To find the roots of The Human League transport yourself back to Sheffield circa 1977 where a bunch of friends are experimenting with Roland synths, the trusty Korg and some homemade sound systems. Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware and a couple of other computer operator pals call themselves The Future. Chancing upon a local hospital porter with a stand out haircut and a taste for exotic clothes who introduces himself as Phil Oakey they decided a new name is in order and Ware, the ideas man, suggests they name themselves The Human League after a Science Fiction game in which a group of renegades leave Earth and head towards Alpha Centauri. The name fits their style and their developing music and a local following sees them supporting many new wave acts of the day, including The Rezillos. Recording indepndendently at first The Human League sign to Virgin after a memorable stint playing with Iggy Pop in Europe. Early recordings for the label included the single 'I Don't Depend On You' (released under the pseudonym The Men) and the debut album Reproduction that welded electronic and industrial noise to some oddities like their version of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling'. With Colin Thurston at the controls (they liked his work with Iggy and Magazine) Reproduction evokes a gloriously naÃ¯ve time for the League as they find their feet on stand out cuts like 'Empire State Human' and 'The Path of Least Resistance'.
The band's second album, Travelogue, is a far more sophisticated affair. Although Marsh and Ware would quit at its completion they left behind a full fat triumph, which observes no boundaries. Apart from a cover of Mick Ronson's 'Only After Dark' there is also an audacious attempt at Jeff Wayne's 'Gordon's Gin'. Eclectic to the nth degree the current fully expanded version of the CD also includes a medley of 'Rock'n'Roll/Nightclubbing', a remake of the earlier single 'Being Boiled' and a homage to Dr Who's Tom Baker. Heady stuff! And it charted at 16 in the UK. Happy days.
As if to confuse everyone further the Human League's third outing, Dare, with Oakey in sole control after Marsh and Ware's departure to form Heaven 17, was a solidly commercial pop album, deliberately and brilliantly executed to take advantage of the rebirth of the British hit single, then enjoying a significant renaissance. Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright pulled off a masterstroke when they enlisted young local Sheffield dancers and singers Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall, giving the group a completely unique dynamic. The arrival of ace producer Martin Rushent added depth to the sound since his programming skills far outstripped those of the musicians and he became like a sixth member. Jo Callis from The Rezillos was now on guitar and synths and from the first notes of 'The Sound of the Crowd' it was clear that whether by accident or design, or probably both, The Human League were onto something big.
Everything about Dare is now considered truly classic. 'Don't You Want Me', based on a synth riff copped from John Carpenter's theme intro from his movieEscape From New York was the Christmas hit of 1981, even though Oakey didn't originally want it released because he thought people would misconstrue the line 'You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I first met you' as an autobiographical account of the Catherall/Sulley arrival. It wasn't.
Elsewhere it's all just great. 'I Am The Law', inspired by Judge Dredd check. An instrumental cover of Roy Budd's 'Get Carter', cult classic check. 'Open Your Heart', technically demanding thus giving the lie that new wave acts were milksops, check. It's just a 24-carat marvel.
1984's Hysteria, recorded at great cost in London's Air Studios was following a tough act and took three producers to polish it off but even so it contains plenty of merit. Having filled the gap with some fine EPs, one dedicated to old school balladeer Barry White, Oakey's love affair with hard core soul crops up on a cover of James Brown and Lyn Collins' 1973 stomper 'Rock Me Again And Again', although the more memorable songs here are 'The Lebanon' and 'Life on Your Own' which utilise rock guitars and a return to the Linn drum respectively. Also don't forget 'Louise', a lovely atypically sweet ditty that reunites the lovers from 'Don't You Want Me' to great effect. Robbie Williams and Tony Christie have covered it. Fair enough.
Keeping ahead of the curve again the League's sixth album, Crash, was pieced together with Minneapolis based duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who had just finished producing Janet Jackson's Control. A great American experience in some ways, but it also tested the band's independent resolve. Strangely, as often happens at times of crisis great things still happen. The album contains the massive worldwide hit 'Human' (penned by Jam and Lewis) and is about as plush and romantic as the League would ever get while still packing club dance floors.
The League delivered their last album for Virgin in 1990, reuniting with Rushent, enjoying a further hit via 'Heart Like A Wheel', and closing one chapter in their exciting history. So much to listen to is here but Dare is an album everyone should experience. The Dare/Fascination re-master is particularly commendable and initial dabblers could seek out Greatest Hits and The Very Best Of which contain a wealth of treasures. The influence of the Human League is beyond doubt. Two generations later their electronic pop is placed on a pedestal. Quite rightly so.
Dare! captures a moment in time perfectly -- the moment post-punk's robotic fascination with synthesizers met a clinical Bowie-esque infatuation with fashion and modern art, including pop culture, plus a healthy love of songcraft. The Human League had shown much of this on their early singles, such as "Empire State Human," but on Dare! they simply gelled, as their style was supported by music and songs with emotional substance. That doesn't mean that the album isn't arty, since it certainly is, but that's part of its power -- the self-conscious detachment enhances the postmodern sense of emotional isolation, obsession with form over content, and love of modernity for its own sake.
That's why Dare! struck a chord with listeners who didn't like synth pop or the new romantics in 1981, and why it still sounds startlingly original decades after its original release -- the technology may have dated, synths and drum machines may have become more advanced, but few have manipulated technology in such an emotionally effective way. Of course, that all wouldn't matter if the songs themselves didn't work smashingly, whether it's a mood piece as eerie as "Seconds," an anti-anthem like "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of," the dance club glow of "Love Action (I Believe in Love)," or the utter genius of "Don't You Want Me," a devastating chronicle of a frayed romance wrapped in the greatest pop hooks and production of its year. The latter was a huge hit, so much so that it overshadowed the album in the minds of most listeners, yet, for all of its shining brilliance, it wasn't a pop supernova -- it's simply the brightest star on this record, one of the defining records of its time. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Hysteria is the fourth studio album by the British synthpop band The Human League, released in May 1984. Following the worldwide success of their 1981 album Dare, the band struggled to make a successful follow-up and the sessions for Hysteria were fraught with problems. The album name itself is taken from the problematic recording period. Producers Martin Rushent and Chris Thomas both left the project which would eventually be finished by producer Hugh Padgham.
Reproduction is the debut album released by British synthpop group The Human League. The album was released in October 1979 through Virgin Records.
The Human League turned to American R&B producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in the wake of their success with Janet Jackson's Control, and the combination brought the group its second number one hit with the Jam-Lewis composition "Human," which harked back to the earlier "Don't You Want Me," albeit with a gentler tone. The album's second single, the Control-soundalike "I Need Your Loving," was also a Jam-Lewis song (as was the U.K.-only third single, "Love Is All That Matters"), but the bulk of the album was made up of group-written songs with appealing backing tracks that maintained their dance appeal while eschewing the overtly synthesized sound of previous albums. That made Crash an improvement over the lackluster Hysteria, but still not on a par with Dare.
Words - William Ruhlmann
The Human League's second album, Travelogue, was their first to be released in the U.S. (Not that you would have noticed at the time, given the limited distribution; the album subsequently was picked up for reissue by Virgin/Atlantic in 1988.) It was also the last to feature the nearly original lineup of Martyn Ware, Ian Marsh, Philip Oakey, and Adrian Wright. Already, the band's synthesizer textures and Oakey's mannered voice were starting to lean in a pop direction, but much of this album retained the austere tone of earlier synthesizer groups such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. The conflicting musical directions led to a split in the band after this album, with Ware and Marsh forming Heaven 17 and Oakey and Wright reorganizing a new version of The Human League. Ironically, both ventures were more pop-oriented than before.
Words - William Ruhlmann
A 16 track compilation from 1998 which provides a thorough overview of the bands career.
Fascination! is an EP released by the British synthpop band The Human League in 1983. The EP was issued by Virgin Records in North America (though made available in Europe as an import) as a stop-gap release in between the albums Dare (1981) and Hysteria (1984).
Fans of the Human League's American hits "Don't You Want Me" and "Human" will find this (and any of the band's many similarly titled compilations) a little perplexing. The bulk of the set are U.K. hits, which are somewhat of an acquired taste, and different from the group's fun, pop new wave stylings. "Open Your Heart," "Love Is All That Matters," and "The Sound of the Crowd" are early efforts that sound much more dated than their biggest hits. Overall, it is an essential purchase if you want to revisit or discover the Human League, but some of the lesser known songs, like "The Lebanon," will be surprisingly different.
Words - JT Griffith
Essential is a no-frills anthology covering the Human League's first four albums: Reproduction, Travelogue, Dare!, Hysteria, and Crash, as well as the non-album single “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” and the Philip Oakey/Giorgio Moroder soundtrack collaboration “Together in Electric Dreams.” It could just as easily be titled Singles 1979-1986, thought it’s neither complete nor sequenced chronologically. Most casual fans won’t need to dig any deeper, as this features the biggest hits, including “Don’t You Want Me,” “The Lebanon,” and “Human.” That said, the group was as album-oriented as it was singles-oriented -- through Dare!, at least -- and this disc isn’t quite comprehensive.
Words - Andy Kellman
Putting together an adequate compilation of the Human League's best moments has proved to be a thankless task. What to include? (How about all of Dare!?) Do you pay attention to the pre-coed version of the band? Do you pay any attention to anything that came after Crash? At any rate, The Very Best Of Virgin retrospective, originally released in the U.K. in 2003 with remastered sound (and a bonus disc of remixes that Americans won't miss), does a respectable job of paying mind to the group's best work through 2001's Secrets (the group's best album since Dare!). All of the expected major hits -- "Don't You Want Me," "Love Action," "(Keep Feeling) Fascination," "Human" -- are provided, as are crucial early moments ("Being Boiled," "Empire State Human") and later singles that history, for the most part, has tried to forget ("One Man in My Heart," "Heart Like a Wheel"). Once again, 1980's Travelogue goes completely ignored; while that album didn't impact the charts all that much -- even in the group's home country -- the atypically abrasive "The Black Hit of Space" or even the non-album single "Marianne" would have made a significant addition.
Words - Andy Kellman