Friday, September 19, 2014

The Human League - Octopus

EastWest: 1995

Seriously now, how many of you even knew The Human League had an album out in the mid-'90s? Maybe if you were in the UK at the time, you heard some buzz (it placed Top 10 on their charts), but seeing as it's their homeland, that's not much of a surprise. The rest of the world sure didn't give much hoot about Octopus though – Hell, wouldn't surprise me if most figured Phil Oakey's group ceased to be before the '80s even ended. Is that any way to treat one of new wave's most innovative acts? Sure, their blatant turn to chart-topping synth-pop may have soured those praising the original line-up (re: before the two chicks), but still.

The tale of The Human League will make for a wonderful VH1 special, following the classic rise-fall-return-respect story that channel loves churning music documentaries over. While everyone knows of their peak years (you’ve heard Don’t You Want Me Baby, guaranteed), the group fell on dire times not long after. Label problems, studio problems, and irrelevancy problems all plagued them, finally bottoming out at the turn of the ‘90s with Romantic?, an album that did so poorly that Virgin cancelled their long-term deal with them. Damn, that’s cold. It’s like Virgin flat-out confirming what the pop world was chortling: if you sound like “The ‘80s”, you have no place in the hot NOWness of “The ‘90s”.

Then “The ‘80s” became fashionable again, and The Human League saw their career rebound and appreciated, having persevered through the dark times when most would have hung things up. And that was long after having a gold-selling album like Octopus in the middle of the decade that forgot them! Hey, it’s like I said: did you even know this album existed?

For that matter, what’s even on Octopus? Synth-pop, as only The Human League does it. Guess you gotta’ hand it to Oakey for sticking with what he knows. There are some undeniably upbeat tunes here that’ll worm their way into your earholes, each with production that sounds crisp for the times without betraying the vintage analog quality the League made their mark with. These Are The Days is a fun, spacey little jaunt; One Man In My Heart, though riding Ace Of Base’s success, is charming; Cruel Young Lover makes use of breaks and electro sound effects, not to mention clever chord sequences on Oakey’s part; electro-space pop House Full Of Nothing is triumphant, defiant, and undoubtedly a little autobiographical; and instrumental John Cleese, Is He Funny? sounds like a stab at progressive house, though a tad dated by ’95 standards.

That all said, if you’re the sort who figure The Human League begins and ends with Dare, Octopus won’t interest you much. For that matter, I can’t say fans of the pre-Dare era would spring for this either. This album’s still as synth-poppy as the genre gets, but if you’re fine with a little more of the stuff in your life, Octopus will satisfy.


ACE TRACKS:
These Are The Days
Cruel Young Lover


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