Gary Numan's album Replicas, was originally released in April, 1979, with the band Tubeway Army. Based on Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, (which was itself the inspiration for the film Blade Runner), it is a concept album that tells the story of a future overrun by androids, also called "replicas" or "machmen." Replicas is incredibly complex, and most of the interpretations below are purely my own, so feel free to /msg me your own thoughts.
Interestingly, in the film, the androids are called "replicants," but never in the book. Numan's album came out three years before the film.
Update 2/10/10: It's been slowly coming to my attention that a number of the lyrics are straight out of the works of William S. Burroughs. I think Burroughs might even be a larger influence on the album than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I'll add more Burroughs references as I come across them, as I'm only just getting into his work.
Update 5/01/10: Now that I've finally gotten my hands on a copy of Naked Lunch, I'm more equipped to report my findings. Not only are there references to it in Numan's other albums, "replicas," essentially clones, are a major part of the novel. Ridley Scott also got the title of Blade Runner from a Burroughs book by that name. Fascinating.
Me! I Disconnect From You, the first song on the album, describes life from the perspective of a replica. Because of this song and "Down in the Park," which is below, I suspect that replicas had once been human, or partially so, hence lines like "I couldn't recognize my photograph." Lyrics are in the sidebar of the YouTube page, as with other songs.
Are 'Friends' Electric is easily the most famous song off the album. This one is from the perspective of a human, whose only relationships are with replicas. When his replica breaks down, he has no one to love. The spoken parts describe his failed relationship with a human. I particularly like the humming in this song.
The Machman is really where the killer robot element comes into play. In this song, he describes a replica or "machman," short for "machine man," a phrase which comes up again. Numan also mentions "the park," which is, of course, the setting of "Down in the Park." Unlike the replica in "Only a Downstat," this one is clearly malicious. We also get a better glimpse into the future that this takes place in, presumably a future run by killer robots. The phrase "tomorrow the cure" appears in the novel Naked Lunch.
Praying to the Aliens is a much more comprehensive view of the general screwiness of the future. The title and chorus refer to the "false gods" that the replicas present for people. Numan is basically saying that they've destroyed god and replaced him with an artificial one. The other lyrics seem to refer to homosexuality (I suspect "boy/girl age" should actually be "boygirl age," implying feminine boys and masculine girls), which, along with the previous idea, make the whole song remind me of a novel called The Wanting Seed, by Anthony Burgess. In The Wanting Seed, the world is horribly overpopulated, so the government encourages homosexuality to keep people from breeding, to the point where you can't get ahead in life if you're straight. In the album, the robots want to do the same thing, to eventually eliminate the humans. The Wanting Seed also has a lot to say about destroying god. Finally, the last section of the lyrics has to do with thinking or acting against the replica laws, similar to the thoughtcrimes in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
At last, the long awaited Down in the Park. This is probably my favorite song on the album. It's from the perspective of another replica or machman, hanging out with his robot friends, eating in restaurants, and killing people in the park. The line "I was in a car crash..." gives further credence to the "formerly human" theory. He knows he used to be a person, but he can't recall how he died. The line about "rape machines" suggests that even the replicas are vulnerable to each other. Finally, the bit about "we are here to serve you" is another reoccurring theme, most notably appearing in "Do You Need the Service?" "Service" is basically brain washing.
You Are in My Vision is very out-of-place with the rest of the album, in both sound and content, so I suspect it was intended for another album and has no baring on the plot. Still catchy. Plus, Numan uses the word "gyrates," which is just awesome.
Replicas, the song from which the album gets its title. It describes a human trying to stage a replica revolt, but finding they're all too similar and none of capable of independent thought. It's all kind of self-explanatory from there.
It Must Have Been Years is another description of the future. The human narrator tries to remember what the pre-killer-robot world was like, but, since he receives "the service daily" he "can't remember much at all." He described the people left as cold and impersonal, warning each other to not speak with anyone else in public as taxi drivers speed by. The line "old cop bullshit" also appears in Naked Lunch.
When the Machines Rock and I Nearly Married a Human are instrumentals, and, as such, I can't pull much meaning from them.
We Are So Fragile describes the pitiful state of the remaining humans. It also contains one of the numerous references to "white lies," by which I suppose Numan means what the replicas tell him. Lyrics here.
Do You Need the Service describes what "the service" is like, and how the human narrator feels afterwards. This song also has another mention of the "grey raincoat," which I have no idea about. Maybe Numan just likes grey raincoats. Lyrics here.
I Nearly Married A Human (Part 2), the last song, is practically another instrumental, since the only lyrics are "I nearly married a human" twice. Again, I have no musings on it.
Only a Downstat wasn't included on the original album, which is a shame because it's a very good song and fits in nicely with the rest of the story. It describes a replica that has emotions, because of his "Level 7" status. However, the replica isn't quite sure what to do with them, so "says things like 'I love you'," "cries real tears," write letters to people he doesn't know and works in old age homes, among other things. Lyrics here.