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Which evokes another of my disagreements with Paul Sutton, this time concerning the song 'Steel and You' - again on Tubeway Army with an earlier version on The Plan. I give Sutton's interpretation at some length because it's quite a nice piece of prose and as always he describes the actual music better than I could do:

'On paper this is a lovely song. It’s the most positive Gary Numan song of the era, in that it contains positive emotions, "I just love being here", but it does start with a breaking of the rules, "I shouldn’t be here" and it begins and ends with thoughts about death. Otherwise it’s a song about a happy friendship and a happy place, The twist that keeps it far away from The Jackson Five and Michael’s song about loving a rat is that it’s about a friendship between a young man and a robot. So far so Star Wars, though the line about, "I can see in your eyes you’re not so sure about me" could be read as being a one-sided love thing, particularly if the line that follows ("This machine is my voice") is an interior monologue. It certainly adds an element of mistrust to this happy tale, but, as I try to keep things happy, perhaps the line is not said to the robot but to an unidentified third person, the listener, us ...

'So, feeling all warm and happy after studying the lyrics, let’s listen to what Numan does to it when he sets it to music. A sweet strumming acoustic guitar perhaps? Maybe a banjo and a harmonica? The song starts with a screaming cyclical wail of metallic noise, and by metallic noise I don’t mean thrashing guitars, I mean a huge piece of metal being scraped. Something that sounds like the opening up of a UFO, or since Numan was moving into the programme music of the concept album of Replicas, the noise could represent the opening of the capsule out of a city, such as in THX 1138 and Logan’s Run. It’s played with the bottom key on a minimoog held down and growling because it likes to show off, onto which is layered a couple of sweeping beeping alarm-like noises doubtless from the same versatile machine. "This machine will last for my life" ...'

I've suggested before that Sutton attaches too much importance to the sci fi element but here I don't think there's a sci fi element at all. I see it as a companion piece to 'My Life Machine' (the version on The Plan is called 'This machine'). Where the man on the life machine wishes the thing could be turned off and he could die in peace however, this man is at ease with his machine. He is quite content to have become in effect half a machine. In later songs Numan, well known for his interest in flying, has a similar relationship with his 'plane ('My Centurion ') or his car ('My car slides') - though in both these examples the machine has stopped working. Typical of Numan that the man who is ill at ease with his machine sounds quite jolly while the song about the man happy with his machine is as Sutton describes it (though Sutton seems to have missed that the machine sounds are based on breathing, evoking perhaps an artificial lung).

I have a similar disagreement with Sutton over the song 'Tracks' on The Pleasure Principle, a much better known (and better) song than 'Steel and You' or 'My Life Machine':

'Where are the tracks?
Where are the lines?
Where are the tracks, dear?
Where is the time?

'You were so cold
You were so slow
You were so old
And we were unsure

'And I want your lines
And I want your time
And I want your face, dear
And you can have mine'

Here Sutton acknowledges that his own interpretation may be going over the top. He starts by taking the 'tracks' to refer to musical tracks and goes on to interpret it in the light of Numan's battle with Beggars Banquet over his discovery of the synthesiser ('We were unsure ...'). He gives a similar twist to 'Steel and You' suggesting that it concerns Numan's own relationship with his new found love, the Minimoog. This musical interpretation comes to a climax with a suggestion that it might be all about David Bowie - an interpretation that I think actually works rather well. Then he offers an alternative, reverting to the field of, if not sci fi exactly, at least fantasy. Again this is worth quoting for his description of the music:

'Are there clues to the song’s meanings in the way that Numan performs it? It starts with a very sweetly simple piano solo intro and, in contrast to the obliqueness of the lyrics, the first verse is sung by Numan without any studio effects on his voice, and without that characteristic doubling and tripling up of his voice. It’s Numan vocally naked and that is something very rare. It’s an approach that conveys sincerity and youthful innocence. Then, what is possibly the greatest of all drum-driven Moog-singing orchestras sweeps in and carries both songs and us away on interlocking waves of gorgeous sounds blissfully free of the chug-chug and whine of electric guitars. For the final two verses of 'Tracks', the Numan with the naked voice is replaced by the familiar Numan with-the-high-strong-sneering-attack-dog-light-tenor. This duality of voice, the soft naked one and the hard almost aggressive one, is right for a song about swopping faces and lines. It’s interesting to note that it is the aggressor who demands to do the swopping. He wants the face and the lines and the time (i.e. youth) of the sweet and vulnerable Numan who opened the song. Looked at that way, it becomes a sort-of Exorcist-themed song about a Devil feeding on youth and innocence.'

'Well' - to quote the much later song (Metal Rhythm) 'Devious' - 'maybe.' But it seems strange that the lines in the second verse.

'You were so cold
You were so slow
You were so old
And we were unsure'

should be sung by the 'aggressor.' I take the whole song to be sung by 'the sweet and vulnerable Numan' (he was 20 or 21 years old when The Pleasure Principle was issued) addressing an old man and expressing regret that a sexual relationship didn't develop between them as it might have done ('You were so slow ... we were unsure'). And on this reading the offer of an exchange of faces with the man (who may now be dead having, like the man on the life machine and the man in 'Thoughts No 2', had his time) is a powerful extension of the tenderness of the first verse - the speeding up of the song representing an intensification of the feeling.