DARE REVIEWS

 

NME October 1981 new

Paul Morley

The League are Abba locked into Ramones, Iggy, Can, Zappa, Kraftwerk.

Phil Oakey is a post-Iggy crooner of romantic agony who possesses a tough streak of intellectual scepticism.

‘Dare!’ is the second intoxicating intervention to be produced out of the great split, and already it’s the first Human League greatest hits collection. It’s the first coherent projection of persecuted lover Oakey’s staggeringly twisted personality – I mean that in the queasiest possible way.

The Human League, presumably because Phil Oakey and Bobby Last, took charge of theprocedings, have begun to deal seriously with the themes and issues of popular fiction, song, film and soap opera – love, an intensity of desire, an examination of comfort, beauty and jealousy.

Fundementally, there’s been an artful redefinition of the quite devious potentials of middle of the road music. As the League theory no doubt had it they are Abba locked into Ramones, Iggy, Can, Zappa, Kraftwerk. A confection energised by intimate reflection.

The use of electronics becomes all but irrelevant. The Human League just produce their music to interfere with the daily details of the ‘80s family. The Human League signify that deliciously serious, sincerely disposable MOR music can possess style, quality and sophistication.

I like the idea of the Human League selling hundreds of thousands of copies of their product. So does Bob Last. I like the idea of The Human League knocking Genesis off the Number One place in the LP charts. Why? Choice and change, lust and longing.

The Human League could be the first pop group broken in by punk and who are in touch with the deeper elements of art rituals, pop skills, political illusions and love codes who have burst into the mainstream. Surprise! ‘Dare!’ is some kind of revenge, and in many ways it challenges the very conventions of pop music and the essence of innovation. What is it all for? I think that ‘Dare!’ is one of the great popular music LPs. It’s both ‘pleasant’ and it’s a ‘challenge’. I’ll keep it forever: truth and lie combined I’ll always hold dear.

 

Sounds October 1981 new

…Human League are to be admired for helping create, or re-create, a whole new genre. Buy this record and you can hear it happening – in the sweet melodies for Love Action and Darkness, in the sincerity of Seconds… It might not be music to remember, but it’s music to dance to, dress to and generally enjoy.

 

The Face November 1981 new
Paul Tickell

If you've been waiting for the Human League album to check out that the band really are, in the wake of "Sound Of The Crowd" and "Love Action", first division, then you won't be disappointed. Anticipation is just a little blunted by the inclusion of both singles and the latest "Open Your Heart" on "Dare", but only just.

Still, maybe this is just one of those singles albums: all three of those 45s were instant, but growers, too, with powerful hooks and rising well-placed choruses (framed by Joanne and Susanne) waiting to really get you the third and fourth time around. This is very much the spirit of the whole album, and it's all there on "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of" - the sparing use of synths which doesn't preclude ingenious little flourishes, the Linn drum machine with a heart full of lively techno-beats, and above all Phil Oakey's voice.

He has stylish soul, the ability to sound cool and warm at the same time, dadified and dedicated. This plus the sheer lyrical wit of Philip Adrian Wright ("New York, ice cream, tv, travel, good times/Norman Wizdom, Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, good times") adds up to pop 1981, what a lot of electro-imitators will be flogging in '82.

It's doubtfull they will get the chemistry right (e.g. the rippling reggae effect on "Do Or Die" or the brass sound on "I Am The Law"), not without Jo Callis and Ian Burden's imput of classic songwriting suss, not without the technological heart of producer Martin Rushent and his Genetic Sound Studio.

"Dare" isn't entirely new, out of the blue, League. It does have a retrospective dimension, harking back to "Travelogue". Numbers like "Darkness" and "Seconds" owe a lot to the oddball melancholy of that earlier album. However, this mood is inextricably linked to Top Ten League. "Don't You Want Me" (a chance for Oakey and Susanne to do a tongue-in cheek but heartfelt duet) ends "Dare" on excactly the right ultrapop note - the next single?

Billboard January1982

The Human League is a high-tech English synthesizer band with no guitars or drums. But their Linn drum computer is so state-of-the-art that it even syncopate, and leader Phil Oakey disdains the doom-and-gloom maunderings of most synthesizer bands in favour of strong, sparkling love songs. The result – especially their hit, “Don’t You Want Me” – is techno-rock with a human touch, and pure pop at its very best.

 

Rolling Stone January 1982

David Fricke

The Human League is a perfect case in point. In the four years since the group’s first single, a home-recorded slice of angry young electronic New Wabe called “Being Boiled”, the original quartet split in half and evolved into a six-piece, circa-2001 Abba. Singer Phil Oakey’s lusty saloon styling is now lightly sugared with the twee harmonies of Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley. Such songs as the Euro-fizzy “Open Your Heart” and the bright motorfunk exercise “Love Action” (both on Dare) are delightful, swinging singles free of sci-fi pretensions and uncluttered by art-school cleverness. Producer Martin Rushent’s warm wide-screen production also takes the edge off the severe chill that typified the League’s earlier import albums.

Yet, more important, the League itself now strikes an appealing balance between moderne technique and tuneful charm, epitomized by the hit single “Don’t You Want Me”. Alternating between a gray doomsday riff and a smart samba strut, the song is a tasty white-soul layer cake of competing melody and harmony lines whose orchestral possibilities are pared down to a sleek, glassy arrangement by the metallic breeze and regiment beat of the synthesizers. With all the knobs and buttons at their disposal, the Human League still goes for the hook. And with eight other songs as artfully grabby as “Don’t You Want Me”, Dare keeps reelin’ ‘em in.

****

 

New York Times January 1982

Synthetic Pop Bands

The Human League was a pioneering electro-pop band. The group split in two last year, and the part that continued to call itself Human League released an album called “Dare” that went to number one in Great Britain. A & M records is releasing it here with considerable fanfare. But it is a terribly bland record, with candy-cane synthesizer textures, elementary melodic counterpoint, and lyrics little better than greeting card doggere!

 

Unknow Magazine 1982

It’s not flesh-and-blood chauvinism that puts me off Britannia’s hookiest dance-synth monster. I’ll boogie to the right machine; I can even imagine fucking a cyborg. But while the cyborg of my dreams would keep it light, not act too impressed with all the tricks stored in his/her memory, League spokesman Philip Oakey comes on like three kinds of pompous jerk. The only time I light up is when Susan Sulley takes her verse on “Don’t You Want Me”, which I Recommend to Quarterflash.

B-

 

Q Magazine  January 1995

Legend-confirming pop copu and first enhanced with gooey female harmonies, this succinct, cosmetic fistful of tunes (Don’t You Want Me its chart-gobbling apex, JFK-inspired Seconds its most eerie) remains a decade-defining document, right down to full-slap Vogue pastiche artwork. Zeitgesist on a stick.

*****

 

www.allmediaguide.com

Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Dare captures a moment in time perfectly — the moment post-punk's robotic fascination with synthesizers met a clinical Bowiesque infatuation with fashion and modern art, including pop culture, plus a healthy love of songcraft. Human League had shown much of this on their early singles, such as "Lebanon," but on Dare they simply gelled, as their style was supported by music and songs with emotional substance. That doesn't mean that the album isn't arty, since it certainly is, but that's part of its power — the self-conscious detachment enhances the postmodern sense of emotional isolation, obsession with form over content, and love of modernity for its own sake. That's why Dare struck a chord with listeners who didn't like synth pop or the new romantics in 1981, and why it still sounds startlingly original decades after its original release — the technology may have dated, synths and drum machines may have become more advanced, but few have manipulated technology in such an emotionally effective way. Of course, that all wouldn't matter if the songs themselves didn't work smashingly, whether it's a mood piece as eerie as "Seconds," an anti-anthem like "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of," the danceclub glow of "Love Action (I Believe in Love)," or the utter genius of "Don't You Want Me," a devastating chronicle of a frayed romance wrapped in the greatest pop hooks and production of its year. The latter was a huge hit, so much so that it overshadowed the album in the minds of most listeners, yet, for all of its shining brilliance, it wasn't a pop supernova — it's simply the brightest star on this record, one of the defining records of its time.

*****

www.audaud.com July 2002 new
John Sunier

Take three of those synthesizers similar to the above, add one male and two female vocalists, and ramp up the beat, and you have The Human League. This is their l981 album, which also came out in a 45 rpm 12-inch single with the tracks Don't You Want Me and Seconds, which made HP's List at one time. I dug it out and did an A/B comparison. The vinyl still had the slight edge - more oomph in the deep bass beats, a bit more clarity and air around the voices. But the SACD would probably beat out the 33 1/2 vinyl if I had it. The Human League sounds to me like Kraftwerk gave up their robotic personalities, decided to write some less minimalist lyrics more like standard pop, and got some girls in the group.

www.soundgenerator.com November 2002
ATM

Those who thought that The Human League were cheap pop back in the day should think again. This ‘retrospective’ re-release of ‘Dare’ shows just how good Phil Oakey and The Human League really were. Sure, they’re simple pop songs, but cheap? - defintley not! Well crafted, melodic and infectious more like it.

The Human League came at a time when ‘melody’ was long forgotton with the influx of Punk and the end of Disco. ‘Dare’ was their big album and by the time of it’s release in 1983 HL had got the art of writing good pop songs complete with a dance element and fashion sensibiltiy off to a tee. The whole electronic and later the new romantic scene grew in the early 80’s with bands like OMD, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet and bands like Visage headed by Steve Strange. The Human League who were out of Sheffield were at the forefront pushing fashion with their bizzare long fringes, ridiculous hair & Bowie-esque make-up.

This new breed of music was heavily synthisizer based but was a welcome sound to the many who were growing weary of the guitar based sounds of the the late punk scene and new wave. The Human League were at the fore front of this new scene.

The Human League intitially had been more of an ‘underground’ outfit without major commercial success and had split up leaving Phil Oakey with the band name. Former members Craig Marsh and Martin Ware went on to form the successful and groundbreaking outfit Heaven 17. Oakey brought in producer Martin Rushent and singers/dancers Joanne Catherell and Suzanne Sulley

‘Love Action’, Don’t You Want Me’, ‘Darkness’ and ‘Open Your Heart’ were all strong songs and showed that behind the glossy lips there was a genuine talent.

A simple use of synths, basic drum programming , strong melodies, lyrics firmly rooted in the age old subject of relationships and a strong image. - That’s The Human League.

If anything this album shows us a slab of youth culture from the ‘dreaded’ 80’s and will probably help to remind you of your own embarassing hair style and frilly shirts! It does me!

9/10

 

www.bbc.co.uk November 2002

Nigel Bell

In the days when the Sheffield sound was king of the airwaves, this was the album which led the way.
21 years on Dare gets another lease of life complete with a nice booklet (instead of your normal CD case) and Love and Dancing, basically an instrumental mix of tracks from the Dare album.

So why all the fuss? Basically this is the granddaddy of the electronic age which swept Britain in the 80s.
A template born with the original 12" of Love Action – a club anthem equal to anything Fat Boy or Van Dahl churn out today.

By the time Dare was released the youth were expecting something special.
After all, Phil Oakey had graced Top Of The Pops with his stupid long hair/short hair cut. Joanne and Susanne had shown estate kids could make it big.

And with Martin Rushent at the helm Dare was instantly a bedsit favourite.
Don’t You Want Me might be the number one that’s most fondly remembered but you can’t escape the brilliance of the Judge Dread darkness of I Am The Law and the crowning glory of Seconds. Was it written for Lennon or Kennedy? Either way it’s a masterpiece.

The inclusion of Love and Dancing adds little. It was always a cut price album even when first released but it does round off the Dare saga nicely.

Great packaging, great album for generations past and present.
Dare is released on Virgin CDVX2192
5/5

 

www.brainwashed.com March 2003 new

Jonathan Dean
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.

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.

 

Q Special Editon January 2005 new

Johnny Dee

…The Human League’s third album sounded like nothing they had ever heard before. You could believe it had been snatched from an egg found in outer space rather than in a recording studio in Reading. There were, of course, plenty of other electronic bands around at the time, but with Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright, his fellow escapee from the original Human League line-up, did was to transform the surreal into the commercial and in the process help re-invent modern popular music. Naturally, it was all an accident…

After The Human League’s Martyn Ware and Ina Craig Marsh left to form Heaven 17, Oakey went out to a Sheffiled nightclub to enlist two new female members (Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley) so the band could complete a tour. After Dare!, The Human League became a typical chart band – repackaging ‘60s soul, falling apart at the seams, looking badly dressed. But for one year – the year of Dare! – The Human League embodied pop perfection.

THE STORY BEGAN with two singles, Boys And Girls and Sound Of The Crowd, to see if the new line-up – which now included bassist Ian Burden (ex-Graph) and Jo Callis (formerly with the Rezillos) alongside Catherall and Sulley – could actually work together . Sound Of The Crowd charted just short of the UK Top 10 so they went ahead with an album. When producer Martin Rushent’s fee seemed too high, Oakey told him Quincy Jones was interested and Rushent dropped his price. Rushent’s production CV prior to Dare! – The Stranglers, Buzzcocks – suggests little of the seismic effect he was to have on Britsh pop, but he had long been an advocate of the synthesizer. It was Rushent who programmed the Roland Microcomposer and Lin Drum computer on Dare!: two vital elements that gave the album its clinically sealed atmosphere.

All of this innovation could have played to a small arty crowd if it wasn’t for the songs. On the surface, The Human League were all seriousness: Oakey never cracked a smile in public; Callis, Burden and Wright stood stoically behind their keyboards while Catherall and Sulley danced like they were carrying heavy shopping bags. Yet the band’s lyrics suggested otherwise. On The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, Oakey lists “New York, ice cream, TV, Travel, good times”, the followes it up with “Norman Wizdom, Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, goodtimes”. Is it  OK, we wondered, for futurists to enjoy the delights of post-war knockabout comedy and The Ramones? While on Love Action (I Believe In Love), it’s as if Oakey breaks some golden rule of songwriting when he sings “…this is Phil talking”. For that moment alone, Love Action would be a pop classic, but also because everything that made Dare! So brilliant was contained in that track’s five minutes. It sonded like nothing we had heard before but was also instantly accessible. There was plenty of doom on Dare! Too. Oakey and Wright were both science fiction fans and seemed to share novelist Philip K Dick’s vision of a soul-less, martial law-run futureworld on Darkness and I Am The Law. But you could still dance to them. Later, songs about betrayal (Open Your Heart) and John F Kennedy’s assassination (Seconds) were rendered irresistibly catchy. The Human League made it OK for pop music not to sound happy. Neil Tennant and Morrissey were no doubt taking notes.

ON THE VERY Best Of… DVD Oakey insists that The Human League were passengers rather than leaders of this new sound. Yet he did, at last, have his eye on the future when it came to the album’s sleeve. Thinking at the time that he wouldn’t keep his asymmetric hair forever it was Phil’s idea to have the photographs on the cover close cropped around the face so the sleeve wouldn’t age when he changed his hairstyle.

Bearing out the theory that the band didn’t really know what they were doing is that the album’s most commercial track, Don’t You Want Me, was only released as the fourth single at the record company’s insistence. Don’t You Want Me is like an Abba song backed by Kraftwerk and can be read as a self-fulfilling prophecy of Oakey’s discovery of Catherall and Sulley. In part it came true. By 1992, the singer was serios enough with his relationship with Joanne Catherall to tell The Face that he’s asked her to marry him – “I don’t think she wants to because she doesn’t think I’m a very good risk because I’ve been married before.” The affair didn’t last but against the odds the two women plus Oakey have survived as The Human League until the present day. The group went on to have other hits and record more albums, but will always be remembered for Dare! And Don’t You Want Me, a song that is now such a part of pop history that no karaoke evening is complete without somebody murdering it.

It is hard to think of another album that stands like a flag for tis era as much as Dare! does. Rarer still, it stands the test of time.

 

www.allmusic.com new
Dave Thompson

The Human League's epochal breakthrough album, host to the 1981 mega-hit "Don't You Want Me" and the source, therefore, for the myriad sound-alike synth poppers that poured ceaselessly out in its wake,
Dare remains one of the keys to truly understanding all that transpired during the early '80s, from the advent of MTV, through to the "British Invasion" of Duran Duran, Culture Club et al. Though one can argue (quite convincingly) that the entire new romantic movement was little more than a semi-vampiric reaction to the excesses of punk, it also represented the first musical movement since glam rock to openly place style on as high a pedestal as substance — musically and otherwise. That was a lesson it learned wholly from Dare, and it's a testament to the pervasiveness of the entire genre that this album, at least, still sounds as fresh as it ever did. Sadly, the same cannot be said of what initially appears to be a generous sweep of bonus tracks. Looking to up the parent album's club success even further, the Human League created a subsidiary album of instrumental dance remixes, rounding up all but two of Dare's contents in extended and exaggerated form. Despite mocking their presumptuousness by crediting several tracks to the League Unlimited Orchestra, the group nevertheless completely overshot the mark, by failing to acknowledge that Dare worked because it was not targeted at any specific audience. Love and Dancing, on the other hand, was geared exclusively to club-hoppers, presumably to be devoured one track at a time. As a protracted listening experience, then, it rapidly loses its appeal, winding up somewhere between 40 minutes trapped inside a hip elevator shaft and an absolutely interminable 12-inch remix. Let Dare end where it ought to end and ignore the rest of the CD.

 

www.adriandenning.co.uk 2007 new

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.