Friday, 4 June 2010

Are The Human League 'alternative'?

So, I tuned into BBC Four one night and was confronted with 'Synth Britannia', a documentary about the rise of synthesizers related music in Britain, mostly throughout the 70s and 80s.

Now, music based around 'synths' doesn't rank very highly in my regard. Same as country. Or anything remotely modern rap/dance/pop/r'n'b, etc etc.

But BBC music programs always get my attention. They're usually reasonably interesting with archive footage, interviews with bands... And one band, The Human League turned up in their early incarnation (yes, before it all went "Don't You Want Me"). I recalled to mind an old episode of "Sounds Of The 70s", once again a BBC archive excursion I used to religiously record to VHS (damn, remember them!). An early appearance of the League performing "The Path Of Least Resistance" surrounded by turning reel-to-reel tape recorders just burnt into my memory... And of course Phil Oakey's strange long hair on one side/short hair on one side look!

Anyhow, found their first two albums in Fopp Glasgow for £3 each. I like £3 CDs. And despite "Reproduction" getting only a 3 star review on All Music Guide, you know, I quite like it...

First off I think it's up their with my favourite sounding 'remasters' (I'll add more as I remember/find them). The CD sounds gorgeous for something recorded what, 31 years ago?!

Musically, the tracks are nothing like "Dare"-era Human League.

There's an air of industrial experimentation. A definate coldness that only those 'humanless' synths and Phil Oakey's slightly robotic voice can make. They're not really dancable, and in some cases lyrics border on bad poetry/art student who's read a couple of books but nevertheless some of the songs are lost highlights of the whole of synth's beginnings, "Almost Medieval", "The Path Of Least Resistance", "Blind Youth" and "Empire State Human" (the catchiest of the bunch, was also a single). Thankfully the remasters got the 'bonus tracks' treatment, collecting early singles and EPs unavailable elsewhere.

Of course "Being Boiled" is about as essential as this CD gets. It was their first single, apparently recorded to mono cassette in the place they rehearsed, but there's something about this track that just says "I'm different", others recognised it at the time. David Bowie, upon hearing it said he'd heard the future of music. It has possibly the most simply dark and addictively worrying synth basslines ever commited to tape... "The Dignity Of Labour" EP, presented here in full shows the band in full on Kraftwerk fan worship mode... four instrumentals that remind me of early (very early?) Kraftwerk. Obscure and worth a listen, perhaps a single one only though...

So, are The Human League alternative...? Well in their earliest incarnation I'd say they were. They were certainly not mainstream or anywhere near on their first releases and the first album so here they go... Give them a whirl if you fancy some dark, British synth that doesn't resemble the damned New Romantics at all...

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