Well, another year's gone by and another regime of avante-rock fashions has been announced, cultivated and ripened nearly to the point of mainstream accessiblity. Must be time for another Gary Numan album.

"I, Assassin," like Numan's previous outings, appropriates the innovations of more original -- yet by no means obscure -- artistes and pop-ularizes their ideas by simplifying at best, vulgarizing at worst. In the past, David Bowie and Ultravox have figured most prominently in his short-list of referrents.

"I, Assassin" kicks in with a rather monochromatic reading of Talking Heads' current Afro-funk dance-trance mode, "White Boys and Heroes." It's all percolating bass and dizzy, busy percussed cross rhythms. "Dream of Siam" opens with rambling pseudo-Oriental electronics -- diluted Japan. Here and elsewhere, Numan makes repeated prominent use of the slithering, fretless bass style Japan's Mick Karn pioneered on his group's string of British-chart hits this year. Numan rented Karn for the sessions of his "Dance" album and obviously, uh. . . got his money's worth.

But Numan also displays genuine talent in arranging. He handles the borrowed material ably and adds obtrusive hooks -- either catchy lyric phrases or short, catchy synthesizer riffs -- to otherwise atmospheric, not-so-readily grasped formats. That may not seem like much, but it has repeatedly resulted in viable pop records stemming from unorthodox sources. And that's an achievement!



I, ASSASSIN -- (Atco 7 90014-1).


GARY NUMAN -- Friday at 8 at the Ontario Theater.