By Daniel Kohn
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Alien. Robot. Mad genius. Gary Numan has resembled each over the years, and these days he can add Dark Prince to the list. Boosted by a late-'90s shout-out from Trent Reznor, Numan is now catering to the Goth and industrial sets, which makes a certain amount of sense when you trace his progress from sleek punk and glam through icy new wave and rock-damaged electro.
The man best known in the States for "Cars," a classic single that's since been appropriated as a slab of retro kitsch, has always been a spooky, detached soul. Although he's made plenty of essential albums over the years—The Pleasure Principle and the underrated Dance come to mind—it's "Cars" and his recent stab at dark wave that will comprise his legacy in the eyes of most Americans.
Following the surprise success of 2000's Pure and 2003's hodgepodge Hybrid, Numan has returned with Jagged, fusing his eternal weirdness with inky electronics and modern-rock signifiers. The single "In a Dark Place" finds him sounding almost human in his singing, and the skittering music beneath is warmer than the bulk of his '80s material.
As with any icon who's considered more influential than viable, Numan has the luxury of sitting back and watching as his favorite tricks slip out of and back into style every few years. Along the way, he may snag the odd collaboration and flash an "I told you so" grin when someone deigns to cover one of his songs, but mostly he'll keep busy in pursuit of the same nagging impulse that first transformed him from an unassuming London teen named Gary Webb all those decades ago.