Sounds April 1979

Chris Westwood

A minor masterpiece; moody, evocative, provocative. It fulfils with a (subtle?) vengeance so much of what's been scrawled about the League so far whilst exposing a new facet of both their capabilities and interest.


NME APRIL 1979 new

I can hear the groans already, as poker-faced scuff of the portentious title, giggle at the smart grey cover and frown at the vague conceptual pretensions. This record is not, The Human League as such, but The Human League exploring and letting no one down. There’s no evidence of The Stupid League’s warped wit, except on the enclosed flexi-disc, which has League members discussing with manager Bob Last the practicalities and merits of enclosing an explanatory flexi-disc.

The four instrumental illustrations on the non-flexi-disc give no sign that they’ve lost their sense of economy and pace, Fully aware of the general tedium of electronic instrumentals, the League keep each part tight, neat and active. Don’t expect anything radically provocative, but there’s a lot of compulsive synthesizer noises that are best played dead loud in the dark. A record that finally forces you to sell ‘Pheadra’, a bonus, before the League get down to the bitty nitty gritty with the insatiable Virgin.

“We never get the chance to play instrumentals on stage, mainly because we don’t want to bore our audience to death”.

“So we thought we’d bore them on record”

Don’t you believe it. This record will only bore bores.


NME July 1990

Stuart Maconie

…For “The Dignity Of Labour”, resplendent it tis stark monochrome sleeve shot of Yuri Gagarin, was a 20-minute electronic suite, thin on tunes, heavy on enigma and provocation. Entirely instrumental and brutally uncommercial, it nevertheless further whetted the critical and public appetites for the band… November 2003 new
Jim Tones

Some know the story.....some don't......
This was released nearly a year after their debut 1978 single "Being Boiled / Circus of Death" and before their first album- "Reproduction".
This would be the 'previous incarnation', before the two young ladies joined the ranks and before producer Martin Rushent (known for his sterling work on the desk with the likes of Gentle Giant (!) and Buzzcocks), duly took hold of them and fired them up the singles charts. This first League were treading quite a different path.
There were articles in the UK music papers of the time (1977-78), that put them in a box with Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, The Residents, Pere Ubu, Ultravox and Eno amongst others and then labelled said box- "New Musick".
Well, I suppose you had to make some kind of news article reporting about these "electronic garage groups" that were seeping into the UK underground over the last 18 months, even though the names that were involved were quite varied in their approaches and some of them had been operating for quite some time, the picture was not as clear as it now appears today.
This first (and best!) version of The Human League consisted of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh (who had previously been known as 'The Future' together with soon-to-be Clock DVA man- Adi Newton also on board) and together with crooner Phil Oakey and Projectionist / Tape Operator Adrian Wright, forged quite a dark repertoire of Synth-driven ditties, although not without the odd dash of sardonic humour.
Their single "Empire State Human" being a good example, new pop music with a real skewed flavour, as the backing vocals intone- "Fetch more water, fetch more sand...the biggest the land"- and with a b-side, the track-"Introducing", that is all synthetic ambulance sirens and goon-loop synth squawks.
Ware and Marsh would then split from Oakey and Wright after the second album- "Travelogue" and "Holiday 80 EP", going on to have their own chart success via Heaven 17 and concentrating on their British Electric Foundation project.
It's clear from the outset, that the brains behind the early operations and this illuminating EP, were that of Ware and Marsh, that's not to say the others didn't have an input, but it's just that these two had been swimming in Synths and Electronics in the early and mid-seventies and honing their skills accordingly.
Part 1 is a good example of how they set off 'synthesized sounds' but yet have that human and slightly emotional feel. A sequenced half-melody that bounces forth and gets really going as some bass synth- punches bolster the refrain which gets to sound more melodic as it gains pace.
No pun intended, but the future never sounded so good, especially in the spring of 1979.
Part 2 is a fantastic diamond hard, crystal cut, electronic stomper, very stripped bare and oozing in delay ricochets which then make the crystal oscillations much thicker while projecting it up there with the best of Chris Carter's sequenced Synth work with Throbbing Gristle and giving Cabaret Voltaire a run for their money to boot.
The remaining Parts of this decidedly odd- but yet strangely irresistable EP, consist of another stripped but driving sequence of analogue outbursts, and a piece which could be an updated out-take from Louis and Bebe Barron's 1950s OST of 'Forbidden Planet'- which, when you think of it, makes this whole record all the more bizarre.
It's as if Ware and Marsh just HAD to put something contemporary and offbeat out there to fester, it's as if they wouldn't have been able to sleep, before the structured songs of the debut LP were put to the public.
Journalist Paul Morley said at the time of this release, something about throwing your copy of 'Phaedra' away, as this was the real future vision in electronic music.
There was also a free flexi-disc with this 12", which contained er... a group conversation about what to put on the flexi-disc!!
Along with tracks like the excellent "Dancevision", they were running the electro-gamut in "new musicks", they straddled the fence of commercial and underground and there has been some great music from the B.E.F. camp in the form of "Music for Stowaways", which explored many avenues and routes of sound / music making, without losing their sense of humour- they were even going to call the 'Stowaways' album- "Music To Kill Your Parents By" as a skit on Eno's 'Music For Airports'!!
It's this EP though, with it's classic cover photo of the marching Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, which houses these bare-boned sequencers and eerie VCO sonatas pulsing within, that are well worth owning.
Martyn Ware also had the edge on the rest of the group image-wise, as while they all looked the accepted part with the foppish post-modernist stance and 'flick-head' barnet of the time , Ware appeared on TOTP looking like an italian porn director with designer style sleazo-beard and would have been a perfect model for those large black and white photo-cards that used to grace many a barber shop wall.
Boom! Boom!