The Human League

Virgin, 1979

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


This isn’t the Human League lineup you are familiar with. On this, their 1979 debut, lead singer Philip Oakey is merely a member of a male quartet. Female backing singers Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley had yet to be recruited. This is all cold electronics set against a stark visual backdrop of a growing population about to implode. The lyrics of the second song say it all: “The circus of death is approaching. Its pathway is painted in red. Before it the frightened and helpless. Behind it a trail of the dead.” This ain’t “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of,” only the stuff that cause nightmares. If you like it dark and dangerous, give this album a spin.

Staccato beats abound on Reproduction. Is it any wonder this band has always been a favorite of DJ’s and rappers alike? Sampling a track like “Almost Medieval” or “Blind Youth” can only work in your favor. Recently, even Kanye West has delved into electronic music for his best album to date, Yeezus. It’s about time acts like the Human League got their proper due. The problem with the New Wave genre is that it has the unfair novelty label attached to it by the rock critics and mainstream establishment. It was so far ahead of its time in the 1980s that American society didn’t quite know what to make of it, dismissing it as colorful fluff or space age nonsense. We can only hope that in daring to look back to this period, someone will champion this music and recognize the artistic merit of the Human League, OMD, Depeche Mode and the like. It needn’t be so impenetrable. It only seems that way because it’s groundbreaking. Make an effort and you too will discover its limitless creativity and potential. C’mon, let’s just admit it. The Brits did do it better. Are you listening, Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One listen to “Empire State Human” or the amazing remake of the Righteous Bros. chestnut “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” will tell you all you need to know about this period of Human League’s development. Oakey’s deep bass voice is distinctive and noteworthy. The music, especially in the languid, quieter moments, sparkles and dazzles the senses. Even electronic music pioneer and producer Giorgio Moroder would sit up and take notice of this Human League debut, seeking Oakey out later for a solo project and soundtrack work on the fittingly-titled film Electric Dreams. Once Joanne and Susan came onboard for the breakthrough third album Dare, all bets were off. Gender bending became the pop culture stock in trade, opening the door for other British artists like Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics and Boy George of Culture Club to strut right on through. Soon the Billboard chart would become a racetrack. Too irresistible for radio to ignore, we’d soon see songs like “Don’t You Want Me,” “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” and “Karma Chameleon” going all the way to #1.

Sadly, once the teenagers all grew up and settled down, the ‘80s would come to a crashing end and all this music would become passé. Sure, there’d be techno in the ‘90s, but that was merely a shortlived trend that unfortunately had to compete with grunge. And don’t even bring up Radiohead. Their gloppy “music” bears little resemblance to anything we’re discussing here.

Only now do we see signs of life with the burgeoning EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene. You know Madonna is still trying her damnedest to get this genre to see the light of day and bring it to some popularity as only she can. And you’d be a fool indeed to bet against her.

Rating: A-

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© 2014 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin, and is used for informational purposes only.