Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Obscure-o-disc II

Obscure-o-disc II

In which the author declares his undying love for The Human League

A quarter of a century ago, an electro-pop group from Sheffield had a huge Christmas hit with a song called “Don’t You Want Me”. The album from which it came – “Dare!” – was seen as a New Romantic classic and sold by the shedload. I thought they were rather good, and bought the LP, which my brother kindly scratched for me, the punk.

A couple of years later, sitting around in Shed’s bedroom planning something that might have involved loud explosions, he put a Human League album on the turntable.

“Oh! Is that their new one?” I asked, looking at the unfamiliar sleeve featuring a mad on a sledge silouetted before a huge, red sunset.

“New? NEW! This was from before they were famous!”

Human League – Travelogue

In 1977, a group of northern idiots and electronics freaks fell together into a band called The Future. They recruited a long-haired type called Philip Oakey and became the Human League. They were …scary. No cutely packaged backing singers then, just four blokes with synths and a penchant for concerts featuring disturbing slideshows as a backdrop.

They ended up, somehow, with a record deal and released their debut album, Reproduction to a frankly frightened world, a release greatly improved in recent years with the edition of the infamous “Ok, ready, let’s do it” version of Being Boiled, re-released as a Don't You Want Me cash-in. It had a scary picture of babies on the front. Hardly anybody bought it at the time, filed firmly under "cult". A bunch of art-house cults from Sheffield.

Then came Travelogue.

Described by one reviewer as “the greatest electronic album ever made”, and as a listener with his mind set well back in the 1980s, I am not in a position to argue. I wouldn’t say “every song a potential hit”, because the early League weren’t like that, but every song something new, different, taking the unwary listener to places they rather wouldn’t.

The album opens with The Black Hit of Space, a rather prophetic tale of crappy pop music taking over the planet, following up with the catchy yet doom-laden Life Kills.

Track four is one of my favourite songs in the whole world ever, Dreams of Leaving, an epic song full of threat, foreboding, hope and soaring electronic waves and a huge wall of noise just in case you were thinking of dozing off at some stage.

In fact, the whole album is an eclectic mix of terror, bizarre sexual liaisons, throwaway pop and a ripped-off version of the Gordon’s Gin commercial, which actually sounds far better than you’d think. Oh, and the “with added (synth) horns” version of Being Boiled, just before the cigarette-lighters-in-the-air playout of WXJL Tonight. A classic, all told.

Then - they split up, became two separate bands (Human League version II with added girls and the truer-to-their-musical-roots Heaven 17) fame followed, and somewhere along the line Oakey disappeared up his own arse, from which he has only recently emerged.

I can’t claim to have known them before they were famous – though I’d very much like to – but Travelogue and the H17 remix album “Endless” (of which I have two copies, one of which is *cough* for sale *cough*) form a large part of my current listening.

Stuck in the past? Me? Not since I ran across an quasi-officially sanctioned Human League mash-up and remix site, making Dreams of Leaving, my favourite song in the whole world ever about a million times better (large download, you may wish to contribute to the League’s favourite charity to clear your conscience).

Now, leave me alone with the passing of God-like genius.

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