Alan Sargeant

“We thought we were really punky. Even The Adverts had learned one chord. We didn’t even do that. We just got a machine and turned it on till it sounded nice.”

Such is the candour and refreshing honesty of Phil Oakey interviewed for this DVD compilation of hits from 1980 to 1995, that he has no qualms in announcing that the Human League were little more than a “consumer version of Kraftwerk”. They didn’t make their synths, they bought them. So casual and so causal is the effect of the narrative that it’s difficult to maintain any mythology about the group. Oakey had no expectations of being a singer prior to actually being asked to join the band and freely admits to confusing Hinduism and Buddism in “Being Boiled”. The “subversive parody” of the “Dare” album put forward by the earnest journalist is similarly rejected in one fell swoop: it was fairly simple minded, admits Oakey, “we had watched people being so arty that you couldn’t sell anything”. The invention of the “Futurist” sound and their use of synthesizers? “Synths were just a novelty”. And again, were they making a statement with the early use of cover versions? No, they did it because they’d heard Bowie do it. The spoken “This is Phil talking” bit in “Love Action”? The breaking down of the fourth wall? No. It was because “On Turn Blue” Iggy Pop said “This is Iggy talking”. Simple.

Not only do you go away from this interview thinking that Phil Oakey is one of the nicest, self-deprecating individuals you are ever likely to bump into in Sainsbury (as well as the most commercially astute) it also goes someway toward deconstructing the alarming ease with which critics and observers can mythologize an artist and their period. Sometimes the truth is far more simple; the stuff of chance rather than the consequence of design. And this is something that is supported by the videos and the songs themselves: “Circus Of Death”, “Empire State Human”, “Love Action”, “OpenYour Heart”, “Don’t You Want Me”, “[Keep Feeling] Fascination”, “Louise”, “Human”. It’s a story of simplisticity, shock and surprise. Which is as much as you’d expect from a group of young individuals caught up in the astonishing and totally unforeseeable glare of public attention. The DVD finally manages to pin the band down not as pioneers but as interested and innovative passengers.

**** 2003  new
Les Linyard

With a series of stylised and era-defining videos backing some of electronica’s finest early moments, the
Human League’s singles were pushed unerringly to the upper echelons of the charts. From the pre-girl days of Circus Of Death and Empire State Human through glorious selections such as Love Action, Open Your Heart, Don’t You Want Me, Keep Feeling Fascination, Life On Your Own, Together In Electric Dreams and Human, this is a toe dipped in a very pleasant well of nostalgia indeed.
The ludicrous hairdo’s, shoulder pads that would put a San Francisco 49er linebacker to shame, minimalism personified in delivery and soft tone touch that purveys throughout. The videos are statements of their times, suave and sophisticated, personifying the modern romantic age that they helped to define. Completing the DVD are some bonus tracks from TOTP and Later…with Jools Holland that show a slightly rawer edge – great stuff.
Add to your collection at all costs –
marvellous… March 2004 new
Si Wooldridge

The Human League originally consisted of Philip Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh. They hailed from Sheffield (the 'Steel City' of the UK) and released two albums of futurist electronic music called Reproduction and Travelogue. They then spilt, with the latter two first forming the British Electric Foundation (who incidentally were responsible for kick-starting the career of Tina Turner), prior to forming Heaven 17. Phil Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright, on the brink of a tour, famously recruited two young backing singer schoolgirls named Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley from a local disco, before also adding Ian Burden and Jo Callis (ex-member of UK new-wave group The Rezillo's). Thus the plan for world domination began in earnest, the seminal album Dare was released and history was made.
This DVD is a recent retrospective of the video career of The Human League, capturing all of their official videos and also includes some other performances of their material. This DVD was released in conjunction with the CD set of the same name back in late 2003, and covers their career from start to finish.
The Human League, along with Ultravox, really were the soundtrack of my teen years. The League produced good quality synthpop music consistently throughout their career, bar the slightly dodgy period in the mid-80's where they teamed up with Jam and Lewis to produce the distinctly out-of-kilter album Crash. The saving grace of this album, bar the classic single Human, was that this album effectively saved the career of the League and saw them continue as a trio. They did pull in a couple of collaborators who also help out with song-writing duties, but effectively the Human League is Phil, Susanne and Joanne. It should also be mentioned that despite the long period of time between League albums, the Human League are a very strong live band.
OK, so onto the video's. The first two are from the Reproduction album and are effectively performance videos from one session and could quite easily have segued from one to the other (and quite possibly did). One strange thing to see is Martyn Ware with a beard, and you also see Philip Adrian Wright in his primary role for the group, which was running a slide show.
One video, strictly speaking, is out of place here. This the track Together In Electric Dreams, which officially at least was a solo hit for Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder. Saying that, it does appear on all the official Greatest Hits compilations and it is a great track, so no real reason to quibble.
The early videos show a lot of early 80's innovation with a lot of cinematic themes running through them, credited by Phil and the girls in the interview to the production of the Vienna video by Ultravox. By the time we get to the video for Human, however, we see the emphasis shift to style and we get the mid-80's penchant for chic suits and large earrings. It's not so bad on Human, but the song I Need Your Loving is made much worse by the terrible stying and video performance for this song - one for the archives in my view. The later videos rein this styling back in a bit, but they all follow much the same vein. Definately a lot more effective and less offensive. The video collection finishes on All I Ever Wanted, a cut from their last album Secrets (a critical if not commercial success), which brings us completely up to date at the time of release.
We also have two sets of bonus tracks for our viewing pleasure. The Top Of The Pops tracks are archive performances from the UK weekly TV chart show. These performances were first screened in 1981 and, as with the vast majority of performances on this show, are all mimed. Don't You Want Me? was actually the TOTP Christmas edition which celebrated the Human League being the Christmas #1, a very big deal in the UK. For this performance alone, we see lots of Christmas decorations around the studio. This performance also sees Susanne Sulley struggling to mime whilst simultaneously trying to avoid swallowing a mouthful of aerosol streamer that someone has let off in her direction.
The second set of live tracks are from a UK show called Later With Jools Holland. Jools used to play in the UK band Squeeze and then hosted the seminal 80's music show The Tube. Much later he started to host this show where musicians from all genres of the musical spectrum perform two tracks live. It is relatively rare that anyone overtly electronic get the opportunity to perform on this show, and this mini-set was originally shown in November 1995. With that in mind, the choice of tracks chosen are a little strange. Octopus and three singles had already been released prior to this performance, so the choice of the League to perform Sound Of The Crowd from Dare and The Stars Are Going out from the Soundtrack To A Generation album is more than a little puzzling. The performances aren't bad by any means, but considering the recent material they could have chosen...
The interview included lasts for about half an hour and is Phil and the girls sat in a hotel room being interviewed by a guy called Simon Price. Not the best interviewer in my book, but the interview is quite insightful and worth viewing.
This DVD is a must for any die-hard Human League fans (who probably have already anyway) and an excellent introduction for anyone interested in one of the most influential groups of the 80's.

***** October 2004 new

The DVD version of the Human League's latest Greatest Hits compilation contains the promo videos of all their biggest hits, plus some excellent bonus material.
First of all the videos: Rather than starting with the Dare period the first two videos are both taken from 1979's 'Reproduction' album; 'Circus of Death' and 'Empire State Human'. These videos are very 'raw' and show the band at their experimental best. You can tell these were pre-MTV days! Another famous song from this area, 1980's 'Being Boiled' from the 'Travelogue' album does not appear on this DVD however, probably because it was originally released as a b-side and had no video. This track does appear on the cd version of this release however.
Then come the flood of hits from the bands' undisputed classic 1981 album, 'Dare'. The rich commercial vein they struck in this year is represented first by 'Love Action', which is an amusing pastiche of 'The Graduate', but set mostly in a housing estate. The 'Dare' royalties cant have started rolling in yet! This 'story within a video' technique also set the tone for their 'Don’t you want me' video. This technique is hardly ever used in these days of performance videos where the focus seems to be on the number of different outfits the stars can fit into one video, rather than the telling of any kind of story.
'Open your heart' moves away from the story-based video and looks like the album cover from Dare come to life: an enjoyable clip of the band in their (in)famous make up and new romantic heyday.
'The Lebanon' is a live performance video, but only visually as the audio track is actually the studio version of the song. This was another technique used frequently in the 80's, to establish a band as a live act in the eyes of the public, while ignoring any bad live singing or playing! This track is also memorable for what what was recently voted the worst song lyric ever, the immortal "And where there used to be some shops / is where the snipers sometimes hide". I can think of much worse personally!
Another highlight is the underrated 'Life on your own' which obviously influenced Danny Boyle when he was making '28 days later'. The Human League beat him by 16 years with their 'abandoned empty streets of London town' scenes!
Visually as well as music-wise, the track that stands out for the wrong reasons is the Terry Lewis co-penned track "I need your lovin". The whole band look and sound uncomfortable in this track, which is far more 80's Janet Jackson than a group of new romantic pioneers from Yorkshire! Luckily they more than redeem themselves with the mature and still fresh sounding 'Human', their huge US No.1 single.
'Heart like a wheel' bridges the gap between their early and later material, and 'Tell me when' shows the band back on form during their mid-90's revival.
The final and most up to date video is "All I ever wanted". This is another underrated track which would have been a top 3 hit if had been released by a new previously unheard of dance act. Nowadays with the 80's revival showing no signs of ending many surviving acts from the 80's seem to be regarded merely as 'nostagia' acts which is a shame as they still have much to offer.
The bonus material is excellent; there are four TOTP performances, all from 1981 - "The sound of the crowd" from April, "Love Action" from August, "Open your Heart" from October and finally their classic performance from the Christmas 1981 TOTP during their FIVE week reign at the top of the charts with the best selling single of 1981, the still ubiquitous "Don’t you want me?". Make sure you don’t miss the end of the song, where the audience go mad with silly string and Joanne Catteral gets a full mouthful! These days the likes of J-Lo would have stormed off stage never to return to these shores but Joanne just pulls it out, flings her arms back in the air and carries on singing (OK then miming)!
There are also two tracks on here from the bands' 1995 appearance on Later with Jools Holland, 'The stars are going out' and 'The sound of the crowd'. These are the only two live performances on the DVD and are both excellent, showing what a great live act the band are and have always been.
The DVD ends with an interesting, relaxed and informative interview with Phil and the girls in 2003, which covers their entire career from the pre-Heaven 17 era electronic experimentation, through the heady year of 1981, the late 80's/early 90's wilderness years, and their 1995 renaissance right through to the present day.
This DVD is a fitting tribute to the huge influence that the Human League had twenty five years ago and still have today, in one of the most enduring careers the UK pop scene has ever witnessed. It offers incredible value for money and is a must have for any fan of the band, and any fan of pop music.