These albums are, admittedly, NOT the place to start with Numan. To start with him I’d go with REPLICAS, THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE, or my personal favorite TELEKON. These are the weird second tier albums he did just before he went totally off the deep end. They have excellent moments and atmosphere, but some real clunkers too.
It seemed like every British pop star in the early 80s either had an Asian or Australian culture fetish or some combo of the two. Not sure that and his pansexual 1930s-style space gangster persona were really the stuff Ziggy Stardusts are made of. It got worse the next year, as you can see in this image I will spare you from directly displaying. After these two albums, Numan more or less flailed for 15 years until finding a successful niche by retooling his sound for goths/Nine Inch Nails fans.
Anyway, between these two albums you have something approaching the kid brother of Eno’s BEFORE AND AFTER SCIENCE, or a throwaway score to any number of 80s Italian post-apocalyptic biker movies. You decide. -Ian!
A transition album of sorts, Dance saw Numan departing from the jerky machine music of his synth pop prime to embrace a (bit) warmer sound that is less robotic and more free-form. The subject matter on highlights like “She’s Got Claws,” “Slowcar to China,” “Cry the Clock Said,” and “Crash” are quintessentially Numan, but their musical frameworks are quite far removed from early hits like “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Cars.” Undoubtedly a shock to fans, Dance hasn’t aged very well, either. The music is just a bit too far removed from the subjects to make much sense.
After the spare and lengthy reflections and dislocated experiments of his excellent Dance album, Gary Numan made a return to a more focused approach with I, Assassin, which turned out to be his last truly great album for many years. Much of what would characterize his later music in the ’80s did start to show up here, to be sure, but instead of the formless flailing all too apparent on Warriors, and especially on Berserker, Numan’s work here with modern electronic funk combines his early rigor and to-the-point rhythms with a deft, creative hand in the arrangements. “White Boys and Heroes,” the brilliant opening number, remains one of his best singles, featuring fretless bass work from Pino Palladino (long before both it and him had turned into rent-a-clichés), and set against droning, distorted vocals and doom-laden keyboards. The vaguely Asian (or at least the group Japan)-inspired textures of Dance linger on in songs like “A Dream of Siam” and the title track (the latter possessing a captivating hollow-drum-punch introduction), while one of Numan’s most randomly entertaining songs pops up with “The 1930s Rust.” It’s a suave finger-snapping number that even features harmonica, but somehow Numan’s ear for to-the-point rhythm and strange futurism still comes through. Perhaps the most underrated song remains the sharp hipshaker “War Songs” — U2 may never want to admit it, but “Numb” takes more than a little from the distorted up-and-down introductory guitar clips.
-John Bush, Ned Raggett, allmusic.com