Review Summary: The birth of a child, never as dark and cold as he was here, in his baby steps.
Before The Human League re-branded themselves as chart storming, synth-pop giants (female backing singers and all) upon the release of the critically lauded 'Dare' in 1981, they released a pair of albums that were perhaps the most cold and dehumanised form of synth-pop ever heard. It’s almost so unfamiliar that some listeners may doubt the robotic beats of 'Being Boiled' or the eerie dirge of 'The Path Of Least Resistance' could have ever come from the same band who; a few member changes and a stylistic rethink later; produced enduring, pop leviathans like 'Don't You Want Me' a couple of years following.
It’s just so dark. Throughout the record there’s a lack of hope for the world and apathy for humankind strewn across the futuristic electro warbles and detached vocals and lyrics heard on virtually every track. On paper, that sounds unpleasant, but in reality it’s a well formed brand of synth-pop that doesn‘t care for commercial approval. It has its own flavour; it’s own sense of style and a clear idea of what it wants to be - cold futurist music, deployed using (at the time) cutting edge synthesisers to create a danceable, yet moody form of electronic music for those outside the realms of pop’s rose-tinted glasses.
Sure, 'Dare' is a masterpiece and, when it comes down to it, it’s probably a better record than 'Reproduction'. But just because their debut didn’t aim for the charts, doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Whilst the music isn’t as hooky or digestible as it would grow to be; it is infinitely more interesting and thought-provoking. The opener 'Almost Medieval' pounds along with it’s despair filled beat and subtle background melodies to make one of the tensest tunes on the album, and despite the overall tone, one song managed to find its way onto the UK charts back in the day ('Empire State Human') - almost unbelievable considering its odd chorus: "Tall, tall, tall, I wanna be tall, tall, tall, as big as a wall, wall, wall".
Really, it’s a matter of taste. People who mainly enjoy, easy-to-stomach pop hooks and generic lyrics won’t see the appeal, and would be better off sticking with 'Dare', but those with a penchant for darker and more challenging music will find themselves a groundbreaking record they might actually prefer to the pop-leaning tendencies on later 'League' albums. It’s best to approach these songs with an ear for curiosity. If your looking for a simple pop fix like you’d get with 'Dare', you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re looking to hear The Human League at their the earliest and most artily inventive, 'Reproduction' might just delight more than you expect.