Gary Numan has had a “teacher becomes the student” relationship with Trent Reznor for more than a decade now, and the new Dead Son Rising sounds like it easily could have been released on Reznor’s Nothing Records imprint in the late ’90s. On Son, Numan sticks with his firmly established template of distortion-soaked keyboards, guitars that have been tweaked to sound like faulty synthesizers, squealing basslines that sound like an analog modem getting a lapdance, and drum programming with harder fills than might be expected from a man of Numan’s age.
Dead Son’s claustrophobic production turns monochromatic over the course of 50 minutes. There are plenty of interchangeably gray moments, but there are also some winners: “Big Noise Transmission” has a satisfying thump and a committed man-machine vocal performance, and “The Fall” stays within Numan’s science-fiction wheelhouse, equating an apocalyptic scenario with personal conflict, and piling on guitars that contract and expand like black holes. “Not The Love We Dream Of” is the moody piano ballad that’s de rigueur on an album like this, but it’s lovely enough to not come off as perfunctory. Numan might not have the most up-to-date operating system, but the old cyborg is still good for a couple of kicks.