When The Stars Start To Shine
It’s been ten long years since THE HUMAN LEAGUE released their last album. The magnificent record that was Secrets brought down the record label it was released on and became their least successful album since The Rise Of The Human League in 1981. That failure might have been the end for these synthpop pioneers, but instead of giving up they went on the road, reinventing themselves as a live band. Their annual tours became legendary, and as a global pop group they played to thousands upon thousands of fans throughout Europe, the Americas, Australia and beyond. The occasional retro sell-out festival may have bruised their credibility, but it helped pay the bills and was always a tiny fraction of their live appearances.
For a group with such an extensive and well-known back-catalogue, The Human League could easily have carried on making a living from their live work. But The Human League are a microcosm of humanity: a species that strives to create and better itself, to advance and progress and reach for the stars.
We true Human League fans never doubted that they’d one day release another record. And now our faith has been rewarded.
The Human League have always been and always be will be my favourite band, forever and ever, The Men. So reading my review of their new album Credo, you would naturally expect lots of gushing copy and fanboy love. There may of course be a bit of that, but if I were to review Crash (their Jam & Lewis produced album from 1986) you’d notice tear stains all over the paper and these definitely would be from tears of pain. I cried when I first heard that album, I just didn’t know what to make of it. I appreciate how it helped save the band but I didn’t like it then and I still don’t really like it that much.
But Credo is different.
Credo is magnificent!
When I first heard lead single ‘Night People’ I couldn’t stop smiling. As the first new song in a decade I was overwhelmingly relieved that it sounded so sharp, so clearly synthpop and so resoundingly Human League. Its multiplex construction, with lots of catchy hooks and song elements makes ‘Night People’ almost like a mini synthpopera in four acts: as a first sampler for the album, they couldn’t have released a better track. A hugely danceable song, the mixes that accompanied the single were also some of the best remixes I’d heard in a long time.
The Human League were back, and sounding better than ever.
Producers I Monster had been responsible for my favourite albums of both 2009 and 2010 (Skywatcher’s The Skywatcher’s Handbook and their own A Dense Swarm Of Ancient Stars). A huge co-incidence then that The Human League would choose these guys, but their sound is actually quite distant from what I’d expect of The League. I Monster are musical geniuses – of that there’s no doubt – but their ‘beardy’ prog-rock influenced electronica is more Alan Moore than Moore’s Law. I worried that a ‘League Of I Monsters’ would somehow warp THE HUMAN LEAGUE back to a time before they were born.
I needn’t have worried: I Monster have done an excellent job producing Credo. They’ve retained the core Human League sound and made it both retro-synthpop and sparklingly modern at the same time.
Second single ‘Never Let Me Go’ kicks off the album. “Let me tell you what you’re doing wrong,” begins Susan Sulley, with vocals tuned so heavily it’s left many an old fan questioning why they had to make her sound so modern (in fact, it’s not auto-tuned but manually constructed word by word, syllable by syllable). It’s certainly a bold move anyway, and takes a bit of getting used to for some die-hards. Fortunately ‘Never Let Me Go’ is a fantastic song that contains everything that makes The Human League what they are: brilliant song-writing, catchy choruses, real vintage synths and even some Dare era drum sounds.
‘Sky’ brings Oakey’s vocals to the fore, in this beautiful song that’s fast becoming a favourite album track for all those who’ve heard it. Philip’s sounding on top-form here: that decade of live work has clearly not been detrimental to his voice. The slower pace of ‘Sky’ might draw comparisons with Louise and indeed ‘Sky’ is another song about a girl. But whereas Louise had a certain naive tweeness to it, ‘Sky’ is a much more mature reflection on past relationships. In a recent interview, Philip Oakey said that ‘Sky’ was about “meeting dead girls in bars.” That’s typically self-deprecating, but for me it’s a wonderful song – perhaps the best on the album – about love and that perfect lost lover who taught you how to live, remembered with affection as the sun-fuelled day slides into the night.
‘Into The Night’ starts with echoes of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, but this is an altogether bouncier song and the first on the album with more of an obvious I Monster thumbprint. There’s something of a Pink Floyd feel to the chorus here too, as Oakey seems to ponder the nature of free will and self-motivation.
‘Egomaniac’ is another dazzling song, probably the most instantly likeable track on Credo. I thought so anyway, but then I couldn’t help thinking that the song was about me. Or perhaps about delusional religionists. Either way, ‘Egomaniac’ is Credo‘s sermon, with Philip Oakey using his sterner spoken-word vocal style to deliver a cautionary tale of blind self-faith. The song’s chock-full of electro synth flourishes, hidden bleeps and beeps, all carried along with a pounding bass synth. Played live, I’m certain The League faithful will especially enjoy whipping themselves into a frenzy shouting out that “e-go-man-iac!” refrain.
‘Single Minded’ is perhaps the weakest song on the album, but that didn’t stop me singing the chorus to myself in the shower the other day. But then I live alone and there’s no-one to tell me to quieten down and sing something else. I’ll sing what I like!
So just when you think perhaps Credo isn’t all stuffed full of awesome tunes after all, ‘Electric Shock’ sparks into your brain. Connecting early synthpop with acid house, ‘Electric Shock’ was The Human League’s set-opener for their winter 2010 tour and it went down a blast. The studio version really ignites and amps it up to eleven, you just can’t help but turn up the volume for this one. The lyrics aren’t much more than just rhyming couplets but that doesn’t matter – ‘Electric Shock’ has such a driving beat, is such an infectious tune that it flows right through you and makes you want to dance until your batteries die.
Like ‘Sky’, ‘Get Together’ sees Phil and the girls on top vocal form; the harmonies here are especially marvellous. With yet another supremely catchy chorus, ‘Get Together’ has a familiar Human League feel to it and even ends up sounding a bit like a new ‘Mirror Man’. This is a great motivational song, joyfully extolling the virtues of teamwork and partnerships.
‘Privilege’ is ‘Being’ re-Boiled; a New World Anthem for the greedy and high-born that fans of the original men-only Human League are bound to love. This is the closest The Human League get to angry, it’s social commentary in the vein of Hysteria‘s ‘Betrayed’ – in fact, ‘Privilege’ could even be the sequel to that song. I can imagine an army of bankers marching to this, the track bounces in step to the snare drum and has a relentless empire energy. Despite the “cheeses in freezers” elsewhere, ‘Privilege’ shows that The Human League can still write relevant political lyrics when they put their minds to it, although I’m sure there’s a missing line that goes “one man went to mow”.
‘Breaking The Chains’ lightens the tone up again and brings out a renewed sense of hope. It’s the only track on Credo with a hint of guitar, but don’t let that worry you synthpop fans: ‘Breaking The Chains’ develops into another great electro song, with yet another memorable chorus and a more traditional song structure. I love how this song ends, as a new refrain kicks in just before the fade-out. An extended mix of this one for the remix album please!
It’s a bit of a tradition for The Human League to sing about the heavens and the stars. From ‘Dance Like A Star’, to ‘The Stars Are Going Out’ and ‘Filling Up With Heaven’.
‘When The Stars Start To Shine’ closes this tremendous album and ends it on a massive high. It starts off like a Heaven 17 song, and soon gets moving with some stellar drumming that I just know Rob Barton is going to have lots of fun with playing live. Oakey and Sulley share vocals throughout the verses, before a distant White Town vocal from the past leads to the euphoric funk really kicking in. This is The Human League on magnificent, triumphant form; on an album full of near-perfect pop songs, ‘When The Stars Start To Shine’ goes supernova and leaves your ears ringing, desperate to hear the whole album all over again.
The Human League may call Credo an album for the fans (and ‘The Massive’ will love it), but it’s an album for fans of good dance music no matter what their disposition or musical preference.
Pre-empted by a targeted social marketing campaign on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud and YouTube, this album has finally brought The Human League to an internet audience. And what a brilliant album to do it with!
During the first golden age of synthpop, The Human League could measure their success through chart placement. These days, it’s more about the number of ‘Likes’ on Facebook. The Human League currently have over 23,000 of them: that’s quite a sound from the crowd, and I believe that like me they’re not just going to like the dazzling Credo, they’re going to LOVE it.
Credo is released on 11th March 2011 by PIAS in Germany, Austria and Switzerland while the UK release will be on 21st March 2011 through Wall Of Sound. The album will also be released in the remainder of the EU on that date.
The Human League 2011 World tour includes:
Lima CC Scencia de La Molina (3rd April), Sao Paolo Via Funchal (6th April), Santiago Teatro Caupolicàn (8th April), Paris Le Trianon (15th April) , ZÙrich Complex (16th April), Cologne Live Music Hall (18th April), Amsterdam Paradiso Grote Zaal (19th April), Hamburg Grosse Freiheit 36 (20th April), Copenhagen Store Vega (21st April), Berlin Huxley’s Neue Welt (23rd April), Leipzig Werk 2 (24th April), Stuttgart LKA Longhorn (25th April), Belfast Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival (30th April), Dublin Vicar Street (1st May), Madrid Teatro Circo Price (5th May)
They also play a variety of German and UK festivals in July and August, please check press for details.
By Jer White
11th March 2011