Blender Magazine November 2002

Jonah Weiner


“We grew up with the sound of machinery”, synth player Martyn Ware remember in these notes to this compilation of songs recoreded as early as 1977, when the Human League popously called themselves the Future. Growing up in Sheffield, England, a depressed steel town, turned them into technology-obsessed synth tweakers, Ware suggest. Scorning rock instruments (“There are no guitars or drums played on this record”), their early material features ramshackle assemblages of bleeps, zaps, television sound bites and dispassionate vocal blurts. On the excellent “Dance Like A Star” and a disturbing instrumental of the Four Tops “I’ll Be There”, pulsing disco grids uplift the electronic noodling. “We’re the Human League, and we’re much cleverer than you”, singer Phil Oakey announces. Not so fast, synth boy.

*** November 2002

Andy Kellman

Long before the Human League made one of the most brilliant pop records of the '80s, and even before the group made a song about a record that was so big that it ate up every record shop in existence, there was the Future: an all-electronic experimental/pop group that would later become the Human League. This compilation of demos — over one-third recorded as the Future, the remainder as the Human League — predates the group's contract with Virgin. The majority of these demos have more in common with fellow Sheffield tape-and-electronics manglers Cabaret Voltaire than the groups the Human League would eventually rub shoulders with on the U.K. charts — like, say, ABC (yet another Sheffield group). To get a rough idea of what they were about in these days, combine the eerie sounds made by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop with film soundtracks and Giorgio Moroder's productions for Donna Summer. The opening "Dance Like a Star" is a crude disco song with a pounding rhythm, decaying keyboards, all manner of strange effects, and a halfhearted/half-bored vocal turn from Philip Oakey. "Looking for the Black Haired Girls" contains violent screams from a woman and gunfire over a primitive funeral march. "Dominion Advertisement" had to be inspired by Raymond Scott; over fluttery wobbles of electronics, Oakey endorses a drug that will perk you right up. Fans who don't appreciate the group's first two albums shouldn't even entertain the thought of picking this up. But if you have equal affinity for both "The Dignity of Labour" and "Empire State Human," this will make for a fascinating listen.

*** November 2002

Brilliantly, most tracks on this "Golden Hour" cd (the title is an ironic
wink at Pye's bestseller series of the seventies) and its accompanying 12"
(a limited 2000 copies pressing in a black 12" sleeve) are in the same
league as the early 'League's best instrumental work, viz. "The Dignity Of
Labour" 12" ep (1979) and some of the sounds on the "Reproduction" and
"Travelogue" lp's (1979+1980). The sound quality may be slightly lesser on a
few occasions, but the moods and compositions certainly aren't. Moreover,
it's great to hear lyrics up to a par with the vanguard genius of "The black
hit of space", e.g. "Blank clocks". The "Dominion advertisement" alone is a
fine testimony to the band's weird aesthetic. Judging from the kind of
ironic copywriting effort that went into that advertisement and into their
lyrics, one can easily see what sets the band apart from most of their
contemporaries. Other tracks however, are a tad zanier, betraying a bit of
teenager 'braggadocio', e.g. their instrumental cover of the Four Tops'
"Reach out", their experiment with the intro of Pink Floyd's "One of these
days" (off "Meddle" - cf. U0207) entitled "New Pink Floyd", or their
tongue-in-cheek Donna Summer spoof "Dance like a star". But then again the
latter track is boldly introduced as "This is a song for all you big-heads
out there who think disco music is lower than the irrelevant musical
gibberish and tired platitudes that you try to impress your parents with...
We're the Human League, we're much cleverer than you and this is called
'Dance Like A Star'...". Hàh! Do they steal your heart or what? Apart from
the Four Tops or the Righteous Brothers, the band also cover soundtrack
greats Miklos Rosza and Ennio Morricone.
3/4  Januar 2003  new

Carl Thien

It was 1977 in Sheffield. Ian Marsh, Adolph 'ADI' Newton, and Martyn Ware formed The Future, inspired by Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express and Donna Summer's I Feel Love.

As the band developed, the influence of Punk, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Walter Carlos, and John Carpenter began to show. After a few shows and the disinterest of their tapes by record labels, ADI left the band and formed Clock DVA.

Phil Oakley was asked to join the band simply because 'he looked like a pop star.' Phil did not play any instruments and had no money for a synth, but he could sing. After Ian and Martin were blown away by lyrics Phil wrote to Being Boiled, they changed the name of the band to The Human League. The name was taken from the sci-fi board game Star Force.

This collection brings together early recordings from the pre-Virgin period and includes tracks by The Future and The Human League which have remained officially unreleased until now.

My favorite song from The Future period is Blank Clocks. The song does not sound at all like Human League: it sounds much more like Clock DVA. Blank Clocks has two voices trading phrases back and forth.

I also like The Future song Daz . Daz has a lot of echo and a voice saying "Daz." Again, the sound is much more experimental than the Human League sound you know from their records.

On this CD I like five songs from The Human League period. Opening track Dance Like A Star sounds very similar to the Human League sound we know already. Phil Oakley's voice is distinctive and the music is solid. The 12inch which Black Melody released as a companion to this CD has two versions of Dance Like A Star. It also has Last Man on Earth (from this CD) plus two tracks exclusive to the 12inch.

My favorite track on this CD is 4JG. It is an instrumental that has the same dry crunchy electronic sound that the Berlin label Shitkatapult has specialized in. I could listen to this track over and over.

Disco Disaster sounds like an early cousin to Being Boiled. It is a vocal track with background vocals and a beat. The recording is low budget, but the song rises above those limitations.

The instrumental version of Reach Out I'll Be There (the Motown classic) is a highlight for me. There is energy in the track, and it does what the best cover version do: interpret rather than recreate.

New Pink Floyd is an instrumental which embeds a bass part like the Pink Floyd song Meddle in a Dr. Who styled track. Year of the Jet Packs is an instrumental that has fun sounds like steam being let off in rhythm.

Of mention is The Future song Cairo, which sounds like the music from Star Trek when an exotic space girl dances on a strange planet. Dominion Advertisment is a mock ad for a feel good drug, forecasting the rise of drugs like Prozac. Once Upon the Time in the West sounds like one of the instrumentals from side two of David Bowie's Low.

This CD is a kick. I never loved The Human League, but I like this CD a lot. May 2003 new


“This is a song for all you big-heads out there who think disco music is lower than the irrelevant musical gibberish and tired platitudes that you try to impress your parents with. We're The Human League, we're much cleverer than you and this is called 'Dance Like A Star’…”
‘Dance Like a Star’, The Human League
Some people call this music Kraftwerk without the cycling…and they may be right. Certainly, the electronic music comprising this album is far less rigorous than that spawned by its German parents. In fact, the first phase of The Human League/The Future achieved the wonderful feat of making drum machines sound sloppy. This lends the music a naivety which makes everything sound, well, very…human. The synths blow hot and cold. But whether rich and sonorous or liquid crystal, these electronic generations sound, at all times, amazing.
A la the above quote, this album of previously unreleased material is shot through with an absurd and condescending humour. The humour of a brat…
Human League stood in the corner of the playground. It hunched, petulant and snooty, behind its fringe and sneered at those teens asking it to play football or guitars. Finally, it flounced through the playground loudly misquoting Eastern religions.
Ah, Sheffield pop stars have always been great!
The Human League – As Always, Electronically Yours. Miss this fabulous album at your peril.