Review Summary: Applying Pop sensibilities to their early Kraftwerk influenced sound, The Human League produce the most interesting album of their career.
For those of you unfamiliar with The Human league, they started their career in the late 70's as a experimental Electronic Pop band. The band released 2 albums with their original all male line up of Philip Oakey, Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh and Philip Adrian Wright and, even though never seeing major success, laid the foundations of the Synthpop scene that was about to take off in the early 1980's. Their debut album Reproduction, which featured the classic singles Being Boiled and Empire State Human, was a very experimental album. Despite it's uncommercial experimental sound, the album made groundbreaking use of early Analogue Synthesizers and had a sound and feel all of it's own. It quickly became an underground favourite due to it's futuristic sound and established the band as the ones to watch on Sheffield's at the time thriving music scene. Reproduction laid the foundations for where the band would go on their second and far superior album, Travelogue.
On Travelogue, The Human League took a slightly more 'Pop' approach to the songs. This may sound like a negative thing for a second, but the band were still true to their routes and retained the arrogant anti Guitar (anti Rock n' Roll) attitude they started out with. Travelogue is their most interesting album and, in my opinion, the best they ever recorded. Why? Well, sorry if im offending any fans of Dare but the album is the most beautiful, quirky, charming and musically interesting the band have come out with. Travelogue see's The Human League at their creative peak, but shows how intelligent they are by combining the experimentation and occasionally humours lyrics of Reproduction with Pop sensibilities (eg. catchy melodies and conventional structures) that make an album so listenable. Thats not to say all the songs follow typical Pop structures and have big melodic hooks, they don't. The reason Travelogue is so great is it bridges the gap between Experimental and Pop. The album has Pop songs (The Touchables, Only After Dark, Life Kills, the revamped Being Boiled and W.X.J.L Tonight) to suit those looking for good catchy songs, and experimental songs (The Black Hit Of Space, Dreams Of Leaving, Toyota City, Crow And A Baby and Gordons Gin) to suit those looking for quality examples of early Electronic music.
The instrumentation on the album is reminiscent of Reproduction, but the songs on here are far more developed. like on Reproduction, the Drum and Percussion sounds are generated by Synthesizers (Roland System 100) and this gives the albums Drums a really unique sound. Just listen to the Bass Drum and white noise Snares on songs such as Black Hit Out Of Space and The Touchables, there really isn't anything else that sounds like it. The Synth Percussion on travelogue is immensely fat and a great sound by itself. Then you've got the huge array of Synth sounds...from the evil distortion of Black Hit Of Space to the futuristic and mellow wash of Analogue Synths that is W.X.J.L Tonight, Travelogue is brisling with beauty in every department. When listening to Travelogue, you are hit by this huge organic sound that the band lost when they went even more Pop with Dare and the following releases.
THE BLACK HIT OF SPACE - 10/10
My second favourite Human League song after W.X.J.L Tonight. This song kicks of the album on a dark and experimental note as Oakey sings about a record taking over the world over a sinister and dark wash of Analogue distortion. The catchy vocal melody and unforgettable distorted Synths make this one of the most memorable sings on the album, and one of the best.
ONLY AFTER DARK - 10/10
Great vocal performances from Oakey and Ware on this one. It has a much more Pop sound than the previous song, but the catchy warm Baseline and wonderful falsetto vocal harmonies of the chorus make it a truly wonderful listen. It's actually a cover, which explains it's 70's style vocal harmonies.
LIFE KILLS - 9/10
A great upbeat song thats very danceable. The fat Bass Drum and pulsing Baseline provide the great dancable rhythm whilst Oakey sings about the exhustion and pressures of everyday life over a wicked overdriven Synth sound (Rolnd Jupiter-4...goodness i miss you so much!).
DREAMS OF LEAVING - 10/10
The most experimental song on the album and a very powerful compelling piece of electronic music. It's like 3 songs in one...starting with an arpeggio section the 1st verse revolves around, going into a dark instrumental break where the Synths poetry frustration and violence, then ending on a more positive note with huge Synth Pads and some gorgeous counter melodies. Oakey sings about ambitions of leaving somewhere (possibly an African country) due to intimidation from colleges and higher powers, then (in the last verse) of starting a new life somewhere and wanting to be just like someones neighbour. A very moving song and one of the albums highlights.
TOYATA CITY - 8/10
A quirky and bizarre sounding instrumental which rounds off side 1 of the vinyl on an atmospheric note. This song contains some lovely mellow Analogue sounds and has a sound and feel of the bands old days as The Future. Another interesting experimental song that keeps the album interesting and unique.
A CROW AND A BABY - 8/10
In my opinion, this is the weakest song on the album. I think this purely because i have no idea what Oakey is on about ("A crow and a baby, had an affair, the result was a landslide, the result was a dare"), awnsers on a postcard pleases, the lyrics to this one are very weird! I also think the vocal melody can get slightly annoying in the verses, but all this is made up for by a catchy memorable chorus and a great addictive Baseline all the way through. the song is also very upbeat and is defiantly one of the most danceable songs on here, just really bizarre compared to The Touchables and the other up beat songs.
THE TOUCHABLES - 10/10
A phenomenal slice of early Synthpop, The Touchables is an amazing song. Despite it's more Pop sound, the rhythm is upbeat and dead catchy and the Synth Pads in particular have the raw and beautiful sound of the rest of the album. Oakey sings about how people hide indifference just to be touchable. I think this song is an early glimpse of where the band would go on Dare.
GORDONS GIN - 10/10
One of my favourite instrumentals ever! It's a cover of the old Gordons Gin TV commercials of the 70's and really showcases how creative the band were. Not only is it infectious, every sound is just gorgeous and the structure perfect. Great rhythm too, very upbeat and worthy of dances.
BEING BOILED - 10/10
A revamped version of the bands debut single (which is available on Reproduction) and a wicked version. I prefer this to the original...its more orchestrated and far more upbeat and anthem like. The up beat pace coupled with some infectious Synth Brass stabs and melodies make this a very strong piece of music.
W.X.J.L TONIGHT - 10/10
My favourite Human League song of all time. Oakey sings as the last Radio DJ on planet Earth whist automatic stations take over and destroy his role in society. The emotion in his voice is so gripping and when he starts shouting "I don't want you to go, tonight" at the end it goes right down your spine. And the music matches the emotional beauty of the lyrics! Mellow, ambient arpeggios and drones create a futuristic and drop dead gorgeous wash of sound and atmosphere that grips you from start to end.
I can't say enough good about Travelogue. It's a characterful and beautiful album that you NEED to listen to if you are interested in Electronic music. Don't let The Human league's later discography put you off this album, it's the most beautiful and creative the band ever sounded.