The Human League

Virgin Records, 1981


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Though I can find redeeming qualities in almost every other Human League album, there is only one I can deem a true pop classic, and that is Dare. This package has all the elements in place, from its gender-defying close-ups of the band members on the jacket, to the cohesiveness of the songs within. It also has a strong theme and no less than nine synthesizers to hold it all together. Not bad for a British act that might have folded had it not been for the quick thinking and foresight of Philip Oakey and producer Martin Rushent.

A year earlier, half of the original all-male Human League lineup had essentially left Oakey and Phillip Adrian Wright in the lurch to fend for themselves, opting to form the group Heaven 17 without them. Seizing control of the difficult situation, Oakey decided to double their numbers by recruiting four new Human League members. The key ingredient for their eventual success was undoubtedly bringing two female singers aboard, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall. This would prove to be the ace in the hole that Philip needed in making sure the Human League would last longer and be more popular than Heaven 17 could ever hope to be.

Dare not only made the two previous Human League releases (Reproduction and Travelogue) a distant memory, but it did the unthinkable -- it became a surprise hit in the US. As the new wave, or the second British invasion, acts like Eurythmics and Culture Club followed The Human League over to the States in quick succession and American music would never be the same. MTV knew a good thing when they saw it, since practically every my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 UK act that came over had a strong, fresh image that was instantly marketable. As wild as some of the get-ups were (i.e. A Flock Of Seagulls), they were still instantly recognizable and suited the music videos perfectly. It may have seemed too gimmicky to many music critics, but the kids sure loved it.

At the time, very few American rock bands understood the promise of music videos and didn’t relish the thought of having to essentially become actors overnight. The infamous press conference in 1984 that was set up for artists to argue such points was particularly memorable; on one end of the table, you had Hall & Oates and at the other, there was Madonna. Needless to say, the writing was on the wall and the message was made abundantly clear: either you embrace MTV or your career will suffer. So, I guess it’s no wonder that Madonna is still going strong today. Her music videos have since become the stuff that legends are made of.

And The Human League’s Dare contains “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of,” so there you have it! Most casual fans will remember “Don’t You Want Me” as the first synth-pop song to reach #1, but diehard fans like myself will point to the entire last half of the album as being equally as strong. The high-pitched “Get Carter” is actually a re-make of the instrumental theme from the film of the same name, serving as the intro to the creepy song with the creeping pace, “I Am The Law.” Even more haunting is “Seconds,” which is a narration about a grisly shooting about to take place. The single “Love Action (I Believe In Love)” is an amalgam of the best that the Human League has to offer and its pairing with “Don’t You Want Me” helps to close out the album in grand style.

Tucked in the middle of the album are a couple of tunes that may have benefited by some extra fine-tuning (namely “Darkness” and “Do Or Die”), but then again, the whole of this album is stronger than the sum of its parts. I’ve always envisioned a theater company turning Dare into a performance art piece, since it has so many unique visual elements that almost beg to be acted out on a stage. When you really break it down, it’s almost like the conflict of good and evil being set to music. From the church organ in “Darkness” to the scary cult chant on “Sound Of The Crowd,” you could really do a lot more with this material. The opening verse of “I Am The Law” could even be used as the tag line: “You think evil exists just because you deny it is true.”

And you thought Shakespeare carried weight?

Rating: A

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© 2008 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.