LONDON ASTORIA 2001 REVIEWS
NME December 2001
The trouble with things returning to fashion long after their sell-by date is that only the good bits are dwelt upon; the negative aspects are always overlooked. Twenty years ago, The Human League were briefly the most successful band on the planet, 'Don't You Want Me' was the biggest selling single of 1981 and their first two classic albums, 'Dare' and 'Love And Dancing', redefined modern synthetic pop. After that, well, who cares?
Today, as the likes of Girls On Top, Ladytron and Miss Kittin And The Hacker pay their respects to Phil Oakey and the girls, and that artificial '80s aesthetic is reworked again for a new generation, you could be forgiven for mistaking this intimate warm-up show for The League 's traditional festive nostalgia arena slog as an attempt at capitalizing on some new-found market demographic. Yeah right.
The warm reception afforded new album 'Secrets' (as usual, great choruses) has evidently rejuvenated Oakey. A dapper cross between Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Barrymore, he awkwardly climbs a lighting rig while bellowing 'Love Action' and prowls the raised cream platform exuding a crazed cool like Leslie Grantham in Fort Boyard. Susan and Joanne, still living that dream, still nearly hitting those notes, have so much glitter on their eyelids they can barely see. As for the guitarist, we couldn't decide what sex he/she is/was.
Big tunes minimally rendered is the plan. Refusing to embellish their original stark synth sound, best realised on electro-fetish nugget 'Being Boiled', with modern trickery pays off. As the latest crop of '80s-obsessives realise, it's hard to improve upon tracks as austere and elegant as 'The Things That Dreams Are Made Of' and 'Seconds'. In 'Human' and 'Lebanon' the League even dealt with some pretty fundamental issues.
Right now, though, Susan 's stumbling about alone on stage dressed as Sally Bowles and, oh dear, no, she's not going to is she? Too late. She sings an entire song. Those dreams, electric or otherwise, are flattened.
The Independent December 2001
Tonight’s stage could be a TOTP set from 1981: ice-white Venetian blinds, strobe lights and dry ice. The catch is that it doesn’t look dated whatsoever. The Human League were always futurists, and the the rest of the world is finally catching up. They do a perfect mix of avant garde early stuff (“Being Boiled”, “Circus Of Death”), roof-raising crowd pleasers (“Mirror Man”, “Fascination”) and the new album, Secrets. Oakey’s famed fringe is gone, his hair cropped and mottled with grey, but his handsome baritone is intact. Joanne Catherall is a cult heroine among League fans. Unlike Susanne, who has mutated into a proper, classy singer over the years, Joanne still has that air of the Top Shop-clad teenage fan about her. They encore with “Things That Dreams Are Made Of”, the opening track of the classic Dare.
The Guardian December 2001
Anybody remember the original, Krautrock-influenced Human League who recorded The Dignity Of Labour and Circus Of Death back in the late 1970s? I thought not. Instead, the League destined to cruise indolently into pop history is the one that released Dare! 20 years ago. But where Phil Oakey and his cohorts once surfed the new wave of computer-pop, today they have become an exercise in seasonal camp to rival Bjorn Again or the annual exhumation of Status Quo.
To give them their due, they did crank out a new album, Secrets, this year, and several excerpts were on display this evening. All I Ever Wanted was a droning exercise in electronic music; Love Me Madly?, by contrast, went a bit more quickly.
But nobody had come to hear the new stuff, and the League had come prepared to do their classic-pop duty. You name it, it was in there somewhere. Mirror Man pumped along mechanically as ever, those squiggly synthesizer bits semaphored the start of Love Action just as they always did, and the choruses of Heart Like A Wheel had Oakey shouting his microphone into submission as if he had managed to convince himself he was a real lead vocalist after all.
This is the charm of the League: none of the band’s main trio have acquired anything resembling musical expertise. Oakey sticks rigidly within his limitations, and Jonanne’s singing is on the dodgy side of mediocre, while Susanne still doesn’t seem to have grasped the notion that each note is different from the other ones in a scale. Whenever she opened her mouth to sing, there was a frisson of anticipation as the audience placed mental bets on which key she might end up in.
However, Susanne knows that music is the least of her concerns. The lads at the front got a rare treat when she flung open her white pinstriped jacket to reveal a black bra beneath; later she caused jaws to drop by appearing in a red catsuit with no back and hardly any front. Besides, the set also featured The Lebanon, Human, Seconds and a nostalgia-wallowing Don’t You Want Me. And the stage was designed like the inside of an Ian Schrager hotel room. Same time next year, then.