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Human League

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    Human League

    dare reproduction travelogue hysteria

    Reproduction 8 ( 1979 )
    Almost Medieval / Circus of Death / The Path of Least Resistance / Blind Youth / The Word Before Last / Empire State Human / Morale... You've Lost That Loving Feeling / Austerity - Girl One / Zero as a Limit

    Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were two computer operators in Sheffield. They bought a cheap synth or two, invited Adrian Wright in to sort the visuals out for live performance and Philip Oakey to work the microphone. A fairly pioneering bunch they were at the time. 'Reproduction' is an album exploring the melodic potential of the keyboards and synths they had, which were brand new things at the time. Firmly influenced by Kraftwerk they went for a detached, icy feel - a windswept and austere european emotion. 'Reproduction' is often criticized for its lack of actual melody but that's slightly unfair. True, it's not bursting at the seams with the stuff but Phil Oakeys lyrics and voice keep the project grounded. Indeed, his lyrics are actually really interesting at this stage in his career. The album is something of a mixed bag though it must be said. It does go from the ridiculous to the sublime. The ridiculous arrives with a cover version of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling'. Played on a monophonic synth, something like a two note backing track amidst assorted beeps, noises and created samples. Overall, it's a comically bad cover version and if they were playing stuff like this live it's no wonder the punks threw stuff at them. On the sublime side we have 'Empire State Human', very much in the mould of the single 'Being Boiled' ( a bonus track here ) and a genuinely fresh sound, even when listened to today. Thankfully, there are other strong tracks too. These strong tracks aren't melodic as such in the way 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' by The Beach Boys is melodic. Take a track like 'Almost Medieval' and give Martyn and Ian credit for creating such a sound with minimal resources. Squelchy sounds, a snare sound and a very simple melodic strand for Oakey to sing his lyrics over and fine lyrics they are too. It's an album opener full of drama and it rewards repeated listenings because there's more going on than first meets the eye.

    'Circus Of Death' is hardly a cheery thing but it's another strong track. It reminds me of sections of Bowie's 'Low' album, now there was innovation! Human League themselves received praise from Bowie though when he reportedly claimed they and their sound represented the future of music. High praise indeed. 'Blind Youth' is another dramatic track, 'Zero As A Limit' another exploration in synthetic sound. You know what, this is a fine album all told. It's surprised me, because I didn't anticipate anything prior to 'Dare' being worthwhile. Well, there you go. Never make assumptions.

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    John Kedward Thailand
    I think this is the best thing they ever did though i understand the band were disappointed in the production. There is a muted, depressed feel to it, at times. The songs were also quite old by the time they recorded then and this suggests some stagnation. I saw them in October 1978 and their set was almost the same as what ended up on Reproduction a year later. However most of the material is excellent give or take some absurd words. i agree about the cover of you're lost that loving feeling that was a real toe curler when they did this live. As for the Album cover that was another own goal. I wish they could have incorporated the visual side of things from their live shows which was wonderful. Favourite tracks. Path of least resistance, Almost medieval, Austerity and the Word before last.

    top of page Travelogue ( 1980 )
    The Black Hit of Space / Only After Dark / Life Kills / Dreams of Leaving / Toyota City / Crow and a Baby / The Touchables / Gordon's Gin / Being Boiled / WXJL Tonight

    The guys learn to write some melodies, clearly stung by the non-song accusations that critics tried to belittle them with. Well, not even critics, the general public by and large. They still couldn't sell records but 'Travelogue' shows signs that the band would perhaps have movied in poppier directions anyway. Perhaps ( almost certainly ) not as drastically, but what can you do? 'Being Boiled' by the way is markedly different here from the far better known single version, that re-released in the wake of 'Dare', went top ten, the kind of success Human League could only hope and wish for in 1980. So, we get more little two/three note melodies swimming in atmosphere such as 'Only After Dark'. These guys were no Rick Wakemans and couldn't even play when they picked up their first synth way back in the years prior to the debut. 'Crow And A Baby' hints at Human League to come, but only hints. A whiff of 'Sound Of The Crowd' in a different universe. Only with knocking and obscure lyrics and generally a much less friendly tone. Ah, ha. But, 'Being Boiled'. The version here is just as scary, if not more so, than the single version. All sorts of odd noises and alarming noises, truth be told. The lyrics and vocal approach are exactly the same and it remains a stellar moment. In fact, I prefer this version. There, I've said it. Oh and 'Touchables' sounds like a hit song to my ears. That Human League were merely ahead of their time, and their non-image didn't help, is hardly here nor there. At least, it shouldn't be.

    Words for a moment please for the opening tune 'Black Hit Of Space'. The music is fine, although not as striking as much of the debut. That's something the whole album shares actually. They seem to have sacrificed some of the texture for a small amount ( actually ) of additional melody. Yet, Phil Oakey is mostly to blame. I actively dislike the lyrics here about putting a record on, a record with a buck rodgers sleeve, etc etc. Well, the music sounds like Kraftwerk four years previously and the lyrics are irritating. So, a point deducted entirely because of the lyrics on 'Black Hit Of Space'. Another point deducted for the guys losing the texture and wonder of the debut. What does that make? 8/10? No it doesn't, because i'm also taking off half a point for the musically befuddled 'WXJL' that doesn't seem to know what type of song to be. Interesting really, because you do get the sense with 'Travelogue', a fine album actually overall, that Human League didn't quite know what type of band to be. Ian and Martyn would depart then following the release of this LP. With a tour to promote, Phil Oakey hired two female dancers who joined him on stage singing to a pre-recorded backing tape prepared by Martyn before he left. The future could hardly have looked less bright.

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    Dare 9 ( 1981 ) more best albums...
    Things That Dreams Are Made of / Open Your Heart / The Sound of the Crowd / Darkness / Do or Die / Get Carter / I Am the Law / Seconds / Love Action (I Believe in Love) / Don't You Want Me

    Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright, along with hired session musician Ian Burden, wrote the majority of ‘Dare’ as the founder members and main creative lynch-pins were in another studio writing and recording the debut Heaven 17 album. Four singles charted from ‘Dare’, as Human League, whose new line-up had been written off by music critics, stormed the charts and enjoyed two top tens hits, one top twenty and one number one. The sound achieved on ‘Dare’ is far warmer than the groups austere beginnings. In terms of structure, easy to appreciate and actually quite cleverly distinctive pop hooks appear everywhere. The addition of the two female dancers Phil Oakey picked up at a club, both fans of the band, also lend their voices to ensure further pop appreciability factor. The singles are the key to the album but with some solid supporting material which I’ll discuss later. Firstly we have ‘Open Your Heart’, a superb top ten single. A little catchy insistent synth melody and strong vocals and lyrics amid a song structure that doesn’t resort to an obvious verse/chorus/verse, at least, the chorus isn’t rammed down your throat two hundred times during a four minute pop single. ‘These Are The Things We’re Made Of’ is ‘supporting material’ but pretty good sat alongside the single ‘Open Your Heart’ to kick off the album. It sounds fairly low-key this track but repeated listening ensures it comes across as one of the strongest cuts.

    Number one single ‘Don’t You Want Me’ was placed as the last track on the album. Phil Oakey and band were rather embarrassed by it deeming it the worst song on the LP. Relegated to last place as it were, the record company thought otherwise and out as a single it came anyway with a snazzy, memorable video. Staying at number one for something like four weeks, the record label were proved correct. One of the defining pop songs of the entire decade, the melodies are so familiar now as to be nursery rhyme but the song retains a freshness twenty five years and more on. As someone old enough to remember it when it first came out, that fact alone makes me suddenly feel very old, indeed. The other singles here, ‘Sound Of The Crowd’ and ‘Love Action’ were both big hits in their own right. The former initially appears the more serious composition, yet the ‘ah, ah, ahhh, ahhhhh’ section reveals a playfulness. ‘Love Action’ is simply pop gold, and there you have it. Well, not quite, we’ve still got other songs too, yet I won’t describe them, suffice to say they each have their place and none warrant easy dismissal. ‘Dare’ as an album comes across to me as one of the finest albums of the decade, simple as that. It ranks alongside any musical work that strange decade we had Rubiks Cubes and Sinclair Spectrums. Beep, beep, beep.

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    Hysteria 7 ( 1984 )
    I'm Coming Back / I Love You Too Much / Rock Me Again / Louise / Lebanon / Betrayed / The Sign / So Hurt / Life On Your Own / Don't You Know I Want You / Thirteen / The World Tonight

    Three years away was a long time in the eighties. Human League lost their producer and a vital part of their makeup. Martin Rushent was more than a producer for Human League, in effect, he was an additional band member. 'Hysteria' suffers from his absence. In fact, gone is the bands earlier pioneering spirit. Any changes this album has sound forced, eg, additional guitar. What was the point of that, really? When it works, it works well, though. 'The Lebanon' was an excellent single, a big hit, it meant something lyrically and sounds very well arranged and produced. The guitar lines here work very well over the synths. The styles meld together. The albums opening track 'I'm Coming Back' however sounds like a synth demo with a few guitar parts needlessly tacked on over the top. It also sounds cheap. In fact, 'Hysteria' sounds less advanced in terms of programming and beats than 'Dare' had done three years earlier, an odd thing. 'Rock Me Again' is a hideous track with a disco beat and very strained Phil Oakey vocals. The chorus repeats the songs title and beats it into the ground. The very concept used to be alien to the group anyway. 'Rock Me Again'? It's not actually a guitar / bass / drums workout, rather a comically cheery and cheap synth melody that doesn't actually do very much. Far better and ranking alongside 'The Lebanon' and the bands earlier work is the sweet ballad 'Louise'. A story-telling, matter-of-fact vocal delivery does the job here and the melodies are just very nice and the lyrics imaginative.

    Despite the mis-steps and the length of time taken to make 'Hysteria', despite the fact it isn't a progressive work, the songs are good enough if not judged directly against the bands other work, which is really the only fair way they should be judged. In such a spirit, we can say that 'I Love You Too Much' is a sleak, catchy thing. 'Life On Your Own' was released as a single and deserved to be. A good vocal and a thoughtful arrangement makes this a nicely mellow and sunny pop moment of cool. On the otherhand, right at the end of the album Human League clearly run out of steam including a couple of moments of clear filler. 'Thirteen' is a five minute synth instrumental without virtuosity or imagination. 'The World Tonight' sounds like b-side material, simple as that. Anyway, 'Hysteria' spawned three top twenty ( although no top ten ) hits and peaked at number three in the UK album charts. It's a decent enough album but unfortunately happens to be far worse than 'Dare' is. That in itself isn't a crime, but the next Human League album would be.

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    Crash 6 ( 1986 )
    Money / Swang / Human / Jam / Are You Ever Coming Back / I Need Your Loving / Party / Love on the Run / The Real Thing / Love Is All That Matters

    With Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis at the production helm, you might expect this to be a modern mid-eighties production. It is, but it's also hard to tell where they end and Human League begin. This is essentially a Phil Oakey solo record in all but name. By 1985 they had lost Dare producer Martin Rushent and musician/songwriter Jo Callis, perhaps explaining all of this. Funk is the order of the day, largely eschewing the more melodic pop related style that had brought them massive success during the 'Dare' era. Keyboard players Philip Adrian Wright and Ian Burden would subsequently also leave the band, thus reducing Human League to a trio of Oakey and his two backing vocalists. Essentially then, 'Hysteria' was in essence, the very last Human League album proper. The Jam and Lewis penned 'Human' would fit in to the League catalogue though, becoming a massive hit both sides of the Atlantic and a US number one. 'Are You Ever Coming Back' also at least sounds like Human League, a very familiar sounding Oakey vocal melody plugging the group back into their own past. 'Swang' and 'I Need Your Lovin' uneasily marry the American funk of Jam and Lewis to Oakey's very english vocals, brave experimentation or chasing sales folly? Well, in some respects 'Crash' did restore Human League's commercial viability yet the cost was the loss of the entire regular Human League instrumental/backing section. The last vesitages of this instrumental group make themselves rarely heard during the forty odd minute running time of 'Crash', although the track 'Party' is indeed one such occasion. In truth, Human League needed more confidence in themselves rather than hiring Jam and Lewis to produce the entire project. A former hit-making group such as Human League could surely have hired in a number of different writers/producers?

    'Love On The Run' should have been the follow-up to 'Human', it sounds like The Human League. Yes, you can move on and evolve and they did, the overall sound of the album revels in the improving technology of the 80s yet the songs are generally uneven and the Jam and Lewis style often jarring against the regular, more simple and dare I say 'human' British synth-pop style the group became famous for. You know, 'Love On The Run' comes from an entirely different place to the likes of 'Swang', happily so. I remember 'Love Is All That Matters' from it's original single release, it's about the only time you hear those female backing vocalists although I can't recall this track being a particularly big hit in the UK. So, the unfortunately titled 'Crash' saw Human League in some kind of stasis outside the Jam and Lewis production. It was a high cost strategy that lost the group vital members, members who felt put out at being sidelined. Human League holding on then, rather than soaring majestically.

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    this page last updated 13/03/11

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