and relevant issues.
And that’s the crux with Prophets of Rage. While the sentiments may be noble, they are reductive call-and-response anthems at best, wholly devoid of any of the penetrative fury Rage Against the Machine offered, or the social immediacy and presence Public Enemy helmed for decades. It may not be a fair argument to hold POR to the heights of the former members outfits but they instigate the comparison in releasing an album that makes little to no effort to step out of the shadow their past lives still cast. The members of this amalgam are so patently talented that it is frustrating to find their combined efforts so limited and unwilling to step out of their lanes for even an instant.
“Hail to the Chief” has similarly sparse lyrics revolving around single line choruses but there is a vitality here; one of the few tracks on the album that snarls, barks, and bites. “Who Owns Who” is far and away the most promising track, effectively finding room and use for each of the member’s particular skill-sets in an annihilating track that masterfully blends their strengths into something greater than the sum of their parts for the first time in the album’s runtime.
Prophets of Rage first release is still searching for an identity, oscillating between their former bands’ sensibilities rather than synthesizing. Too much of Prophets of Rage attempts Rage Against the Machine’s posture but without De La Rocha’s pen much of the album is found lacking. In wanting to produce something both socially prescient and house party sing-alongs like “Legalize Me” and “Take me Higher” Prophets of Rage want the best of both worlds but achieves neither.
Standout Track: “Who Owns Who?” – Sometimes he has to remind us, but Chuck D is not someone to fuck with.
Rating: 2.5 out 5
Winner of the Week: Gary Numan – Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
When an artist goes from pioneer to legend in their particular field they always runs the risk of growing complacent, of resting on laurels. Not so with Gary Numan’s new release. From open to close, Numan puts the entirety of his focus and creativity to every track and is evident in its engaging listenability and thought-provoking content which transcends politics of the day and examines a much deeper yawning chasm that Savage offers a clarion call warning toward.