Quirk Your Enthusiasm (2)

By: Joanne McNeil
August 2, 2016

"Metal" was the B-side of Numan's "Cars" single.
“Metal” was the B-side of Numan’s “Cars” single.

One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite New Wave songs from c. 1977–1982. Josh Glenn’s series introduction is here, and you can listen to the QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist here. Enjoy!

“METAL” | GARY NUMAN | 1979

“Metal” is the finest song ever written about an android becoming self-aware. It is also the finest song about a mallory heart. I must have listened to it a few hundred times, sometimes over and over, and always I take a moment to contemplate the line: “My mallory heart is sure to fail.” Whatever is a “mallory heart”? Or who? “Mallory Heart” could be the name of an ’80s daytime drama actress with frosted feathered locks and lavender mascara. Whatever it is, Gary Numan has one — and it’s “sure to fail.”

J.G. Ballard had a “Mallory” in The Day of Creation, the name of a doctor, a river, and the source of his hallucinations (“The Mallory moved among the dunes, a faint thread only a few inches deep.”) Numan has mentioned Ballard as an influence, but that novel came several years after the song. There is a medical term, “Mallory bodies,” for inclusion bodies “found in the livers of people suffering from alcoholic liver disease.” But that’s the liver, not the heart — and a drinking reference wouldn’t seem to fit with Numan’s gloomy robot asceticism. There is a Mallory metal, an alloy of tungsten, with a “primary use as a balance weight.” But a metal heart wouldn’t feel and couldn’t “fail.” Numan’s self-aware robot is fragile and learning, “frightened by the liquid engineers.”

Finally, deep in a Wikipedia disambiguation page, I found reference to the Mallory battery: that’s got to be it! The battery was renamed Duracell about the time of this song’s release. “My battery heart is sure to fail” might have worked just as well… but it’s Gary Numan’s inscrutable coinage that makes this song indelible.

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QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Mark Kingwell on Soft Cell’s TAINTED LOVE | Joanne McNeil on Gary Numan’s METAL | Devin McKinney on Suicide’s FRANKIE TEARDROP | Douglas Wolk on Family Fodder’s SAVOIR FAIRE | Elina Shatkin on Marianne Faithfull’s BROKEN ENGLISH | Steph Burt on Altered Images’ HAPPY BIRTHDAY | Greg Rowland on Jilted John’s JILTED JOHN | Gordon Dahlquist on XTC’s RESPECTABLE STREET | Adrienne Crew on D-Day’s TOO YOUNG TO DATE | Jonathan Lethem on The Blue Nile’s I LOVE THIS LIFE | Josh Glenn on Tim Curry’s I DO THE ROCK | Molly Wright Steenson on Missing Persons’ WORDS | Anthony Miller on The Nails’ 88 LINES ABOUT 44 WOMEN | Luc Sante on The Normal’s WARM LEATHERETTE | Mimi Lipson on Dolly Mixture’s HOW COME YOU’RE SUCH A HIT WITH THE BOYS, JANE? | Tim Carmody on Talking Heads’ LIFE DURING WARTIME | Ingrid Schorr on Ian Dury’s CLEVOR TREVER | Adam McGovern on Lene Lovich’s LUCKY NUMBER | Deb Chachra on Rough Trade’s HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL | Tor Aarestad on Oingo Boingo’s LITTLE GIRLS | David Smay on The B-52’s’ DANCE THIS MESS AROUND | Jessamyn West on Blondie’s HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE | Drew Daniel on The Human League’s MARIANNE | Erik Davis on Tuxedomoon’s TIME TO LOSE | Dan Fox on Thomas Dolby’s EUROPA & THE PIRATE TWINS.

NEW WAVE HILO HEROES: Debbie Harry | Marianne Faithfull | Grace Jones | Ian Dury | Mark Mothersbaugh | Plastic Bertrand | Tim Curry | Kate Pierson | Green Gartside | David Byrne.

MORE ENTHUSIASM SERIES at HILOBROW

WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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Categories

Enthusiasms, Music, Pop Music

What do you think?

  1. Numan would do things in interviews like using “minuscule” as a noun, so I always thought “mallory” was maybe his synapses just mixing “metallurgy” and “alloy”…either that or take out an “L” and think of Sir Thomas…the invincible casing pierced anyway…

  2. The problem with “Duracell heart” or “Energizer” heart is that these brands are associated with longevity, non-stop energy… whereas a “mallory heart” sounds like a battery-powered organ that is inexorably fated to slow down and stop. Thanks for making me think about this question, Joanne. Fun item.

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