In-depth reviews of classic or neglected albums, mainly from the 1960s and 70s, plus a weekly newsletter featuring all the latest news, views and music. Artists covered include Beach Boys, Beatles, Belle and Sebastian, Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Crosby Stills and Nash, Dire Straits, Grateful Dead, Hollies, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Kinks, Nils Lofgren, Monkees, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Searchers, Simon and Garfunkel, Small Faces, 10cc, The Who and Neil Young.
Friday, 4 July 2008
Review 90) The Human League "Greatest Hits" (1988)
On which the Human League make it sound like the inventive 60s are here all over again and get emotional with cold-sounding synthesisers…
Track Listing: Mirror Man/ (Keep Feeling) Fascination/ The Sound Of the Crowd/ The Lebanon/ Human/ Together In Electric Dreams/ Don’t You Want Me?// Being Boiled/ Love Action (I Believe In Love)/ Louise/ Open Your Heart/ Love Is All That Matters/ Life On Your Own (UK and US tracklisting)
ALAN’S ALBUM ARCHIVES
For The Record:
Ones to watch out for:Mirror Man, (Keep Feeling) Fascination, The Lebanon, Human, Being Boiled, Love Action (I Believe In Love)
Ones to skip:Love Is All That Matters and Life On Your Own are – like many later League songs – good but not great and aren’t quite up to the standard here, while Open Your Heart is probably the weakest of the early ‘classic line-up’ songs.
The cover: Mainly a rather boring white, with a small shot of the mainstay trio on the cover caught somewhere between trying to look seductive and moody and trying not to laugh at the camera (very League!)
Key lyrics: “The water shines, a pebble skips across the face a dozen times, then disappears not a trace left behind” “I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made, I’m only human born to make mistakes” “Listen to the voice of Buddha saying stop your sorry culture, little people like your children boiled alive for some God’s stocking, Buddha’s watching Buddha’s waiting” “I believe in truth though I lie a lot, feel the pain from thepush and shove, no matter what you put me through I still believe in love and I say…” “It’s not true that time heals all wounds, there are some wounds you just don’t want to heal, memories of a time that was really special” “And so you stand here with the years ahead potentially calling, with open heart or spirit dead you walk on” “Being on an island, shying away from trying, seems the easy way, such an easy way, but there’s no future without tears”
Original UK chart position: #3. This first Human League compilation is still the definitive collection in most people’s eyes – by comparison the two later ‘best of’ sets in 1995 and 2003 barely went top 30.
Singles: All of these tracks were singles, the best-selling was of course Don’t You Want Me?, a seemingly permanent #1 (amazingly, its still the only #1 the group ever had).
Official out-takes: None as such (this is a compilation after all), but an honorary mention for the alternate take of Being Boiled, as included on the second Human League album Travelogue (1979). More polished and effect-driven than its better known predecessor on this compilation, its actually this 1979 version that was intended for release (the mid-80s version here was an out-take released by first record label Fast Track to cash in on the success of Don’t You Want Me? when the League proper took an age getting round to releasing a follow-up). On similar lines, its perhaps surprising that the very early singles Holiday 80, Empire State Human and especially the neglected classic Boys And Girls weren’t included as well (they come from the same vintage as Being Boiled after all) and peaked at more or less the same chart position as Love Is All That Matters to boot (although admittedly, like Being Boiled they sound like – and indeed partly are – by a different band entirely). An honourable mention too for the Love And Dancing project (1983, the world’s first remix project?!) which includes instrumental extended and re-edited versions of the four songs from Dare included on this album.
Availability: Stillon catalogue (and usually in a sale bin too!), although the 2003 compilation The Very Best Of…is the most commonly spotted best-of these days.
This album came between: Albums covered by this compilation include the heavy-going but well worth it Reproduction (1978) and Travelogue (1979), the classic Dare (1981) that’s too well known for this list, although the better stuff is on this compilation anyway; Hysteria (1983) patchy, but its best songs are well worth having and Crash (1986) avoid avoid avoid. If only the sorely neglected and poor selling Romantic? (1989) had been covered by this set it might have been better still.
Line-up: Ian Burden, Jo Callis, Joanne Catherall, Ian Marsh, Phil Oakey, Susan Sulley, Martin Ware and Ian Adrian Wright (Produced by The Human League, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Giorgio Moroder, Martin Rushent, Hugh Padgham and Chris Thomas)
Putting The Album In Context:
ALRIGHT, so including this album on this list is breaking the sort of self-imposed code about what ‘belongs’ on this website. For many, this record stands out on this list even more than the circular record cover of the Small Faces’ Ogdens Nut Gone Flake stands out on your record shelf, as it’s a compilation rather than a ‘proper’ record and by a 1980s rather than a 60s/70s band to boot. Yet as all good 60s aficionados will tell you, its by breaking rules that most of these records were made in the first place and – trust me – my breaking the rules this once is to your benefit as well as mine. Hopefully. If not, just skip a review for now and I’ll meet you in time for review number 91 (which is err, umm, another compilation. Oops, something seems to have gone wrong there, but at least its by a 1960s legend this time so there).
Greatest Hits isn’t strictly a canonical album at all, more a brief jog through some career highlights by an under-rated if strong-selling band. But no, I don’t care, because unlike most catch-all play-safe compilations, this album really does represent the best of the League’s catalogue and is a great way of introducing some key tracks of the 1980s that’s otherwise forgotten about. Now hideously unfashionable, The Human League don’t really fit in with the other 60s and 70s legends that make up the vast majority of this list. All 80s synthesisers and cold clinical production, the Human League seem at first to be about as far away from this list’s fixation with psychedelia and warm harmonies as its possible to get. But actually, the delight in exploring new worlds by means of then-modern, now-dated technology makes the League pioneers in just the same way as the 60s hippies were – something I can’t imagine other 80s stars like Shakin’ Stevens or Gary Glitter doing somewhere whatever their strengths (and weaknesses!) Plus, these wonderful little packages are full of poignant human drama and emotion, made up of truly gorgeous expressive melodies, some often witty observational lyrics and the warm expressive tones of lead singer Phillip Oakey. All of this very traditional-style writing makes for a terrific contrast when set against the cold, uncaring electronic world the songs live in and sound like nothing less than an update of the 60s desperate message that mankind’s should keep his heart and emotions human in a future full of faceless controllers and claustrophobic electronics.
I’ll assume that anyone interested enough to be reading this knows a bit about the League’s history – how the band started off as some mix of avant-garde and new wave, shed the members credited on the sleeves for synthesisers and ‘light projections’ during their stage shows and went for a more ‘mainstream’ form of music (or at least, more mainstream than they were doing – this stuff is still pretty inventive all round given what everybody else was making at the time). With singer Phil Oakey now the only member left from the original line-up, he took the astonishing decision to hire two girls working as waitresses in a nearby club who had no professional experience singing and turned the band’s fortunes around. For a group that’s now officially had as many members passing through their ranks than they’ve had top 20 hit singles (and they’ve had a lot, trust me) there’s also quite a lot of consistency to this compilation which other similar packages just don’t have. Perhaps its because this album ends in 1988 after just nine years of recordings, but these songs sound made to sit next to each other in a way that the League’s often patchy mid-period albums can’t quite manage (half of each one tends to play it safe and the other half break new ground – and it’s a lottery as to which idea works best at any given time). Even the fact that this compilation takes a rather confused view of the history of the band and presents the tracks out of chronological order doesn’t seem to affect it as badly as expected either (this sort of messed up running order gives me apoplexy on other compilations where you really need to hear a band ‘progress’ and transform down the years. CSN’s similar Greatest Hits is a case in point and just sounds woefully wrong, even though I agree with the inclusion of pretty much all the tracks).
The version of the album discussed here is the 1988 incarnation by the way, which luckily for us is the more common white-edition one you still see a lot in shops, but unfortunately it does miss out on the League’s brief return to form on Romantic? (1989, don’t read what other critics have said – a good half of this album is the band’s strongest in years) and Octopus (1995, actually this album isn’t quite as good as the hyperbole that greeted it on release, but never mind that for the moment its still a good ‘un!) However, discussing this format of the CD does give us added gems from the League’s peak early-1980s years that are missing from the mid-90s revision of the CD. All of these songs were hits, but not all of them major ones – this compilation somehow manages to do that impressive job of offering a good balance between songs that you might already know and love whilst leaving just enough room for those handful of nice surprises that always make a good compilation great. Oakey is the only band member most people will recognise in the writing credits and his spot-on lyrics and heartfelt vocals play a big part in the League’s success, but unsung heroes Jo Callis and Ian Burden are just as integral to the band’s early 80s sound, creating electronic masterpieces that are instantly recognisable in a way that the quagmire of the early part of that decade sadly isn’t. And as for the inclusion of two unknown girl singers with no experience – well, surprisingly, I can’t say a word against that decision, as their inclusion somehow transcends the pointless ‘ooh aah’ ing of most backing vocalists and – if you swap Phil Oakey for Diana Ross (now there’s an image!) – makes the Human league sound like the Supremes lost in space. Which is (believe it or not) actually a good thing.
The album starts with a killer one-two punch and – even more impressively – both songs were/ are exclusive to singles and compilations like this one, never appearing on a League album ‘proper’. People who’ve turned to this album straight after reading about the albums of the 1960s might wonder what all the fuss is about as the Beatles did this right up until Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby and most bands followed suit, but this idea of singles being exclusive from albums had all but died out by the early 1970s and the League run well against the pack here. Perhaps the real reason for this though is the huge delay between releases and the thought that by the release of the ‘new album’ these tracks would be old hat. We think nothing of it nowadays, thanks to artists like Dire Straits taking a five year break between projects, but after the overwhelming success of Don’t You Want Me in 1981 the vaults were completely dry of releasable material (unbelievably this mega-seller was the fourth single pulled from the album Dare, so the band couldn’t simply stick out another song from their last LP like most artists would have done at the time) and rather than release a full album, the band released the only two finished recordings made in 1982 as singles to keep up the momentum. Barring the forthcoming Lebanon, each of these songs are the last gasp ‘classic’ Human League songs, ones that seem to have maintained the glossy shine of the Dare project without sacrificing the depth and originality that characterises the group in this period. Even 11 and 14 months on from their big success respectively, both songs were catchy enough to make the #2 slot in the charts, which isn’t bad going given how quickly any band fell from grace in the minefield of the 1980s pop charts when sounds got very old very quickly.
Both tracks are pretty similar and make for an intriguing ‘parallel universe’ debate about what a Human League album released in, say, 1983 would have sounded like (pretty darn good I reckon). These two songs are also both pretty good tests at finding out your compatibility with the group (for many in the public at large, Don’t You Want Me? is a one-off and they don’t like any more League songs – with exceptions, obviously). The lyrics to both these opening songs are either descriptive poetry or garbage-filled nonsense depending on your opinion, not making an awful lot of sense lyrically but full of so many clever little bits and pieces crying out for attention that this little problem is easy to forgive. Superbly crafted pop, with some very hummable tunes and more hooks than a pair of curtains, they also have a rather dark and ominous air that makes them stand out amongst their air-headed Stock Aitken and Waterman contemporaries.
Mirror Man is the League to a tee, with lyrics about change and being ‘human’ and vulnerable set to a sparse and rather alien sounding tune. Like the lyrics, this tune just can’t sit still and veers from a gentle synth opening with those female backing vocalists before heading into Armageddon, with a plunging zooming bass riff and some chiming percussion. It’s the lyrics, though, which have had fans pouring over them for clues as to what the hell this song is about (the way Oakey yells out the words they seem to mean something to him at least). Could the lyrics be some coded reference to the group’s sudden change of line-up, telling fans to stay with the band in the long run as ‘distance heals the strongest pain…so just a nagging doubt remains’? Perhaps what’s most intriguing about this song is the way the League turn in perhaps the most confident and swaggering recording in their catalogue, even though the lyrics are full of references to self-doubt and trying to discover who at heart you really are.
(Keep Feeling) Fascination is even more, well, fascinating, dealing as it does with the idea of urging its audience (and the band, perhaps) out of apathy following a success (just witness the line ‘looking for a new direction, in an old familiar way’, which is exactly what this song is doing musically too). An upbeat pop song/ edgy progressive ditty hybrid every bit as intriguing as the last track, this piece features both Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley to the fore (the first time really they’ve ‘shared’ the lead with Oakey on a League song) and adds more electronic synthy keyboards than usual too. However, thematically this song is very League-like, with lyrics about ‘passion burning, love so strong’ rattled out against some of the most detached and emotionless-sounding keyboards you will ever hear. Ultimately, this song is a successful experiment, foraging into new territory without straying too far from base.
Sound Of The Crowd (which reached #12 in 1981) takes us sharply back in time and in fact is the earliest release here (though not the earliest recording – more on that puzzling development later) and is in many ways the ‘bridge’ between the League’s nicely experimental first line-up and the crowd-pleasing second. The in-it-together theme of the lyrics and philosophical couplets make it the blueprint for most of the League’s later we’ve-got-to-get-out-of-here-together songs but with just enough of the where-the-hell-are-they-going-next-edge of the band’s early days. Like many early League songs, the lyrics are a bit of a mouthful to sing and the verses at least don’t quite fit the tune as snugly as you expect them to (‘stay in time with the rhythm and rhyme’ is a good two syllables too many for instance; if you’ve ever sung along to this record you’ll know what I mean, but its hard to spot just from listening to it). The lyrics are also downright odd – ‘stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound’ has had me wracking my brain for years, because it sounds like it should be something I ought to be able to decipher but can’t – and even the chorus-line telling us to ‘join a crowd’ followed by some scary chilling laughter (ha! Ha! HA! HA!! HAAAAA!!!!!) is ambiguous. Could this be a sarcastic put-down of our individuality, our need for herding in crowds and fashions or imploring us to make a stand, to ‘join a crowd’ protesting something or simply make ourselves heard in the world at large? All this obscurity can easily become tiring, but the electronics are fantastic here, sounding exotic and other-worldly even now when we’ve heard this sort of thing a million times by now - and the punchy singalong chorus cuts through the jargon with an impressively structured pop attack tying the whole thing together. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this song in recording terms – but it has to be said that its not as ‘immediate’ as the other tracks on this album, with the riff taking the scenic route into your memory-banks rather than driving its way into your skull as per the norm.
Jumping forward in time again, The Lebanon from 1984 is another curious track and has split League followers ever since it first came out, being one of their bravest and most un-League-like songs. A lot of people quote is as their favourite League song – others nominated it for the ‘worst lyrics ever on a hit single’ award in 2006 where it came out top. A sort of 1980s update of CSNYs breathtaking Ohio(yep, sorry, I just have to plug this record again even though it seems to be mentioned here every 10 reviews or so), it was written, recorded and rush-released in a very short space of time following the mid-80s troubles in the Lebanon. A finger-pointing snarler, telling the story of an innocent young girl already old before her time and already nostalgic for her youth, it blames world leaders for causing the problems ordinary people face and who are left to sort the mess out themselves without outside help, a sentiment that’s light years away from the romantic yearning catchy pop that fills up most of the rest of this CD. As suggested, the lyrics are the weak link here and won’t be the sort of thing to give Bob Dylan sleepless nights in the social protest market, but because Oakey sticks to making the song very personal to him, dealing with his reaction and his imagination based on what he has seen on television, he just about gets away with some dodgy rhymes and the chorus wail of ‘who will have won when the soldiers have gone from the Lebanon?’ is class, whatever anyone tells you and no more naïve than other ‘socially aware’ songs of the day.
The Lebanon is also the single where the League finally broke through their usual emotionless soundscapes for a sound of genuine anger and shock and there are noticeably few electronics on this track, just a chiming guitar and a particularly memorable pounding bass riff which threatens to take over the entire track. The band hold their obvious anger in check well, letting first the rhythm, then the lyrics, then the melody wash over us in a three-way battle to convince us that what we are hearing about in the lyrics is wrong. Not many songs manage to be poppy and preachy at the same time, but the League always made that balance something of a speciality and this song is a tour de force, cementing all the separate elements of the song together and mimicking the horror experienced by the characters in the words. Yet the simple poppy chorus isn’t as facile or false as you might expect and sounds almost onomatopoeically like staccato gunfire anyway, coming out of nowhere to take us by surprise. The Human League at their bravest and best, its always good to hear a ‘successful’ songwriter looking beyond their own problems and bank balance and the League might be better regarded now had they done more socially aware songs in this vein. Whether you think of The Lebanon as great or gruesome, it certainly deserved better than to reach just #11 in the charts.
Things don’t lighten up in mood terms for Human either (1986, highest chart position #8) which - an awful talking verse aside - is more deep and catchy pop at its best. A lush synthesiser soundtrack simply permeates through everything on this track and there’s a lot going on – swapping vocals between the three leads, pounding drums that seem to have come in from a different song entirely and a sweeping string section all tugging equally at our emotions. Like the last track and in common with most of their 1984-era releases, the group are using their electronics to create emotions in their audience now, rather than simply contrasting their romantic lyrics against a cold hard exterior. Oakey seems to relish the chance to sing with some emotion in his voice and turns in one of his very best vocals on the track, as the song’s narrator reflects on his past mistakes and asks for forgiveness from his paramour. It’s a beautiful universally understood song with a terrific unwinding melody and is understandably reckoned to be one of the group’s very best efforts. However, every track has its achilles heel and that excruciating spoken-word verse (a technique that was very popular in the late 50/s very early 60s but seemed to disappear once the Beatles got in power) sadly makes it seem like the soundtrack of a very dodgy B-movie.
Together In Electric Dreams (1984, with a chart high of #3) isn’t really a League song at all, but the best-known release from a side project Oakey did with electronics wizard Giorgio Moroder. A sort of premonition of the internet (and webcams) (and Mike’s eye-toy camera!), at the time this song was made it was probably meant to be about the impact of phones and fax machines. At face value, this is a very League song about how cold and emotionless technology can help two humans develop feelings for each other and remain close, no matter how far apart they may be geographically. Intriguingly the couple only meet ‘once’ before their romance takes hold by some newfangled technological breakthrough, perhaps hinting that love comes from our thoughts and actions, not appearance (‘love comes as a surprise’ here after all). Or is the song even deeper than that? – it has the same ominous dark-shadows-lurking air that many later League songs do and read in a certain light it may be about a relationship continuing beyond the grave (‘miles away’), in the narrator’s ‘electricdreams’ at night. Spooky. Either way, its another classic deep-but-catchy song with a singalong chorus balancing the song’s more out-there tendencies.
Well known and well loved as many of these songs are, chances are if you’re new to this list and/or the band then you’ve just skipped through the last section in order to read about the only track you’ll definitely know, Don’t You Want Me? (Hello there by the way!) Still (just about anyway) in the top 20 best-selling UK singles of all time after a lengthy spell at #1, it’s a perfectly crafted slice of pop that plays to all of the League’s strengths of the period. The lyrics seem to have true emotion in them despite all of the hooklines and sound effects whizzing past your ear – perhaps because the tale is so similar to the League’s own (Sulley and Catherall were indeed working as waitresses in a cocktail bar when Oakey rescued them out of obscurity and turned their un-trained pop voices into superstardom gold). But it’s the chorus, cutting through the cold detached don’t-really-care-shoulder-shrugging verses with a pure outburst of frustration and sadness, complete with more hooks than a certain Peter Pan villain keeps in his wardrobe, which makes the song so special. The ‘oh-oh-oh-oh-oh’ cry is particularly moving, with the narrator shedding his hidden emotion with a wordless falling wail that sounds far more original and quirky than by rights it should. The interplay between Sulley, Catherall and Oakey is prime soap opera fodder too, switching opinions and feelings just as the listener is beginning to take sides in the argument, but like most of the band’s career that drama is at first made to seem mechanical, with only a hint of the real emotion peeking through the song. Amazingly, this spectacularly successful single was the fourth released from parent LP Dare! and came out at a time when a legion of fans had already bought the song on that record-breaking album, proof of this song’s ability to appeal to outside fans who know nothing about the other great material the League did.
Being Boiled, with its murky but intriguing mix and badly recorded vocals, sounds like it was recorded by a completely different band – and OK, yes, it was. First recorded in 1979, this is a different mix to the one that came out as the League’s original single (also heard on their Travelogue album of that year). Like many early League tracks it’s arrogant, intellectual, unusually angry and like pretty much all the material on the band’s first two albums is trying to provoke a strong feeling in the audience. It makes sense that this is the only recording from this period included on this compilation, not just because it actually was a hit (this second version was released as the follow-up to Don’t You Want Me? despite being two years old at the time) but because it was such a breakthrough for the band at the time. Strong as many of the early songs are, the arrangements are sometimes muddled and sparse when heard all lumped together, but Being Boiled is stunningly arranged, with a barrage of handclaps repeating the song’s sinister riff and an angry passionate rant from Oakeyat his best over the top.
The band admit they are quite confused by the song nowadays and dismiss it as naïve (see The Lebanon which has similarly split the League collecting community over its merits) although most people I know rate it as their favourite League song). The digs at Buddha and cannibalism seem rather harsh, but the song is vague enough to work as some general rant at society, a ruling force poisoning their young metaphorically rather than literally and pointing the finger more directly at the lack of humanity that makes people suspicious of helping anyone outside their own small families or communities. On those terms, this song is a hidden gem, with all the early signs of greatness that the League are about to have in a few years’ time but with the scare factor turned way up high. Released to plug the gap after the huge success of Don’t You Want Me, Being Boiled still reached #6 despite almost no publicity from the group – the original low-key Travelogue version didn’t chart at all despite having a very slight edge over its better known twin.
Love Action (I Believe In Love) (1981, highest chart position #3) is another Dare refugee and for the League it’s quite bright and sunny sounding, making for a fine contrast with the last track. In other hands this rather simplistic song might have been a disaster (the message is basically ‘I believe in love now I’m in it oh yes baby’ repeated several times for emphasis). But the arrangement is highly complex and daring and yet somehow still entirely in keeping with the song. Multiple counterpoint keyboard runs swirl their way around this song’s otherwise quite monotonous melody-line and a rare synth solo in the middle still sounds pretty contemporary and alien even now (although the backing synth ‘string plucks’ haven’t aged quite so well). While the texture of the record still reeks of detachment, the lyrics open up an entirely different prospect, with Oakey seemingly offering us his own personal philosophy on love (‘This is Phil talking…’). More than anything else, this song is a lot of fun, especially the electronic bleep that acts as the hookline for the song and seems to have wondered in off a sci-fi film set, plus the elongated, almost rap-like last verse which breaks up the rhythm of the song without damaging up the mood. In short, I believe in I Believe In Love.
Louise (1984, highest chart position #13) is more deep ‘n’ catchy pop, with the narrator bumping into an old soul-mate in a chance encounter, finding on one level the magic of the partnership is still there and on the other level that the pair have moved on to entirely different lives. In retrospect its amazing how many of these League songs share the shame feelings of unease about change. The song’s unusually laidback pace and Oakey’s dispassionate vocal can’t hope to hide the turmoil going on in the narrator’s head and when he finally breaks down and sings the glorious middle-eight about hanging onto things past their best (‘It’s not true that time heals all wounds, there are some wounds you don’t want to heal…’) its enough to bring a tear to your eye. This song was a rather weak seller, however, perhaps because the melody-line just isn’t as smooth or as catchy as on other League songs and it does take its time getting going. If you persevere, though, this is another late-period classic.
We then go back in time again for the last Dare song Open Your Heart (1981, peaked at #6), which is by comparison to the band’s other material one of the weakest tracks of both albums. Rockier than most League songs, it has a lovely descending chorus and another killer middle eight about isolation that would have pleased John Lennon circa 1970, but really this song could have been by anybody with a synthesiser in the early 80s – and say what you might about the other tracks here, they do otherwise sound quite unlike anything else being recorded at the time. How strange, then, that the lyrics are dealing with what is a very League-ish theme: how we should always keep our emotions close to the surface even though we know its part of human nature to be hurt at some point in the future. Indeed, for once here the lyrics are the best part of the song and employ quite a complex rhyming structure which still sounds entirely natural (the first verse rhymes lines 4 and 5, 7 and 9; the second verse rhymes lines 2 and 5). However, experiments like this inevitably suffer when treated as singles rather than album tracks and this song was a surprising choice for one – after all Don’t You Want me? hadn’t come out as a single back then and other Dare tracks like the quietly threatening I Am The Law and the spooky Darkness would surely have fared even better chart-wise.
The album then chills out a bit for the last two tracks. Next song Life Is All That Matters was - back in the days when this compilation came out - the newest and most contemporaneous release. Sadly this and the next track are a bit of an anticlimax as far as this compilation goes and the attempt to ‘modernise’ the League sound with modern producers make this track seem very at odds with the others surrounding it. Oakey gets to shout, Sulley and Catherall get to sulk and the synth drums sound as if someone has just walked into the studio’s percussion cupboard – the rhythm of this song is all over the place. Perhaps not coincidentally, Love Is All That Matters is also one of only two covers on the album and doesn’t really fit with the League’s ideas. As a result, this track never really takes off, being more of a slogan than a fully-developed song (although strangely the other outside material is James Harris and Terry Lewis’ Human, a song that suits the band to a tee). This song only charted at #41 incidentally – something which speaks volumes when you read that the other songs here all made the top 20.
Life On Your Own is a much better prospect although even this is a bit of an unadventurous end to the set, returning to the introspection of Louise but from the opposite angle – this time it’s the narrator who has been tracked down by an old flame. Oakey sounds both flattered and worried about being re-discovered after starting his life all over again from scratch, building up the idea of a restless character who can never quite settle down. Nor can the tune for this song, as it hops up and down all over the place, causing some very weird harmonics and some unusual key changes along the way. Again, this song sounds like a solid album track rather than a benchmark single and perhaps unsurprisingly it’s the second-lowest charting song on the album, making #16 in 1984. The promise is there, but things don’t quite gel. The worst offender is the chorus – the whole song just seems to come to a full stop whenever it’s repeated in its entirety – but its verses still pack an emotional punch.
Not all tracks are top-notch, then, but considering this compilation came out just five albums in to the League’s career (and only three of those albums have songs featured on this compilation) it still has an impressively high strike-rate. The tracks run into each other with some style too, either breaking up or enhancing the mood of the song before, always a good sign of a record company who know what they’re doing and proof that Richard Branson should stick to his Virgin record label instead of organising late-running trains and poisoning us all with peculiar tasting cola beverages. Now that the League are down to releasing albums every half-dozen years or so – with compilations almost catching up to outnumber ‘proper’ releases these days – its hard to forget just what a hardworking consistent bunch the Human League were back in their early days. This CD is, then, a great handy way of getting (most of) the best of the League’s back catalogue in one small handy package and whetting your appetite for the great aural journey to follow if you choose to get into the band a bit more – the perfect sampler, in fact.