MANCHESTER 1995 REVIEWS
Preston Citizin November 1995 new
FOR a full two hours 30-somethings were allowed to forget their responsibilities - families, jobs, mortgages - and take themselves back a decade to their carefree youth courtesy of the Sheffield trio Phil Oakey, Susan Sully and Joanne Catherall.
Hence their rapturous and very vocal welcome to Manchester.
The adoration from the sell-out and very mixed audience was understandable.
Most I suspect had enjoyed their first snog to a Human League tune or undergone the agonies of their first rejection. Every song seemed to have its own special memory.
The audience was treated to a mixture of their hits from the past 17 years from their early punk offering Being Boiled through classic Abba-esque pop songs like Love Action, Mirror Man and The Sound of the Crowd.
Although extremely popular in their heyday they were definitely considered naff, mainly due to Phil Oakey's fetishism for lob-sided haircuts and blue eyeshadow.
Therefore any self-respecting 'cool' teenager would never admit to having Don't You Want Me in their record collection.
But now 10 years down the line all those 'cool' teenagers were able to come out the closet and let everyone know that they think The Human League were and are the greatest band in the world ever.
Between them Phil, Susan and Joanne reminded the audience that they've released some cracking good pop songs over the years including their recent hits Tell Me When and Stay With Me Tonight.
A night of satin smooth pop classics. Pure nostalgia.
And don't worry if you failed to get a ticket for the gig on Saturday. Due to overwhelming public demand the band are making a return visit on December 9.
MELODY MAKER November 1995
OUR FRIENDS ELECTRIC
IT begins with a chant. “We are not worthy, we are not WORTHY!” The first four rows are a galaxy of acolytes, from New Order / Electronic to erasure to Neil Tennant to, err Snap. Messrs Hutter and Schneider from Kraftwerk gaze sternly from the wings, like schoolmasters filing a report on their most prodigious pupils. Suddenly, Damon Albarn waves a royalty cheque for “Trouble In The Message Centre” and shouts, “Take it, it’s yours” And then Jarvis Cocker confronts Philip Oakey and proclaims, simply, “DADDY!” To which Phil replies, ever deadpan, “Shut up Cokcer. I’m not old enough to be your father.” And pop, having stood still for the best part of the decade, moves on.
Lest we forget, The Human League created the blueprint for pristine pop phantasmagoria. They may not have been the first electronic pop band (Sparks, Space and Telex got there first!) but they were the best, meshing the twin peaks of pop and electronic, ABBA and Kraftwerk. Add DIY glam (Susan and Joanne as Sheffield market traders-become-cybersex alien goddesses); the development of the lugubrious baritone and lopsided haircut (Phil); the greatest electronic pop album ever (“Dare”) and the genius / audacity to rhyme “Buddah” with “sericulture” (on “Being Boiled”).
In Manchester (for the first time in nine years) it’s half a case of like the Eighties never happened and half no, the Nineties haven’t caught up. The pure white stage set is a vision of how late-Seventies modernists (Bowie, Numan) saw the future, and the opening pulsebeat funk of “Being Boiled” demonstrates that not only did The League invent New York electro (and thus, tangentially techno) in 1978, they played it with adventure.
Then, as now, THL utilised harsher, bolder, more ridiculous and, well, funnier syn-sounds than many around today (“whistling kettle by Huddersfield train station” was our favourite. Or maybe “whale farts”). Similarly, the likes of “Love Action” and “The Sound Of The Crowd” (the song which predicted club culture) have undergone rhythmic tampering, but mostly their original visions sound unerringly refreshing.
There is a nostalgia to The Human League in ’95 (damn! I tried not to mention the audience of civil servants with remnants of Old Romo fringes), but it’s a nostalgia for their future. They provide a glimpse of what Nineties pop should have sounded like – before the dullards, the derivatives, the guitar fetishists and (worse) the Beatles fans took over. And it sounds fantastic. Although I baulk as the keyboard player straps on a guitar for “Mirror Man”(guitars really have no place here) and as the set progresses the singer could easily be rechristened Philip Croakey.
Shouted vocals, awry synths and mistiming percussionists add to the occasion. THL go all dewy for “Don’t You Want Me” and “Filling Up With Heaven”, stern-faced for “The Lebanon” and psychic for the awesome “Seconds”, their song about assassinations. (I return to my hotel room to discover the Israeli prime minister has been shot. Coincidence? No, only the League could do this.) Only the encores are appalling. Gary Clail’s “Human Nature” prompts loud cringes and “Together In Electric Dreams” was always ghastly AOR. But, no matter. The League departs and I’m left on a Manchester street wondering whether it really happened. And if it did, just why did the singer spend the last few numbers dressed as a traffic bollard?
But as Philip tells us, he is, after all, only Human (Simpson, you’re fired – Inhumane Ed)