June 2001 new
The Independent July 2001
With their new album, Secrets, The Human League have become the musical equivalent of Austin Powers, thawd out after decades in cryogenic suspension, with their original attitude fully intact. It’s quite spooky that they’ve managed to remain so perfectly still, moving neither one pace forward nor backward from their Dare heyday. Unfortunately, the synth-pop that was once breathtakingly futuristic has become commonplace in the interim, and rather more sophisticated in its ambitions. There are things to admire about Secrets: the way Phil Oakey rhymes “nervous” with “deserves us”; the coinage “Holland Park guerrilla”; and the laudable sense of local pride underpinning tracks such as “Sin City”, “Ringinglow” and “The Snake” – the latter a trans-Pennie clarion call seeking to unite town and country in some unspecified celebration. But the hookshere aren’t anywhere near as adhesive as “Love Action” and “Don’t You Want Me”, while the noodly synthesizer instrumentals that punctuate the songs simple interrupt the album’s flow. And ultimately, the League’s lack of sustained aesthetic growth over the intervening decades (compared with peers such as Depeche Mode) becomes painfully clear when they’re reduced to the playground chanting of “Liar” and “You’ll Be Sorry”; but then, how could they grow, having long ago opted for charismatic camp over questing creativity?
Q Magazine August 2001
SYNTHPOP DOYENS RETURN WINNINGLY AFTER 6 YEARS. DAFT WHO?
Currently busy camping it up on the wedding/office party/bar mitzvah circuit, Human League continue to occupy a special slot in the hearts of those of a certain age. Increasingly name-checked by the likes of Moby and Armand Van Helden, who knows, they might still enjoy a second - or is it third? - wind yet. While pointless to pretend there's anything matching the gauche perfection of Don't You Want Me?, Secrets is shinier and spunkier than it has any right to be. All I Ever Wanted makes it instantly clear they still know their way blindfolded to a thumping pop chorus and there's lots more where that came from. With some clubby instrumentals bulking things out, it could even be their best since Dare.
The Times August 2001
Every five years or so the Human League reappear, still grappling with the principles of "disposable" synthpop. Secrets is a pleasing mixture of old style Human League and state-of-the-art techno pop.
Songs such as All I Ever Wanted and Liar are splendidly melodramatic, with Phil Oakey's voice the perfect antidote to the sub-Mariah vocal aerobics peddled by today's pop groups. Interspersed with these are ambient instrumental passages that are supposed to represent the history of the League. A fine comeback - see you in 2006, chaps.
The Guardian August 2001
Human League were destined to be reappraised. Even as we danced to Dare back in 1981, we knew that one day we’d be listening to it again. Now they are accredited with starting the synth-pop revolution and their school-disco anthems are deemed genius. Secrets, the bands first album for over six years, explains why. Philip Oakey still writes catchy yet ambigiouos pop songs, and his voice manages to be both severe and tender. He shares vocal duties with Joanne Catherall and Susanne Gayle, the lightness to his dark. Just when you think the spruced-up, trademark electronica is too much – seven of the tracks are instrumentals – innate commercicality takes Secrets into the fun world of pop. There’s even girly laughter during the frontiness og Never Give Your Heart, alleviating the the oppressive theme of madness as a side-effect of love. “You know you’re making me frantic, is this supposed to be romantic?” Oakey sings in Love Me Madly as the bpm goes off the scale. This isn’t just a return to form: it stands alone as completely brilliant.
BBC News Online August 2001
Just a few seconds of the first track of the new Human League album is evidence enough that the Sheffield synth-pop legends are working on the principle of "if it ain't broke don't fix it".
It's an astonishing 20 years since the
soundtrack to a generation that was Dare! was released - and how well songs
like Don't You Want Me? and Love Action gave a rosy glow to all that sixth
The opening track All I Ever Wanted is like
the last two decades never happened.
There's refuge from those lyrics in the
album's liberal sprinkling of instrumental interludes. But despite the
clubby beats and synth gymnastics none really last long enough to make much
Oakey's weird Eighties haircut may be long
gone, but he's kept The Human League together in their electric dreams.
Dance Music August 2001
Yes, the 80s New Wave pioneers are back, sounding like they never left the 80s… and yet, this eight full-length album of theirs is a joyous masterpiece that proves – as if it really needs proving – that their electro synth-pop was incredibly ahead of its time. Infectious electronic beats, hypnotic synth rhythms, pure pop sing-a-long vocal hooks, universial lyrics about love and relationships – what more could you want?
This 16-tracks album by Philip Oakey, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall is chock full of potential singles, from a pool of nine new vocal tracks and seven instrumental jams. The first single is “All I Ever Wanted”, a pulsing 129BPM retor throwback that will have you checking your old Human League records to make sure it really IS new. The throbbing “Love Me Madly”, already marked out as the second single, is really a stronger cut; it’s the kind of tune that after just one listen, you’ll find yourself singing in the shower.
Other standouts include “Never Give Your Heart”, “The Snake”, “Sin City”, “You’ll Be Sorry” and the pounding techno instrumental “122.3 BPM”. Incredibly fresh, fun, and fashionable!
Dotmusic.com August 2001
If history was at all fair, this October
would see a street party or two in honour of the 20th anniversary of the
Human League's 'Dare'. An album that, in 1981, turned a tall bloke from
Sheffield with a thing for stilettos, and his two shape throwing chums, into
global stars, whilst slightly altering the path of pop into the bargain. Now
in 2001, with the likes of Moby and Daft Punk singing their praises, Phil,
Joanne and Susan return with their first album in six years and perhaps
their best album since that era.
Sideline Magazine August 2001
The Human League are back, for the xth time they are forcing a come back. With “Secrets” it could work well, whereas the previous albums lacked the necessary production, this album is full of it. Most by the production work of a team consisting of Kerry Hopwood, Q and Dave Clayton, aka Dave Bascombe, who all worked on Depeche’s “Ultra” album. It doesn’t come as a surprise that a lot of the elctronics do sound like they have been made to fit Dave Gahan’s voice as well. That comes extremely clear on the instrumental “Nervous” that just asks for Dave to sing. Really a weird sensation. While we are at it, the album holds several charming interludes. Pulsing beats á la VNV Nation(yes) are present in the interlude “122.3 BPM”, the title tells it all really. Musically the album is 10 times better than any previous recording of the band, sounding very UK-like but still with a close touch to the continent’s current undergroundscene. Extremely catchy are the “Shameless” and “All I Ever Wanted” tracks that will not only surprise the Human League adepts but many of the synthpopfreaks around. The change has been tremendous, without killing the HL ingriedients, like the naïve tunes. However they come fully to their right with the very detailed and clean production that reminds even of Erasure’s “Chrous” album. “Never Give Up Your Heart” for example is a typical bleepy HL song that together with the very intense production becomes more than just an album track. Other highlights are “Liar” and “Reflections”, a song that will immediately stay hooked in your ears, the interludes “Brute” and “Release” that should have been full tracks instead, they are brilliant, catchy and extremely earfriendly! To be short, there are no bad songs on this album, they all have their own hooks and sound up to date. Believe me, this is the best comeback the league could dream of and it will be a pleasure for Depeche Mode fans to dig out the ingredients their band ha sused in the passed ten years. More than the vocals, this is an album where music rules. Also important for the collectors, the advanced copies hold two extra tracks, “All I Ever Wanted”(Toy Mix) and the dance version “Love Me Madly”(Toy Mix), both very appealing remixes that are exactly what remixes should be. Perhaps Depeche Mode should ask Dave Clayton to remix some tracks…
'Secrets' may be both
spectacularly retro and excitingly current - always a difficult trick to
pull off even when you're not synonymous with a particular year -
but, more importantly, it's spectacularly exciting. Their electronic
pseudo-sophistication has lost none of its world-devouring frisson and,
while there may not quite be a 'Don't You Want Me' on here (how many bands
could we realistically demand two of those from, though?), there are still
strong, sparklingly ambitious pop moments down every neon-lit alley, from
recent, blazingly-on-form single 'All I Ever Wanted' through the chic
candyfloss of 'Never Give Your Heart' down to 'Sin City', a dark-clad
thumper that wouldn't have disgraced Depeche Mode in any era. To say nothing
of their distinctive lyrical style, most evident on the surely-single-to-be
'Love Me Madly?'; as a barometer of just how 80s they really are, see what
your friends make of the lines "You're like a cocktail set Attila / A kind
of halcyon guerrilla". Go Phil!
Uncut Magazine September 2001
They couldn't have picked a better time for a comeback. After several false starts, the eighties revival is finally on. And it's not just smirky weren't-we-ludicrous retro-TV: young, smart bands from Ladytron to Adult are paying tribute the best way, by finding fresh twists to synth-pop's legacy. Something's definitely in the air: before I even knew there was a new League album coming. I recently picked up Travelogue, Reproduction & Dare second-hand, while suddenly friends seemed to be waxing nostalgic about "Being Boiled".
Entering that barely populated catergory of
the non-disgraceful comeback, Secrets sounds just great: the
confidence, conviction and sense of renewed delight in their own existence
is palpable. Opener "All I Ever Wanted" has almost the same creaky
robot-fart bassline as "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass" (the 1998 cult hit
by neo-electro outfit i/F that kickstarted techno's interest in the
It's rather surreal to experience an "old,
forgotten" band, at least among most people, get generally good reviews from
the music police in the capitol. Well, it can happen, so there must be some
justice left in the world.
The trio from Sheffield has been
household names not only between the 80's nostalgics and some have drawn a
line between Secrets (2001) and Dare (1981). And there's clearly some truth
in it. The first single All I Ever Wanted isn't far from the classic Don't
You Want Me from twenty years ago.
So what do they have to prove
after 20 years? That synthpop has nine lives? Yes, clearly. The soundscape
is off course more modern, but the sounds themselves are of the good and old
caliber and the melodies are as we like them, direct, right in your face,
with Philip´s deadpan droning on top and the backing girls suble answers in
the outer channels.
Loosely translated from
October 2001 new
"All I Ever Wanted" drunkenly brims with that tonight-is-forever heart forfeit that used to make your hair stand up, while "Nervous" pounds its staccato flip-out with straight-faced couplets of a dressed-up breakdown. It's all here, with a splash of mo-dernity to make sure you wake up in the morning. Don't you want to, baby?
Secrets has, for me, three great virtues, but I'm aware my explication of the first two may verge on "half the songs are great, and so are the other half." The first is that not a one of the nine vocal tracks seems in any way sub-par or expendable to me. "All I Ever Wanted" is buoyant and inexorable, the false choruses in an ABABC structure helping send the actual choruses along particularly elegant arcs. "Love Me Madly?" leaps from groaning verses to pinging choruses with the aplomb of Jesus Jones, and a few of the silly rhymes (notably "I'm tethered to a trainee hellcat; / I'm feeling jealous of the doormat" and "You're like a cocktail-set Attila, / A kind of Holland Park guerilla", especially when I notice that the printed lyrics have "halcyon" for "Holland Park" in the latter) make me smile involuntarily. The nicely understated "Shameless" reminds me of both Gardening by Moonlight and Yaz. The shivery (and again Jesus Jones-ish) "Never Give Your Heart" manages the grace of a ballad without having to give up pace or drums. "The Snake", another three-stage composition with Oakley's muttering, echoey entreaties from the women and an expansively stomped chorus not that far from a post-techno "Safety Dance", seems to me to have great down-cycle club potential. "Liar" could easily amount to a cynical sequel to "Love Action (I Believe in Love)", if by "easily" we mean "if, like me, you have accidentally merged your memories of 'Love Action' and the Eurogliders' 'No Action'". The fluttery "Reflections" opens with the great descending cadences of "Outside the last remaining shadows of the day too vague to make out, / De Chirico has packed his case and left, abandoning his stake-out", edges sideways to "Who else amongst the dancing crowd can share the sense that we are falling?", and then lapses into a creepy exchange in which a sinister narrator mumbles "Demons of the mind" and is echoed breathily by the women. "Sin City" and "You'll Be Sorry" could be a new generation's answers to "Funkytown" and "Electric Avenue", although I guess you'll have to decide for yourself whether that counts as a gift.
Interspersed with the nine vocal tracks on this sixteen-track album are seven heavily programmed instrumentals. I'm not in favor of this tactic as a general rule, particularly when there's no obvious conceptual point to the interludes, and here the instrumentals aren't even remotely different enough in style from the vocal tracks to change the genre of the record. Their redeeming virtue, for me, is just that I like them. A lot. As a set they immediately join the Assembly's "Stop/Start" and a handful of Simple Minds and Gay Dad tracks on my very short list of rock instrumentals by non-instrumental bands that I appreciate as songs, and if Catherall and Gayle bail out on him, Oakley could probably have a fine second career picking up all the amphitheater/laser-show/cultural-expo gigs Jean Michel Jarre turns down.
Which brings me to the third great virtue of Secrets, which is best encapsulated by a picture. Not the carefully posed lip tableau on the cover, and not the heavily overwrought individual portraits at the front of the booklet, but the three-quarters-length group photo opposite the credits. They're still voguing, still made-up from the same photo-shoot as the others, still dressed in clothes I doubt they wear at home. It's possible they think they look unchanged, just as glamorous now as they were twenty years ago, when their glamour was part of the performance. But what comes off as laughable posturing in the head shots (the dark-haired one looks like she's in the middle of a back spasm, and Oakley appears to have just inadvertently swallowed a vole) falls apart when the camera pulls back. Oakley's still scowling, but you can see one of his hands by his side, oblivious to the act. The blonde one's leather dress, after perhaps a little too much time under the lights, is starting to do weird things. The dark-haired one's shirt needs adjusting. Despite their best efforts to look like stars, in this picture they look like grown-ups. They're trying to look one kind of ridiculous, risking looking another, and to me they are left with dignity. And likewise the record, aspiring to currency and risking irrelevance, falls gracefully into the space in between, where everything real ends up, dancing.
November 2001 new
The first track on their new CD, Secrets, was issued as a single in September, and listening to it you'd think nothing had changed since the early 80s, when the group was topping the charts in an explosion of Kraftwerk-inspired electronica. But while much of the material on this album could have been issued twenty years ago, closer examination reveals both contemporary dance influences and, paradoxically, a return to the group's electronic origins, especially in the instrumentals which intersperse the song tracks.
Human League was formed in Sheffield in 1977 by electronic enthusiasts Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh. By the end of the year they had recruited Philip Oakey as singer. After Reproduction (1979) and Travelogue (1980), Ware and Marsh quit to form the British Electric Foundation and later Heaven 17, while Oakey found two teenage girls, Joanne Catherall and Susan Anne Sulley (now Gayle), as backing vocalists. He spotted them dancing in a nightclub, but they were not - as popularly believed from the song 'Don't You Want Me' - cocktail waitresses. Judging from the CD pics, the trio have worn well.
Human League's high tide was marked with Dare! in 1981. The album not only featured the aforementioned 'Don't You Want Me' but other smash hits such as 'The Things That Dreams Are Made Of', 'The Sound Of The Crowd', and 'Love Action'. Hysteria (1984) did not have the same success, while Crash (1986) was a lackluster label-led disaster. By the time of Romantic? (1990) the moment for this sort of music had passed. Octopus (1995) was their first comeback attempt and was generally well received.
Secrets' lead single 'All I Ever Wanted' is catchy and very much in classic style. 'Love Me Madly' has some of those awful rhymes while the attempt to tackle a serious subject in 'Sin City' seems frankly out of place in this genre, but the last number, 'You'll Be Sorry', is another song in the classic Human League style bringing the album to a poptastic conclusion. It's nostalgic, it's fun and thanks partly to the instrumentals, it strikes a successful balance between retro and contemporary that may yet recruit some new fans.
You've got the feel somewhat sorry for Phil Oakey and co. Despite such a fabulous record for innovation and quality music, from their early days as industrial-influenced electro pioneers, through their groundbreaking electropop classic "Dare" up to this album, they're still mainly known for that song. You know the one, it's been butchered by an awful ad recent. As a result, despite releasing this cracking piece of electronica last year (now re-released with a couple of extra tracks), they're still stuck on the 80s revival circuit with school disco-type crap rather than up there with the nu-electro scene where they should be.
It should be no surprise to anyone that this album doesn't fit easily any genre, explaining why it fell between the cracks last year and failed to make an impact, but there's more than enough here to appeal to fans of Fischerspooner and VNV Nation alike. Hard-hitting electro beats, storming synths and the band's trademark of Phil's deep voice offset by the female voices of Joanne Catherall and Susan Anne Gayle.
Kicking off with the fabulous 'All I ever wanted', the album threads their own trademarked sound through with elements of dance music to produce an absolutely contemporary sounding, while also sophisticated and mature, selection. Rather than go through the album like a shopping list, it's enough to say that there isn't a duff track on here, but there is a delicious amount of variety that's beyond the abilities of just about any band that carry their influence.
The inclusion of 'All I ever wanted' on the recent DAC compilation, "Advanced Electronics", alongside the likes of Felix da Housecat, I-F, VNV Nation and Apoptygma Berzerk, is a good sign that a bit of open-mindedness will lift the Human League out of the nostalgia circuit and give them a new lease of life. A re-release of that single with the right mixes could do wonders. Anyway, that aside, if you are anyway interested in electronic music and haven't heard this yet, check out the undeniable masters at work
The Human League's first album in more than six years isn't a complete success, but it's a welcome return from Sheffield's finest synth pop band. Only a handful of songs, among them "All I Ever Wanted," "Love Me Madly?," "Never Give Your Heart," "Liar," and "Reflections," stand up against the band's finest work from the past, but these songs are wholly endearing in their marriage of modern technology and the band's romantic sound. "Love Me Madly?" is particularly engaging, as it throttles along aggressively thanks to Phil Oakey's mad, repeated chant of the title and lyrics like "I'm getting ready for a freak-out." It's simultaneously an urgent and exhilarating grasp at the past and a gaze into the future. Updated technology adds more dimension and bite to "Liar" as well. The song's crunchy bass and racing electronic sounds make for punchy fun. "Reflections" might be the standout track, its weird samples and loopy style recalling past glories like "Empire State Human." The album's Achilles' heel is its seven instrumental tracks. Some of them are quite interesting, but they feel too much like meandering song fragments. Secrets is a minor work against the band's masterpiece, Dare, but it's still a fine introduction into the 21st century for Oakey and company.
January 2002 new
One of the most important "secrets" of pop songs is this: They mean everything and nothing. Your best pop songwriters know this, and know it means they don't have to make up their minds between absurdity and meaning. Oakey surely knows it too; something about his baritone has often rendered even the League's most absurd songs a certain deadpan charm that puts them over. On "Party" (from 1986's Crash), for example, he sings "Everyone is going to Party, party" so straight that you couldn't swear that he wasn't recruiting people to the London Communists instead of the disco. And the fact is that it could be either.
Having made one of the three greatest albums of the '80s techno-pop era with Dare in 1981 (The Thompson Twins and ABC made the other two), the League embarked on a five-year string of hits that stand as excellent singles, influential to this day. But after the underrated Crash gave them the hit "Human," they went into a bit of a slump that lasted the '90s. Singles like "Heart Like a Wheel" and "Tell Me When" were unimaginative and pedestrian, if catchy, and none were around long enough to leave much of an impression.
So I put this new CD in my player and push play. "All I Ever Wanted" opens with a synthetically distorted voice asking "What'cha gonna say and what'cha gonna do?" A bouncy, disco synth-bass kicks in, and then Oakey's immediately recognizable voice pops up with "Too good/you could/be so misunderstood." Human League is back, and it's beautiful.
Secrets, an album that balances songs with brief computerized instrumental bits, will cause a faraway look to come to the eyes of any old romantic/wave synth-pop fan (god, I miss Naked Eyes). This album is a joy. It sounds like a revitalized League, still driven by Oakey's songwriting (the most consistent element of their success) and singing, along with Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley's backing vocals (the latter now called Susan Anne Gayle, which I think is her married name) and a new collaborator or two.
Some of the instrumentals serve as intros to the "proper songs," "Nervous" preceding "Love Me Madly?" which starts with the line "You know you're making me..." Others, like "Brute," conjure up images of Oakey alone in a studio with a synthesizer and a drum machine, which is the kind of music that jumps right into my lap. "Madly?" also contains a couple of great League one-liners, the perfect "I don't know if the world deserves us," and a description of the song's subject as "Like the woman out of Species." And "Ran" sounds like a lament for futurism. Speaking of which, my god, do you realize that Oakey is 46, and that when discussing Dare, we can now say, "It was 20 years ago today...?" I need to change the subject before I get depressed.
Another great thing about pop albums, and another reason why Secrets is such a great name for one, is the way in which they can seem to be invitations to a private club. "The Snake" here makes this explicit. "Join us/Come and join us," sing Catheral and Gayle/Sulley. According to an interview the latter recently gave to KindaMuzik, "The songs contain influences from the music that is hot now, although we used our old synths as basic equipment." This suddenly strikes me as standing everything that Human League used to be on it's head: Instead of using newfangled electronics to try to make old-fashioned pop, they're using old-fashioned electronics to try to make new pop.
The pop is certainly what helped them across the sea in the first place. Oakey knew as far back as 1982 that synthesizers are just tools you use for building songs; the technology was and is important, but no more or less so than the materials they use for building houses. Houses can be made up of different things, but the end result is what matters. The League have always been about synthetically textured music refined into classic pop structure. The electronics are the clothes outside, but what they're playing is the heart within.
They've passed the test; their worst is better than the others' best.
October 2002 new
www.cdshakedown.com March 2003 new
Now working as a three-piece combo, techno pioneers Human League still have a devoted following from their 80's recording success, including "Don't You Want Me." Secrets, the group's first new release in six years, was originally an indie release, but was picked up for wider distribution by Ark 21 Records.
The trio of singers Philip Oakey, Susan Ann Gayle and JoAnne Catheral are a competent force, and mixed their voices in a delicious, Pet Shop Boys sound. "Love Her Madly?" has an incessant dance beat, "Ran" has a perfect techno sheen.
Secrets was produced by Toy, with Neil Sutton on keyboards and David Beevers providing "technical secrets."
With 16 tracks of dance hall material, Secrets is a fresh breeze, all pop and polish and beats-per-minute.