If you know any 80s music at all, you’re probably heard British artist Gary Numan’s single “Cars”. To be honest, I don’t care for that song very much; it’s one of those songs I only marginally liked back in the day, and now that I’ve heard it a million times, I’m just friggin’ sick of it.
However, before Numan became a solo artist, he led a modestly-successful band called Tubeway Army. Their first album – Tubeway Army – was guitar-heavy and sounded like most of the other “Britpunk” that was around at the time. By the time Tubeway Army’s second album, Replicas, was released in 1979, the band had changed. Numan had changed his name from Gary Webb, and had gotten heavily into synthesizers. What had been your basic three-chord punk band had been transformed into an early synthpop band, and a dark one at that. Numan seemed to be trapped in a paradox: on the one hand, he was readily embracing new technology in his music; at the same time, it seemed to scare him. Just like Simple Minds’ “Real to Real” (another “Song I Love”), Numan seemed to be deathly worried about machines taking over the world and removing humans from the equation. And no song illustrates this better than “Down In The Park”.
Lyrically, the song is completely dystopian. It tells the story of a world where androids called “machmen” rape and kill humans for sheer entertainment – much like like the days of Roman gladiators… only this time humans are pulling for the machines to win. The humans have numerically-named android friends (“Down in the Park, with a friend called Five”) that accompany them to a club called “Zom Zoms” to watch the carnage. If it sounds to you like something straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel… well, you’d be right. The whole atmospheric feel that the song evokes is just creepy. It’s like an entire Sci-Fi movie in one three minute song. Have a listen for yourself and tell me what you think: