LONDON 1987 REVIEWS

 

The Times

David Sinclair

There must be millions of teenage girls who can sing and dance as well as Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley of The Human League; and yet the very fact that Phil Oakey recruited them the pair as vocalists for his group in 1980, having only seen them dance in a Sheffield disco, renders criticism of their technical shortcomings rather superfluous.

Indeed it is one of the group’s strengths that, as a stage act, they have never aspired to the norms of rock band behaviour, whether in terms of inspiration, expertise or presentation, and have thus maintained an overriding sense of ingenuous individual purpose which has enabled them to eschew the old bump and grind routine that swiftly bogs down even relatively new acts like Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Instead, at Hammersmith, The Human League set out their songs on a skeletal framework of single-note synthesizer lines and catchy, nagging electronic drum patterns, and capitalized with melodies of inescapable charm and lyrics of perceptive narrative wit. Although heavily made up and wearing a pair of provocatively tight white trousers, Oakey performed with a modest grace, roaming the stage with a studious air of pained concentration.

The loss of the slide-show since they last toured Britain four years ago was compensated for by many additional hits like “Mirror Man”, “Fascination”, “The Lebanon” and “Human” which, together with older staples like “Love Action” and the enormously successful “Don’t You Want Me”, made the new show something of a chart singles extravaganza.

Yet the lack of bravura lent a valuable frisson of unpredictability which was compounded by one or two unexpected inclusions, and “Seconds”, a barrage of hypnotic drum patterns, with a chorus repeated by Oakey like a nervous tic, excemplified the flashes of intuitive excellence that illuminated an intriguing performance.