HYSTERIA REVIEWS

 

Billboard May 1984

With two top producers aborad, the long-awaited album, sequel to the British synth-pop band’s hit U.S. debut is easily their lushest sounding. That, and solid, dance-oriented material, should insure radio and club attention, but this time around the sextet faces a much more crowded field working this electronic vein.

 

Rolling Stone May 1984

Parke Puterbaugh

Just what was it about Dare, Human League’s gold album, and “Don’t You Want Me”, their 1982 megahit, that set the entire nation’s feet to tapping and opened the floodgates for the electropop torrent that followed? I’m not sure even Human League knows; Hysteria, the groupøs first full album since Dare (they fashioned a mini-LP from singles last year), mostly find them with a case of cold feet and the sound of a good groove gone static.

In essence, singer, leader and main synthesist Philip Oakey sound lost in unfriendly environs. His voice sits in the middle of these songs, failing to connect with either the stark synthesizers or the mechanically thumping drum machine. Listen to the leaden lockstep of “I Love You Too Much” or “Betrayed”; what happened to the humanity in the League, the sense of celebration (not to mention melody) that packed dance floors? There are a few stabs at this sort of anthem – “The Sign”, “I’m Coming Back” – but they feel rote.

With some selective editing, Hysteria might have made a fine minialbum. The A side could have included “Rock Me Again And Again And Again And Again And Again And Again (Six Times) and “Don’t You Know I Want You”, the two likeliest club hits and the only songs here that rock out with some spirit. On the flip, I’d put “Louise” and “Life On Your Own”; both are melancholy ballads about breakup, aloneness and “winter…approaching”, with moving vocals from Oakey. It’s a little bit out of their, uh, league, but at least it works, which is more than can be said of most of the material on Hysteria.

**

 

NME July 1990

Stuart Maconie

…“Hysteria” lacks a lot of “Dare”s spark and overall cleanliness. Often reminiscent of ’83-period Gang Of Four, with its tight, minimal funk bass and distant female harmonies, it sounds faceless and even uncomfortable. James Brown’s “Rock Me Again” is a glaring misjudgement and the albums lowest low. “Don’t You Know I Want You”, however, is rescued by a shiny and thrilling chorus. But that’s it.

 

Q Magazine 1995

Often-overlooked League nugget, looser than predecessor in arrangement and stance, repeleasent with three Top 20 hits: dreamy, half-speed Life On Your Own, lovey-deovey paean Louise, and The Lebanon, to wit: “Before he leaves the camps he stops, and where there used to be some shops”.

****

 

www.allmediaguide.com

William Ruhlmann

The Human League's two-and-a-half-year effort to come up with a follow-up to Dare resulted in Hysteria, which tinkered with the hit formula, demoting producer Martin Rushent to computer programmer on only a few cuts. It was probably a mistake to release the politically oriented "The Lebanon" as the first single, especially in the U.S., where the country is called merely "Lebanon" and where the band was known primarily for the romantic "Don't You Want Me." That song wasn't typical of the album, which featured a remake of the earlier hit ("Don't You Know I Want You"), but was mostly filled with nondescript synthesizer dance tracks that barely deserved to be called songs...

**½

 

www.cmj.com new
Jimmy Guterman

Submitted for your approval: a seven-piece, marginally successful British band that implodes and splits down the middle. One half becomes B.E.F. and finds success in its own "(We Don't Need No) Fascist Groove Thang" and masterful productions of Tina Turner's comeback single, "Let's Stay Together." But it is the other half that concerns us here, for they are the ones who embark on this adventure. Emerging from a lawsuit with the rights to the moniker Human League, they recruit two teenage girls who can't sing, and score an international blockbuster hit with "Don't You Want Me." Ultimately, they follow up their hit album, Dare, with an American tour affectionately known as "Waterloo." It is now two years later and all they have to show for themselves are a pair of good, albeit derivative, singles ("Mirror Man" and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination") and a filler-laden EP. They fire their producer, Martin Rushent who all-but-created them, and take complete control, putting out an album in the spring of 1984. They write on the sleeve: "All sellections played, sung, percussed and programmed by the Human League." They title this album Hysteria, but it should be called Lethargy because this piece of round vinyl is as exciting as watching someone read last week's papers. "I'm Coming Back," the singer sings. "No thanks," his audience responds. The deadest song on this album of corpses is "The Lebanon," in which the Human League takes on one of the most emotionally-charged situations on the planet today and renders it emotionally impotent. There is no energy, no ambition. This group sings about passion but cannot find it. The Human League has entered that netherworld where reality has been left behind and where massive amounts of money and beeping machines replace real people and real instruments. They have left us and entered "The Twilight Zone."

 

www.popmatters.com September 2005 new

A Failed Bid for Chart Success Revisited

The Human League, although still regarded as an influential band, had the potential to be absolutely huge. Dare was a massive hit worldwide, a perfect synthesis of experimental electronics and sugary dance-pop. "Don't You Want Me", it could be argued, was the defining moment of the entire synth-pop scene, a piece of epic bombast that captures the spirit of the times while transcending it. The band followed this up with two classic singles, "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" and "Mirror Man", that moved the band even closer to the pop mainstream, whetting appetite for Dare's sequel. After a two-year gap, an eternity in the pop landscape of the '80s, Hysteria finally arrived, and despite some chart success, it effectively ended the Human League's existence as a dominant musical entity. Hysteria, in effect, has been forgotten about in the term's of the group's career, treated as sort of a rehashed, watered down Dare.

Caroline Records has now reissued Hysteria with additional bonus tracks, and the album, free of expectations, actually turns out to be something of a minor gem. This was the last release of the "classic" version of the Human League, their later albums would venture far off from the synth-pop course, and, if it's lacking in the vision and experimentalism of its predecessor, Hysteria makes up for it with a series of well-crafted new wave singles. Oddly enough, Oakey's growing concession to the pop world was probably what doomed Hysteria to minor league status. Dare's success lied with its ability to craft powerful pop songs that had a dark and bleak undercurrent. For every "Love Action", there were songs about "Darkness" and the assassination drama "Seconds". Hysteria only features one dark song, the guitar-driven "The Lebanon". This stark tale of life during wartime filled with huge drums and soaring guitars, when released as the debut single, alienated the Human League's core group of fans with its attempt to ape anthemic bands like U2 and the Alarm. Even if it did not go over well with the synth-pop crowd, perhaps because its highly politicized lyrics were so alien to the dance culture Human League appealed to, "The Lebanon" is a clear album highlight, a jolt of serious rock and roll in an album that occasionally dips into cheesiness.

And, yes, a listener can find plenty of head scratching moments of pure cheese on Hysteria, most notably the dance floor wannabe entitled, deep breath here, "Rock Me Again and Again and Again and Again and Again", where Phillip Oakey, laughingly, attempts to use his detached croon to carry a half-hearted stab of pointless Hi-NRG nonsense. The concluding "Don't You Know I Want You", which ought to have confused the heck out of dyslexics looking for the album that featured "Don't You Want Me", with its pseudo-African rhythms, is perhaps one of the most dreadful songs the League ever recorded, ends the album proper on a flat note. (The bonus tracks, as well, are fairly regrettable: an instrumental, a dull outtake, and three "extended versions" of Hysteria's hits that fail to convince me that the 12-inch single was a groundbreaking creative medium.)

However, the rest of the album features the band following the amazing pop smarts that informed "Mirror Man" and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination", none more so than the lost classic "The Sign". I feel that if "The Sign", rather than "The Lebanon", were the lead-off single from Hysteria, the album may have fared better. "The Sign" is pure sugar, it makes "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" sound like "Hurt", Philip Oakey had always made his intentions known that he wanted to prove that electronics were not just for experimentation but they could be used in the service of pop music. Nobody in 1986 needed to be told this, but the shimmering, good time, "everything will be fine" message of "The Sign" should have hammered home the message. It is, in fact, a perfection of the Human League pop formula, capitalizing on beautiful and alien sounds that could only be coaxed out of synthesizers, as well as the powerful tension between Oakey's deep alienated croaks and the female singers' naïve chirpiness.

Did I mention something about the Human League having a "pop formula"? Well, I am not kidding. Listening to Hysteria I was struck about how each of these songs seemed to be following similar patterns using specific tricks, but, on the other hand, I was noticing about how well it worked even when you noticed how formulaic the album was. Although the album took a long time to create, Hysteria seems effortless, as if the band could rattle of big hooks and catchy songs at a whim. There isn't much range on the album, it's filled mostly with call-and-response pop songs that rely on heavy concentration of choruses ("I'm Coming Back" and "So Hurt" being the best). There are two ballads, "Louise" and "Life on Your Own", which appear mainly because they felt they needed some ballads in the mix, where they sound a little like a rougher version of their Sheffield peers ABC. Overall, this is just a simple album, where the band sacrifices the complex arrangements and darker undertones of Dare in order to worship on the altar of Pop Muzik. For the Human League, the shiny, unvarnished, plastic noise of Hysteria represented an artistic step down, but the album still holds up as a beacon of synth-pop bubblegum.

 

www.allmusic.com new
The Human League followed
Dare! with more success, at least when it came to singles. The Motown-inspired "Mirror Man" and the frivolous (in a borderline-genius way) "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" maintained the group's momentum. When recording commenced for the full-length successor to Dare!, however, things got ugly. Martin Rushent, the producer who either receives all or no credit for the Human League's mainstream breakthrough, left the sessions. The slate was wiped clean, but the process was halted once more when another producer, Chris Thomas (Roxy Music, Sex Pistols), also split. Full of indecision and doubt, the group took forever to finish Hysteria. (Two and a half years in the '80s were, in fact, equal to forever, and U.S. label A&M intervened with the Fascination! EP, which contained the post-Dare! singles that did not appear on this album.) Hysteria is mediocre and easily the least of the group's albums to that point. Conscious not to repeat themselves and unable to do it without sacrificing their personality, most of the changes sound forced and fussily mulled over. It was one thing to get political and introduce some uncharacteristic guitar lines on "The Lebanon" (alienating your fanbase should always be encouraged, especially when it's done with a single that looks atrocious on paper but sounds fantastic), but "Rock Me Again" is the kind of thing the group once worked against, with Philip Oakey adopting an awkward, straining rock voice. The melodies are often flat, the arrangements are frequently bloodless. With only a couple exceptions, Hysteria sounds exactly like an album made under extreme post-platinum pressure. If you were to replace your pick of two tracks with "Mirror Man" and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" — which really wouldn't sound any more out of place than "The Lebanon" — you'd at least have something resembling the group's old standard. Fun fact: it was released three years before a very different Sheffield band's Hysteria.

 

www.adriandenning.co.uk 2007 new

Three years away was a long time in the eighties. Human League lost their producer and a vital part of their makeup. Martin Rushent was more than a producer for Human League, in effect, he was an additional band member. 'Hysteria' suffers from his absence. In fact, gone is the bands earlier pioneering spirit. Any changes this album has sound forced, eg, additional guitar. What was the point of that, really? When it works, it works well, though. 'The Lebanon' was an excellent single, a big hit, it meant something lyrically and sounds very well arranged and produced. The guitar lines here work very well over the synths. The styles meld together. The albums opening track 'I'm Coming Back' however sounds like a synth demo with a few guitar parts needlessly tacked on over the top. It also sounds cheap. In fact, 'Hysteria' sounds less advanced in terms of programming and beats than 'Dare' had done three years earlier, an odd thing. 'Rock Me Again' is a hideous track with a disco beat and very strained Phil Oakey vocals. The chorus repeats the songs title and beats it into the ground. The very concept used to be alien to the group anyway. 'Rock Me Again'? It's not actually a guitar / bass / drums workout, rather a comically cheery and cheap synth melody that doesn't actually do very much. Far better and ranking alongside 'The Lebanon' and the bands earlier work is the sweet ballad 'Louise'. A story-telling, matter-of-fact vocal delivery does the job here and the melodies are just very nice and the lyrics imaginative.

Despite the mis-steps and the length of time taken to make 'Hysteria', despite the fact it isn't a progressive work, the songs are good enough if not judged directly against the bands other work, which is really the only fair way they should be judged. In such a spirit, we can say that 'I Love You Too Much' is a sleak, catchy thing. 'Life On Your Own' was released as a single and deserved to be. A good vocal and a thoughtful arrangement makes this a nicely mellow and sunny pop moment of cool. On the otherhand, right at the end of the album Human League clearly run out of steam including a couple of moments of clear filler. 'Thirteen' is a five minute synth instrumental without virtuosity or imagination. 'The World Tonight' sounds like b-side material, simple as that. Anyway, 'Hysteria' spawned three top twenty ( although no top ten ) hits and peaked at number three in the UK album charts. It's a decent enough album but unfortunately happens to be far worse than 'Dare' is. That in itself isn't a crime, but the next Human League album would be.