The Human League: A Very British Synthesizer Group

The Human League: “A Very British Synthesizer Group”

Everyone knows the story by now. Sheffield synth nerds form band, achieve modest success, band splits, singer with lopsided hairdo has to fill touring obligations, recruits two girls he sees dancing in a nightclub, takes world by storm. So here – as the terrifying spectre of the band’s fortieth anniversary looms on the horizon – is a complete overview of the Human League’s single releases.

Well, almost. Beginning with their stark 1978 début Being Boiled, the sheer bloody-mindedness of the original line-up is already on display as we stubbornly plough through their first five singles, pedantically overlooking their ultra-commercial 1979 single I Don’t Depend On You (released under the pseudonym “The Men”) in favour of the unfathomable noodling of The Dignity of Labour Part 3, apparently deemed the most palatable section of the band’s pretentious four-part epic. We also get covers of Only After Dark (an unauthorised freebie single to encourage sales of Empire State Human, also here) and Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing, for depressingly obvious reasons shorn of the more famous Rock ‘n’ Roll which originally segued into it on the Holiday ’80 double single.

After the appropriately-titled transition single Boys and Girls (the League’s first release following Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh’s departure to form B.E.F.) we finally get to the main course: a full run of hit singles from 1981’s The Sound of the Crowd to 2001’s All I Ever Wanted, along with three tracks from the band’s most recent studio album Credo and a couple of B-sides thrown in for good measure. Unlike previous League Best Ofs we’re offered a smattering of slightly different versions for variety, but there seems to be no consistency as to which versions are used: 12″ mixes of (Keep Feeling) Fascination and Human rub shoulders with 7″ edits of Love Action and The Lebanon, the excellent William Orbit mix of Heart Like a Wheel replaces the single mix, flop single I Need Your Loving is here in a previously unreleased DJ edit which mercifully shaves it down to under three minutes, and most bizarrely of all The Sound of the Crowd is only here in instrumental form.

That being the case, it’s hard to see exactly who this compilation is aimed at. The casual listener in search of a general overview of the band’s biggest hits is already spoiled for choice; along with numerous budget compilations, 1995’s Greatest Hits can still be easily picked up for a couple of quid and covers all the band’s biggest singles, including a vocal version of The Sound of the Crowd. Only real completists will be tempted by the presence of exclusive edits, but the four disc super deluxe edition may find its way onto some Christmas lists. This is a far more desirable proposition, boasting a third CD of previously unreleased “early versions” of League tracks (ranging from slightly rougher takes of Dare tracks to a fascinating embryonic Marianne with completely different lyrics) and a DVD crammed with 45 promo videos and TV appearances – including those omitted from BBC Four’s reruns of 1981 Top of the Pops due to the League’s unfortunate habit of only appearing on shows with now-redacted hosts. Unfortunately, while the contents may be mouth-watering, the price tag is eye-watering and you’ll be lucky to find it for less than eighty pounds. Half the price, or even release the DVD on its own, and you’d be looking at somewhere near 10/10, but at a mark-up of over £65 on the standard double CD edition, it’s hard not to feel like the fans are being trolled. All rather disappointing.

6/10

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