08 February 2009

Tubeway Army Rules

It's a bleak vision of the future. In the foreground a cut-away view of a subway reveals a speeding train, broken glass littering the tunnel, grafitti daubed on the wall. The tunnel snakes through a lunar landscape to a dominant dome, a bubble fit to burst with the skyscraper city inside. But this is not a utopian view of some glorious future. The image is rendered in crude black and white; rough pencil strokes hatch in a claustrophobic perspective. There is no sense of accomplishment, no intimation of the boundless possibilities of the future. The city is capped and constrained; our focus is on the seedy underside. And the train is speeding away from the city, not towards it.

"Tubeway Army Rules" says the grafitti; it's their first single and they are punks. Valerian and Scarlett want to create a new future, but the present lies too heavy. They soon give up their space-age monikers and go back to plain old Gary and Paul. And while the dress-up games might continue, it is apparent throughout the two albums issued under their collective name that this is music of a profoundly dissociated present.

From the very opening of the Tubeway Army LP Gardiner's bass is central. Paired with minimal synth it propels "Listen To The Sirens" and "My Shadow In Vain" out of the shadows and into some stark hinterland already perfectly illustrated by that single cover. Half future / half retro, born of the Eno / Ultravox! experiments and Bowie characterisations, it's got a desolate feeling all its own. Just as Ultravox! looked to literary antecedents ("this is the Burroughs song", "this is the Ballard song", they planned in session), so too Tubeway Army has its Burroughs song, its Dick song, its Zamyatin song.

Though the synths throw up spectral possibilities of uncertain futures, it is the bass (and drum pulse) that anchor the songs in the back streets of a dire monochomatic London. Without Gardiner's bass these songs would not be such controlled exercises in restraint and power.

"Mr. Webb there is no way out," Gary sings, reminding himself of the traps that await failure or, even worse, success. Pop is there to give us a sparkling illusion, but Gary knew from the beginning that we never get to live in that glittering future, only in a present we fashion for ourselves, day by day. His songs are redolent of melancholy and loss from the very beginning.

Paul should have listened more closely.

-- Second Chameleon

This missive contains the first two Tubeway Army singles. "That's Too Bad" was issued in early 1978 in an obvious attempt to break the punk market. Despite the chugga-chugga guitar it contains a hint or two of stranger things to come. "The Lemon Kid is my friend" and other lyrics from "Oh! Didn't I Say" are pure Burroughs.

"Bombers" came five months later and marks Numan's first use of synthesiser, pressed into service to create the sound of a siren.

The two singles were re-issued together as a double pack after the debut album sold out its first run and started to create a stir. The versions here are the very best quality we could find, sourced from the very rare Japanese-only four CD set Asylum. This collected The Plan, Tubeway Army, Replicas and The Pleasure Principle together with rarities and b-sides. Eventually Beggars Banquet re-issued the albums individually in a similar fashion.


"That's Too Bad"
01 That's Too Bad (3:23)
02 Oh! Didn't I Say (2:19)
UK 7" Beggars Banquet [BEG 5] 1978.02

03 Bombers (3:54)
04 Blue Eyes (1:47)
05 O.D. Receiver (2:39)
UK 7" Beggars Banquet [BEG 8] 1978.07

"That's Too Bad" / "Bombers"
UK 2x7" Beggars Banquet [BACK 2] 1979.06

Asylum 1
Japan 4xCD Alfa Records [ALCB 6-9] 1990.12

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