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The Human League remastered reissues

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop's theme to the Doctor Who series first aired in 1963, and I'm willing to bet that some, if not all, of the future members of the Human League were watching and listening very closely. Those spine-tingling washes of synthesizers and alien metallic clangs must have seemed pretty mindblowing to a group of "blind youth" growing up in impoverished Sheffield. Lap dissolve to nearly 15 years later, and Phillip Oakey, Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh have formed The Future, soon to be rechristened the Human League. While fully reveling in the punk attitude and political urgency of their contemporaries, Human League's music always sounded a little different, their collective unconscious memory of that Doctor Who theme having pushed them towards the formation of an all electronic group. Not drums, bass and guitars augmented by synthesizers, mind you. Rather, The Human League were one of the first electronic purists; they used exclusively synthesizers and drum machines. What could be more standoffish and punk than that? From the beginning, Human League had a keen talent for uptempo songs and catchy melodies that set them apart from fellow Sheffield bands like Cabaret Voltaire and 23 Skidoo. The Human League were harboring a desire to make the world's greatest pop record. Electronic pop will never save the world, it's true, but listening to these Human League re-issues after 20 years of musical developments is an eye-opening experience. Pop music like the Human League's is resistant to musical modes and trends, and if you submit to its pleasures, it is timeless and perfect. - Jonathan Dean

1979's Reproduction is the first full-length LP by The Human League, following some 12" singles and EPs released the year before. The reissue treatment fully remasters and restores the sound, as well as adding loads of supplemental material, including the ultra-rare The Dignity of Labour EP and their first single Being Boiled. Reproduction finds the group in pristine form, matching dark, futuristic lyrics with mechanized beats, icy synth melodies and keyboard swooshes. Phil Oakey's lyrics elaborate on his childish, science-fiction obsession with an apocalyptic view of the future. The second track "Circus of Death" is a rambling, surreal narrative about a future holocaust perpetrated by narcotized clowns. Fans of early Gary Numan classics such as "Down in the Park" will appreciate this album. All of the elements of the latter day, chart-topping Human League are present, but the album maintains a consistently arch, clinical distance from the listener. This is only enhanced by Oakey's wry, detached wit and passionless delivery. One of Human League's best songs is here, the strangely upbeat "Empire State Human," a song about avarice and the desire to attain superhuman powers, set against a relentless proto-electro beat. By far the strangest track, "Morale," begins with some ambient synthesizer arpeggios, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream. Philip Oakey pipes in with some mournful lyrics, and the song slowly segues into an absurdly overproduced cover of The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." I'm not sure what the League were thinking here, but it somehow works. The Dignity of Labour functions as a four-part tribute to early electronic pioneers like Morton Subotnick, Raymond Scott and Bernard Parmegiani. It's completely instrumental, and consists of a series of musique concrete soundscapes. As such, it is the most avant-garde recording that The Human League ever released. Tacked onto the end of this re-release is The Human League's first single, "Being Boiled (Fast Version)." I won't go into a description of this song as it is has popped up on at least 20 compilations in just the past year. This version has the exact same tempo as every other version of the song I've heard, so I'm not sure what makes this a "fast" version, however. Reproduction is essential listening for anyone getting into The Human League or the Sheffield post-punk scene.


Travelogue is truly a transitional effort, containing both the Kubrickian, technology-obsessed sound that dominated Reproduction, and a healthy dose of the clever, infectious pop that would characterize Dare. The album kicks off with its best song, "The Black Hit of Space," a truly funny/scary song about a 12" from the future that sucks all of its listeners into a black hole. The music on this track is remeniscent of a lot of the formulaic industrial-style electro and EBM that dominated the 80's and early 90's. The Human League were pretty much the first on the block with this sound, before it had become a hopeless clich?. "Only After Dark" comes on like an electrop Beach Boys song, with its bouncy rhythm and fun vocal harmonies. The rest of the album is a hit-or-miss affair. Most of the tracks are flawlessly arranged and produced, but the songwriting is not nearly as strong as the songs on Reproduction or Dare. "Being Boiled" also makes an appearance on this album, but it has been reinvisioned as a hyperactive disco-fied Georgio Moroder track. There are seven extra tracks on this re-issue, most of them fairly disposable, but fun nonetheless. Who could resist the wackiness of their roboticized glam-rock medley of Gary Glitter's "Rock n' Roll" and Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing"? The League also pay homage to their childhood science fiction obsession on "Tom Baker," a tribute to everyone's favorite actor in the role of Doctor Who.


In my humble opinion, Dare is one of the greatest pop albums of all time, and for me it represents the absolute zenith of the new wave electropop of the early 80's. It is essential listening for fans of the so-called "modern" pop of Magnetic Fields, The Aluminum Group or any of the new overabundant crop of "electroclash" groups like Ladytron or Soviet. The new digital pop music characterized by groups like Lali Puna, The Postal Service and Tarwater has also been informed by The Human League's unparalleled classic. Released in 1981, The Human League have by this time lost two of their founding members, Ian Marsh and Martyn Ware, who left to form the new wave duo Heaven 17. With Marsh and Ware's departure, Human League have put aside all of the cyber-punk posturing, to focus exclusively on making ten superbly realized, perfect pop songs. What resulted is the Human League's masterpiece, one of the rare albums where each and every track is a great song in its own right. Philip Oakey's lyrics contain decidedly more "human" themes this time around, with some very grown-up songs about lost love, the modern world, murder and "the law." The production is a true marvel, gleaming and seamless. "The Things That Dreams are Made Of" kicks off the record with a beautiful synth melody and flawless drum programming. Soon, Oakey is reading off an inspired list of the things that his dreams are made of: "New York, ice cream, TV, travel, good times, Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, good times...". Witty, urbane lyrics and brilliant pop hooks abound on this record. Things take a rather disturbing turn with the somber, darkwave track "Seconds," which is as dead serious as The Human League get. The album ends with The Human League's biggest hit, and also one of their best songs, "Don't You Want Me," with its he said/she said lyrics and infectiously catchy chorus. If you thought this was just mindless 80's flashback music, listen again. As a bonus with Caroline's reissue, the entire Love and Dancing LP has been included. Originally credited to The League Unlimited Orchestra (in a tribute to Barry White's instrumental side-project), Love and Dancing is one of the first examples of a true remix album. Seven tracks from Dare and one extra track are specially remixed by producer Martin Rushent, whose liberal use of echo and a complement of wacky sound effects and intrumental fills is immediately reminiscent of the early dub approach to remixing. Love and Dancing is quite a sought-after rarity on LP, so to have these tracks available on this re-release is a real treat.



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