propagandising of the “back to the roots” movement, Pop pleasures remain in
artificially rather than autehenticity. The Human League go straight to the
heart of the matter by hiring this year’s hot black dance team, Jam and
Lewis (Janet Jackson, Alexander O’Neal) to produce and co-write “Crash”.
Although on occasion the two strong styles cancel each other out, the bulk
of the record is state-of-the-art, mealting pop music with all its ironies
and flights of fancy.
touch of production team Harris & Lewis has helped catapult A & M to the top
of the charts with Janet Jackson, and the label is obviously hoping to reap
similar rewards with this project. While the band lacks the depth of talent
that Jackson displayed, there are several strong shots for radio here, most
notably “Human”, “The Real Thing” and “Love Is All That Matters”.
Creem January 1987
I HAVE GRAVE trouble imagining what sort of people would describe themselves
as real fans of certain swill that's on the market today.
to use hot deskmeisters Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis illustrated give-it-a-go
nature of League; paid off, aesthetically and spiritually, sadly not
commercially (second and third J&L co-written singles, I Need Your Loving,
Love Is All That Matters, flopped). Thanks for that sleeves photo, too.
NME July 1990
“Crash” is a strange marriage. The band’s fizzy gawky pop heritage sat
uneasily with the Minneapolis duo’s state of the art urban funk. Human stood
out a mile.
The Human League turned to
American R&B producers
in the wake of their success with
and the combination brought the group its second number one hit with the
composition "Human," which harked back to the earlier "Don't You Want Me,"
albeit with a gentler tone. The album's second single, the
"I Need Your Loving," was also a
song (as was the U.K.-only third single, "Love Is All That Matters"), but
the bulk of the album was made up of group-written songs with appealing
backing tracks that maintained their dance appeal while eschewing the
overtly synthesized sound of previous albums. That made
Crash an improvement over the lackluster
but still not on a par with
Catchy catchy catchy. These English synth darlings sure know how to get
catchy. Production from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis melds with the band's
inimitable hooks to create a shimmering whole. "Love On The Run" offers pure
pop, and "Are You Ever Coming Back?" beats Squeeze at their own smart slick
game. "Jam" is music to sooth the alienated of all creeds: there's a vicious
throbbing underlying the great hook. Both "Money" and "Swang" are simply
irresistible: the former pairs a moral message with tight riffing, while the
latter throws down an urgent dance directive. It's the bass and brass that
give "I Need Your Loving" its punch. Every cut on Crash will pull you in.
There're ballads ("Human"), icy English R & B ("Party") and pop for the
people ("Love Is All That Matters"). The Human League more than live up to
their reputation-they're daring, smart, and oh so cool.
Human League: Philip Oakley.Nothing short of a C&W album recorded in the
heart of Nashville would seem as far removed from the Human League's early
experimental art-noise roots as 1986's CRASH. Following the commercial and
critical disappointment of 1984's underrated HYSTERIA, singers Phil Oakey,
Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley parted with the instrumental axis of the
Human League's hitmaking heyday and traveled to Minneapolis to record with
ex-Prince protTgTs Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, then at the top of the charts
as the masterminds of Janet Jackson's CONTROL.Jam and Lewis wrote and
performed the songs on CRASH, with only occasional lyrical help from Oakey,
and the results are fine mid-'80s pop-funk, even if they have almost nothing
to do with the Human League's earlier records. The group was rewarded with
the big American chart hit "Human," but from here on, every new Human League
album was treated as a comeback attempt.
www.stylusmagazine.com April 2006
For better or worse, we here at
Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit
greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often
discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age.
That's why each week at Stylus,
one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has
been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental
way, we aim with On Second Thought
to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Since I never thought the Human League were the bee’s knees I approached
Crash without trepidation. I figured this
silly collective got lucky with Dare—the
most austere, rhythmically-challenged synth-pop album ever—and a handful of
subsequent singles (I rep for “The Lebanon”). Silly? Let me count the ways:
lead cyborg Philip Oakey’s ridiculous haircuts and affection for thirdhand
futurism; their malnourished visual sense, which, for an act that employed
an onstage projectionist, is galling; the absence of irony which in
retrospect is one of their more endearing qualities, but renders their worst
moments more gauche than, say, ABC or Scritti Politti’s.
Plus, let’s not forget that no rockists were championing the League in 1986.
As representatives of a genre for which Rolling
Stone critics had little patience (unless you
were the Pet Shop Boys circa Actually),
they had nothing to lose by hiring the two hottest producers in the biz. It
sounds like an ideal union: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ rhythmic spritz and
Philip Oakey’s affectlessness. The result is a mismatch so complete that a
judge in divorce court might have shed a few tears. Oakey and keyboardist/guitarist
Ian Burden lacked songs worthy of Jam & Lewis’ brawn. So, in a fascinating
move, they indentured their songwriting to new masters.
Consider its brazenness. Imagine a contemporary act of comparable
one-dimensionality and fading commercial prospects—the Strokes, say—ceding
control to Missy Elliott and Timbaland and you will approximate
Crash. Simply put: Jam & Lewis can make fun
look as multihued as tragedy while the Human League made tragedy look as
parched as an obituary.
We must take comfort in small pleasures. Oakey’s Morris Day impression is as
hilarious as Morris Day’s Prince impression; the “Nasty” clone “I Need Your
Loving” even gives him a chance to do “The Bird.” On “Jam,” the producers
swathe him in cybernetic Busby Berkeley, while Oakey huffs and puffs, unable
to blow that fucking house down (better anyway than “Swang,” in which Oakey
assures us that his Mr. Roboto soft-shoes are “real city dancing”). He
relaxes some on “Are You Ever Coming Back?” and “Money” and anticipates
Curiosity Killed the Cat by almost six months on “The Real Thing.” Heh—the
real thing. On an album with ironies as subterranean as
Crash’s, we take our
yuks where we can find them.
But Jam & Lewis know exactly what they’re doing on the set’s two greatest
songs. Suzanne Sulley belts the iridescent chorus of “Love is All That
Matters,” her presence motivating The Little Engine That Could to chug past
the verses as if he really had somewhere to go, which he does, for “Love is
All That Matters” is a most clever sequel to
Action,” on which Oakey, at his most charmingly pompous, willed himself to
believe in love. Thanks to the assured thud-thud of the drum program and
Sulley’s duet with a synth playing a rollercoaster melody line (seek ye the
12” single), “Love is All That Matters” shows how a strong work ethic can
create an estimable simulation of romantic bliss.
On “Human,” their second American number-one, the Worst Singer of All Time,
baring his circuitry, is sublimated into gentle waves of sound and synth—love
action itself, you might say. The Human League ceases to exist; they become
a holographic simulacrum for Jam & Lewis themselves. His voice straining to
escape the confines of its basso-pomp origins, Oakey admits that
baby-did-a-bad-bad-thing with a sincerity that Jam-Lewis no doubt must have
programmed into his mainframe (if “Human” were better sung it would dissolve
into camp, worthy of Whitney Houston). Then Suzanne Sulley enters, in a
brilliant spoken-word turn that eclipses her work on “Don’t You Want Me,” in
which she humanized the complaints of Oakey’s whiny cad. Here she flings
Oakey’s macho bullshit back at him by first admitting to the same trespasses
(“When we were apart, I was human too”—understated perfection), then by
mocking his excuses in a genderfuck (“I am just a
man!”) of wounded empathy. Sin now, rue later:
it’s worthy of Christine McVie.
I don’t need to tell you any of this. “Human” is playing on
adult-contemporary stations as we speak (Jam & Lewis would write variations
on its chords: Alexander O’Neal’s “Sunshine” and Janet Jackson’s “Come Back
to Me”), you can download “Love is All That Matters,”
Crash is back in print, and Jam-Lewis’ bank
balances may rival Prince’s. And they never worked with English stiffs again.
When David Bowie released his soul-driven 'Young
Americans' album, he referred to it as
"plastic soul". However, I can think of few albums that deserve such an
epithet as much as 'Crash'. Desperate to regain the status and satisfaction
that 'Dare!' bought them, in an odd match the Human League decided to work
with production duo Jerry Jam and Terry Lewis of Janet Jackson fame. It's a
combination that works as badly as you'd think.
I own a lot of pretty poor
albums, to be honest. Albums that were put out when the artist blatantly
wasn't interested (Bowie's 'Tonight'), albums made when an artist has no
idea where they're going (Duran's 'Big Thing'), albums that sound like a
contractual obligation (PiL's 'This is What You Want…')… However, I don't
think I've ever heard someone sound so uncomfortable as Phil Oakey does on
the vast majority of this album.
The League are often viewed
as having a rather dated sound, with 'Hysteria' and 'Romantic?' both
attracting a fair bit of flak for this. However, I don't think anything
they've done sounds so ridiculously like everything bad about the 1980s as
this. Most of the album is poor-rate filler, utterly soulless vapid
production line pop. It must have been soul-destroying for the band to
effectively be moulded into the Jam/Lewis sound, and used effectively as
There are a couple of high
points. The ballad "Human" is more of a throwback to "Louise" from 'Hysteria',
allowing Oakey, Susan Sulley and Jo Catherall to showcase their vocal styles,
with a subtle musical arrangement instead of the predominant smothering
beats on much of the album. "Love is All That Matters" is similarly
well-constructed, and in much better shape that the single remix on the 1988
'Greatest Hits' compilation.
Aside from that, it's a mix
of the of production-line mediocre and the downright bad. "Swang", "Jam" and
"Party" are the worst thing the band ever did, and just about every track
outstays its' welcome. The only reason to buy this is the album cut of "Love
is All That Matters" (as "Human" is a compilation staple, and works better
cut lose from the dross of the album), and that's not enough of one to spend
much on this.