NME February 1979

Adrian Thrills


The weather might be wrecking havoc with the football programme but electronic pop group The Human League are still playing all their games bang on schedule.

The Human League are fun – a synthesizer band who owe more to Georgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte than they do to Brian Eno or Can; and who combine that with a pop sensibility the equal of Pete Shelley’s, have got to have a lot going for them.

They duly proved as much with this brace of Nashville dates – their first in London gigs since being totally overshadowed by the Leeds contingent of the Gang Of Four and Mekons at last autumn’s Electric Ballroom Fast Product night.

But first the bad news.

The Sheffield four-piece provide an electronic tonic that is approachable and accessible, and intentionally so. But these much-vaunted populists aspirations are prone to degenerate into a ragbag of contradictions in live performance. Sure, The Human League are still fun, but they are also one of the most puzzling bands on the electronic, uh, circuit.

Example one: they have been at pains to emphasise the ‘human’ element in their music but, on stage, vocalist Phil Oakey, and synthesizer operatives Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh are all classic deadpan non-performers. They appear afr more serious than they really are. And again, you can help but feel that the group’s attendant visual show – a series of slides projected onto two screens at the back of the stage by technician Adrain Wright – acts largely as a prop, compensating for the lack of visual excitement coming form the actual stage itself.

Example two: the pre-recorded backing tapes used onstage leave the band little room for improvisation or even minor changes in the running order of their set.

To an extent, The Human League live are a case of admireable intentions that don’t quite bridge the manifold limitations of the chosen instruments.

Still (and here’s the good news), it would be a grave disservice to them to over-emphasise problems which, after all, are not insurmountable.

I like The Human League for their songs, their dry satirical, earthy homour and the audacity of their cover versions.

It’s in the songs that the League score most heavily over their colourless peers. Each composition has a definite shape and form; not one is over three minutes long; and the best usually features exhilarating harmony vocals from Oakey and Ware.

And then there’s the covers – three altogether and all done with a healthy respect for the original versions, using but not abusing. The sheer excellence of their ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ has already been well documented in these pages, but it was the double-headed encore of Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock And Roll’ and the Iggy Pop/David Bowie song ‘Nightclubbing’ that was the better received.

Crossover potential, I think they call it – of which The Human League have plenty.