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Ex Luna Scientia

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Customer Reviews

Dramatis Needs No Disguise

Although Gary Numan’s name was tagged all over these re-releases for obvious marketing reasons, the real Dramatis were Chris Payne (vocals, keyboards), Russell Bell (guitars, keyboards), Cedric Sharpley (drums), and Denis Haines (keyboards). Former Hollies keyboardist Denis Haines was the creative force behind much of Dramatis’s songwriting and lyrics—the one exception being “Love Needs No Disguise,” which has the obvious imprimatur of Numan’s lyrics (“and when The Park gates are closed, remember we toured the skies”); in fact, Haines later released a lovely and haunting instrumental album, “Colors: The Listening Principle,” in 1986, filled with ambient piano tracks. (“In Loving Memory” is presumed to have been written for Paul Gardiner, who passed away in 1984.)

I have fond memories of listening to this album on constant rotation back in my tape player back 1981, which is when it was first released under its original album title, “For Future Reference,” by its original band name, Dramatis. Dramatis was a side project for the members of the Gary Numan band (1979-1981), but there’s nothing remotely similar to the music of Dramatis and the music of Tubeway Army. Anyone who’s a fan of Tubeway Army would also remind listeners that Gary “Numan” Webb (a.k.a. Valerian) authored virtually all of Tubeway Army’s songs, and that the members of Dramatis did not even come on board as the Gary Numan band until “The Pleasure Principle.” Denis Haines, in fact, was a veteran of the “Telekon” album.

Some might argue that only one track off the album was worth the purchase, “Love Needs No Disguise,” which was promoted as a "Dramatis w/ Gary Numan,” and I would agree it’s one of the stronger tracks on the album. However, the album as whole merits a bit of defense after almost thirty-five years as a dystopic New Romantic satire, sometimes with darkly comical lyrics and song concepts. ”Human Sacrifice” is about post-apocalyptic cannibalism, complete with tribal chants and ambient screams and moans—over-the-top melodramatic, to the point of being outright bathos. Hilarious! There were other singles off of the album than “Love Needs No Disguise” that, in my opinion, more than held their own: Oh, Twenty Twenty-Five!,” “No One Lives Forever," and “Ex Luna Scientia” (which, apparently, is now the eponymous track from this repackaged version of the album), and “I Only Find Rewind” were actually pretty good. The concept of the album was loosely analogous to the H.G. Wells classic futurist story, “Things To Come” (hence, “For Future Reference”) in which the story follows the epic bildungs roman of human civilization from its darkest, apocalyptically warring years in the early 20th century to its apotheosis about a 100 years later, establishing a thousand-year era dedicated to science and peaceful exploration of the galaxy, and concluding with the journey of humanity into space to colonize other worlds. (Nerd alert: The 1936 film adaptation directed by William Cameron Menzies is a must-see. No, seriously!) Throughout “For Future Reference,” the songs progress from dystopia to utopia, dysphoria to euphoria—from the descent of civilization to its eventual ascent. In fact, if the album had been made today, there would be plenty of analogies to “The Cloud Atlas.”

The one major fault in all of Dramatis’s songs was always the vocals, which were not all that good but which tried to be good, and, for want of trying, sounded even worse. Gary Numan was no vocalist either, but, at least in his own way, he owned up to it and made his terrible vocals a signature style. The vocals on this Dramatis album possess an unctious karaoke “lounge act” quality: they sometimes are so flat, or come from so far back in the throat, that you can’t help but think of that one person in the choir no one had the heart to tell, “Bless your heart, darlin’, but you can’t sing!” If the group had just rolled with this and made bad lounge vocals their signature style, they could have gotten away with it, but, alas, that wasn’t the genre they were committed to.

When you add ‘em up, half the album’s tracks were released as singles that year, and Dramatis offered three more follow-up releases in 1982 before disbanding for greener pastures: “Face On the Wall,” “I Can See Her Now,” and “The Shame”; this latter track was a club favorite, believe it or not. If you can track it down, I also recommend the live Radio One broadcast, which contains their unreleased “Sand and Stone.” Cedric Sharpley passed away in 2012, so there’s little chance of a Dramatis reunion.

I know people are going to diss this album because it’s promoted as a Gary Numan release and, with those very specific expectations, it’s a tragic disappointment. I’ll defend it to the bitter end, though, as an ambitious New Wave project with some real virtuosity on the instruments and a cohesive lyrical concept. I feel bad for everyone involved: the members of Dramatis deserve to be acknowledged properly for this project, and Gary Numan/Tubeway Army are made to look as though they’ve hijacked it and taken credit for it. (I’m quite certain Numan had no role in the decision-making for this release.) However, if you listen to this as an artifact of early 1980s New Wave, and regard the concept of the album as something deserving to be in the pages of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, you won’t be left wanting. If you resolve yourself to the fact this isn’t a Gary Numan/Tubeway Army album, in no way shape or form, then the healing can begin.


Born: March 8, 1958 in Hammersmith, London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the founding fathers of synth pop, Gary Numan's influence extends far beyond his lone American hit, "Cars," which still stands as one of the defining new wave singles. That seminal track helped usher in the synth pop era on both sides of the Atlantic, especially his native U.K., where he was a genuine pop star and consistent hitmaker during the early '80s. Even after new wave had petered out, Numan's impact continued to make itself felt; his dark, paranoid vision, theatrically icy alien persona,...
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