Review Summary: Disposable, cheap, and throwaway. All words that do not describe the Human Leagues 3rd album, 'Dare'.
It's hard to believe in the 21st century that at one point in the not so distant past, synthesizer based pop music was in itself an avant-garde art form. Our culture has diluted it so much so, that almost all of the original bands which made it a great and interesting new genre have either been thrown under the wheels of obscurity, or, in the case of bands like the Human League, overexposed, bastardized, and cut up into easily digested bites of retro-reminiscence.
With a world fixated on reminiscing the 'good old days', it's not too surprising then, that the Human League have found a new niche, and recently been rediscovered by new DJ's, T.V. presenters, and media personalities, and as such, found themselves a whole new devoted following, and not to mention an invaluable level of exposure at the hands of the 80's hungry retro-riders.
Up until 1981, the Human League were a band who had taken their own ideas from Kraftwerk, and added a dash of obscure northern humour, and of course, the obligatory pop melody here and there. That was fine, and make no mistake, they had a massive fan base. They were well liked and well respected in the electronic music community, known for enigmatic lead songwriter Phill Oakey's distinctive Sheffield-Shout.
Then they released Dare!. An album of almost monumental consequence, one which single handedly broke the band into the mainstream music scene, gave them world wide success, split them up, and ruined synth-pop pretty much forever.
Dare! features some of the band's best known tracks, but it's whole ethos is built around the 'easy to manufacture, easy to produce' idea of 80's consumerism. It is an extremely disposable sounding record in many ways, but in many other ways, it was the first and best of an influx of pointless and similar sounding bands to come out of Britain.
The album opens with The Things Dreams Are Made Of, a simple song whose message is one of enjoying all the simple pleasures in life, Ice Cream, comedy shows on television, going the supermarket, having a girlfriend, going on cheap holidays to tacky destinations...And so on. It is about as deep as the sound of the synth that permeates this and many other tracks, and if it were any other way it would not work one bit. The next track, Open Your Heart carries on in a similar styling. Delightful synthesizers give way to Phill Oakey's truly groundbreakingly simple vision, one that stretches as far back as bible times, respect people and uh, you get respect. Duh.
Next explodes Sound of the Crowd, a nasty sounding punk number with squelchy lead synth, chanted monotone vocals and bass heavy drums. It is a real wakeup from the almost hippy sound of the first two tracks, it is a track that bubbles with a sort of cool hate and intense paranoia.
Darkness, Do or Die, I Am The Law, Seconds and the minute long ambient instrumental Get Carter provide the backbone of the album, cementing the Human League's ambitious post-modern sound and truly applying it to pop melodies, ones which became some of the biggest selling singles of the 1980's. Throughout these tracks there is an undeniable experimental edge to each one, some being more ambient, some having harsher noise textures, the band flexes it's muscles and comes off not looking pretentious, but genuinely extremely inventive, melding Oakey's enjoyably robotic voice with some challengingly different music. This is Kraftwerk territory.
The last two tracks on the album are perhaps the most popular, or certainly at least, they are the most commercially successful.
The joyous, uplifting and hilarious Love Action (I Believe In Love) shows a playful, poppy and upbeat Human League that was previously unseen on the album. Combining a pop riff and an endearingly awkward vocal ("I've laid alone and cried at night over what love made me do!") show the League to be a lot more Human than we'd given them credit for. They have emotions too, it just so happens they are a bit ungainly and extremely 'high school' about it. In a bizarre turn of events, this song features what can only be described as a 'rap' from lead singer, Phill Oakey, and an awesome but once again, extremely awkward one at that. This single just sums up the Human League without resorting to cliches, too talented by a mile to remain unheard of, the band really pulls it's weight and writes the perfect pop song, without sacrificing their own integrity as experimental musicians.
The final, undeniable 'big daddy' of Human League tracks is also conveniently the last track on the album. And what to say of it" It may be overplayed, it may have lost all of it's original meaning, EVERYONE may know every lyric in it, but it has gained such a cult following for an absolutely deserved reason. Of course, it's Don't You Want Me. The track starts with a sine-wave synthesizer and a very memorable shimmering drumbeat. This is pop music, pure and simple, no arguments, caution thrown to the wind, the Human League go all out, and this is probably the single reason this album sold so well. It broke the band, it broke synth-pop, it broke all the rules they had set themselves, and it broke the band into pieces. The song has so much weight and good memories for just about everyone who has ever heard it, it is an eternal classic, and so shall it always be. Lyrically it depicts a spurned lover threatening to use and abuse his power at ruining an exes life, and although lyrically it may seem a bit dark, it is pulled off in such a robotic, cool and nonchalant way, that became the norm for synthesizer music that you begin to almost ignore it's dark and foreboding message.
The Human League are, and always will be the best synthesizer pop music band. Others came and went, some changed their style, and some stayed underground, but resentment from these bands aside, The Human League was the only band anyone wanted to be in electronic music from about 1980 to 1990. The band's legacy lives on through T.V., radio, and some famous fans, but nothing beats this early classic of bold, unquestioning and experimental pop music. Ever.