GREATEST HITS REVIEWS
Q Magazine November 1988
Dare (1982), the album that transformed the Human League from a commercially unfancied cult synthesizer group (whose two main musicians had just walked out to form Heaven 17 anyway) to, for a little while at least, The Biggest Ban dIn The World, provides four of the songs here and contains at least one more track, Seconds, of easily comparable quality. Since then the Human League have been frustrating under-achievers-having made one brilliant record with a two-finger keyboard technigque and huge dollops of inspiration they’ve dithered and argued and have only managed two uneven LPs and a couple of singles in the seven years since. But aside from their unwise brush with heavy metal guitar riffs and world politics on The Lebanon and the unvelcome inclusion of their primitive first hit single Being Boiled ( a hit after Dare’s success), they’ve slowly amassed a fine catalogue of brilliant pop songs. The dance songs – Mirror Man’s fake Motown, the cheesy Eurodisco of Together In Electric Dreams (originally released as Giorgio Moroder and Philip Oakey) and so on – are good but the Human League’s best and most distinctive achievements are their little musical soap operas. It may be possible to be unmoved by the tragic parting of the ways in Don’t You Want Me or by the spoken bits in Louise and Human but it’d take a cold heart to manage it.
Select Magazine November 1995
Extraordinarily tenacious, the League just won’t give over. This trundle through their 15-year rise, fall and mini-rise is as indifferent as it is sublime. Their heyday saw full-on classic pop only a barren bosom would not return an echo to. The cool electro swagger of “The Sound Of The Crowd” immortalised a Sheffield “Where the people look good and the music is loud”. Sonorous-voiced Phil Oakey was the only man ever to pull off stubble and high heels, and he and his girls encapsulate a synthpop swoon that will be forever the early ‘80s.
When the invincible proto-Pulpish sex-city disco began to wane, after their enormo “Dare” album, they never quite nailed down that glamorous futurism again: elsewhere, torpid over-25s swayalongs of the PA-in-Ritzy’s variety predominate. Indeed, why does “Love Is All That Matters” appear and not the Yorkshire Kraftwerk that was “Empire State Human”?.
Melody Maker November 1995
LET’S BE honest. When we draw back the gold sequined curtain on the ‘80s and examine the contribution to the decade made by Sheffield’s Human League, we remember first and foremost not the hits, but that vocalist Phil Oakey looked a complete trollop. The daft bugger just coulnd’t put his make-up on right, could he? While Robert Smith’s lipstick smear reinforced his lazy, fat puppy persona, Oakey was always keen to look sharp, but his kindergarten way with blusher and eye-liner succeed only in giving him the appearance of a desperate hooker.
This sonic autobiography tells many tales. It throws light to the early ‘80s, namely the rise of the original Britpop gang (ie Yanks turned their backs) and the run up to club culture exploited by the New Romantics. And it glances before all that, with “Being Boiled” from 1978, when there was Euro electronica versus guitar punk. That neo-goth beauty shows how events could have turned: Human League might have remained happy techno gloomsters selling 15 records in Sheffield and supporting Clock DVA, or become an early Sisters Of Mercy.
Their evolving role in cultural history is, in fact, more interesting than this package itself. Alright, “Don’t You Want Me” (two versions here) is a neon lit, boob tube-wearing classic, but if you’re at an ‘80s party, Culture Club and Wham! Are the cream that get nostalgists smacking their lips more than anything else.
That said, over 16 sorbet flavoured hits spanning 18 years, great episodes are plenty. “Louise” deserves a Meatloaf and Cher grand ballad cover, and “The Sound Of The Crowd” matched anything Gary Numan pulled off.
Overall there’s not enough here to “keep feeling” fascination, but it’s a cool, satin smooth collection none the less.
NME November 1995
LEAGUE ARE TO PLEASE
Despite the presence of two Linda McCartneys, one crap asymmetrical haircut and one pair of ostentatiously pierced nipples, THE HUMAN LEAGUE still changed some people’s lives. TAYLOR PARKES was one of them.
I BELIEVE in truth, though I lie a lot. So here’s how it happened.
Somewhere in Sheffield, sometime in the Seventies, Philip Oakey and Martyn Ware, prog-rock Roxy buffs in ties and blazers, in the school lunch hour, in the early moments of a longish friendship, perch on paving slabs and swap taste tips. Finally, silence.
Ware: “Phil, you know Slade?”
Ware: “I like them. There’s nothing wrong with Slade”.
Phil Oakey, in women’s shoes and a leisure top that cost more than three week’s rent on my flat, perched on a soft leather sofa somewhere in Kensington, admitted to me recently that this was The Flash, the Road-To-Damascus moment of his entire quiet, valuable life, and as we know, there are so many moments in anyone’s life (and this was Phil talking). A moment of clarity, never equalled! We should be thankful that others place the same improbable, insatiable demands upon pop and it spromise and possibilities as we do now, and that, now and then, they go onwards and upwards, with such fantastic flash and crash into charts / hearts, touch parts of us we kind og knew were there but surely never felt moving quite as hard or haywire as THIS?!
The Human League, from their earliest surliest electronic experiment in some frowsty Yorkshire back room through to the lipstick slick of last year’s “Tell Me When” – taking in: “Don’t You Want Me”(naturally); “Love Action”(the most poised of hit singles); “Open Your Heart” (new Perspex perspectives, the cold wind howling through every chord); “The Sound Of The Crowd” (which I suspected was some Nuremburg daydream, a hunch not entirely crushed by realising just this morning that it fades to the sound of marching boots, but I’m sure they knew what they were doing); “Mirror Man” (yes! yes! yes!); “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”! (yessssssss!); “Life On Your Own” (oh, there are so many moments) – were never, never less than more.
It’s not always true that time heals all wounds; the shifting seasons (and 41 have shifted since then, which at once makes me feel very old and very full of things that have already happened) cannot erode the simple, simplistic silliness of “The Lebanon”, nor lift that Nutra-sweet nausea from “Love Is All That Matters” (but the, only 36 have shifted since then). Still, “Louise”, which seemed a very pretty tune to a 12-year-old, has turned with a turning world and the onset of adulthood into simply the most heartbreaking and truest story ever told, and the most active and affecting of them all.
Oh, this particular collection! It tell us that in our lives, emotion is imperishable and that we are never so isolated in our (whole) lives as to have to admit a thing and that our lives sound like synthetic musical instruments and that our lives may be short but they are fantastically WIDE and TALL TALL TALL (as big as a wall), and for that we couldn’t thank this Human League enough. Music and movement… touched, touchable.
Vox Magazine November 1995
When they were very young they realised… they never wanted to be human size.
The moment Phil Oakey walked into a Sheffield disco and chatted up two teenage gilrs called Sue and Jo was the moment he became a god. The Human League were the first band of their generation to decide, in a dazzling eureka! Flash, that they weren’t really interested in being Joy Division when they could just as easily be ABBA. The Human League invented the eighties.
The Human League bequeathed us, in no particular order: pierced nipples in Smash Hits, asymmetric haircuts, slide projectors, spoken bits in songs (“this is Phil talking…”), Joanne Catherall’s big brown irises, the concept of the Classic Pop Album, the line “and where there used to be some shops…”, Dadaist verses next to Diana Ross choruses, the simple beauty of plastic building bricks, the logic og 1+1=2, the best Christmas Number One in history.
It’s one of pop’s great injustices that, like Dexy’s with Come On Eileen, The Human League will be remembered mostly for Don’t You Want Me. A truly immortal single – as well as the original, this collection contains an absolute chocolate fireguard of a remix – but it shouldn’t overshadow Open Your Heart, Human, The Sound Of The Crowd, Empire State Human (inexplicably absent here) or – sunlight on the shattered glass, this one – Love Action (I Believe In Love).
Affairs, rather than Current Affairs, were the League’s forte (I must ask Phil who he thinks has won, now the soldiers have gone from the Lebanon) and Oakey’s persona – silly old romantic fool, clver enough to know better, but the more noble for it – is an example to us all. Keep feeling fascination, he begged us. Amen to that.
Quite conceivably the greatest long-playing record ever made.
Q Magazine November 1995
And the stars look very different today . . ." wrote a poignant Charles Shaar Murray in March 1979, having witnessed The Human League play London's long-lost Lyceum Ballroom, declaring the gig "a watershed between the '70s and the '80s". Phil Oakey's "electronic entertainers from Sheffield" were as good a band as any to turn on the decade's lights - within two years they would hold the 1980s in the palm of their hand. Murray also deemed them "Fun rather than Art," a lenient viewpoint, since their earliest noises were of the macho-cerebral, Northern industrial kind. Being Boiled, a grumbling, apocalyptic mantra recorded in '78, remains the only old League to make the Greatest Hits - its Top 10-scaling re-release in 1982 a mark not of any covert commerciality but of the band's do-no-wrong status of the time, as anointed by the arrival of dancing girls Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley. However, even by 1984, they had entered such previously uncharted chart depths as 13 (Louise) and 16 (Life On Your Own), and 1986's Crash album - despite the let's-do-it collaborative coup of US production maestros Jam and Lewis - chalked up a modest six-week run. With the release of this re-upholstered Greatest Hits (coinciding with a Sound And Vision-style live tour), let us celebrate the greatness rather than quibble over hitness; as Paul Morley's otherwise worthless and facile new sleeve notes observe, they "were hip, and then not hip, and then hip, and then not, and then again, and then hardly etc."
Additions to the 1988's original Greatest Hits are threefold: Tell Me When, surprise box office from this year's mostly lacklustre Octopus album, a new non-hit of similar stripe, Stay With Me Tonight, and an insulting Snap remix of Don't You Want Me, which we categorically do not need. (Wouldn't 1990's Heart Like A Wheel have been a more logical supplement?) Reshuffled by way of a Lottery machine, if the running order seemed random in 1988, now it's just unsightly, the more sophisticated techno-sheen of 1995's tracks shoehorned between the beautiful Northern English Motown of Mirror Man (1982) and whistling Open Your Heart (1981), classic League whose indelible charm lay in the staccato drumbox and by-the-manual synth combination. They don't make 'em like that anymore, because they can't. In truth, the League's accidental heroics do not suit the modern age; where once they were too clever for it, now it is too clever for them. Handled without care, the crystalline English pop album in here has been, sadly, rendered imperfect. Ah well - and this is Phil taking - we'll always be together in electric dreams.