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2023 Albums Thing 162 - Human League “Dare”

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In 1980, after some disagreements over musical direction, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left the Human League. This left the group as singer Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright, “Director of Visuals”, whose job it was to provide lighting and slides for Human League shows. Not a lot of musicians then ! This also happened 10 days before a European tour which promoters started to threaten to take legal action over if the shows did not go ahead.

In a matter of days Oakey recruited Susan Ann (Susanne) Sulley and Joanne Catherall after seeing them dancing together at the Crazy Daisy nightclub in Sheffield and Ian Burden from Sheffield synth band Graph so that the tour could be completed. 

Post tour Oakey was introduced to Producer Martin Hannett by staff at Virgin Records. Hannett moved the group to his studio in Berkshire away from the Sheffield studio they were still sharing with Ware and Marsh who were now known as Heaven 17. In Berkshire they recorded “The Sound Of The Crowd” which became their first Top 40 hit. Finally, manager Bob Last suggested former Rezillos guitarist Jo Callis join the band and the stage was set.

“Dare” was recorded between March and September 1981 and released in October. The songwriting was pretty evenly split between Phil Oakey, Jo Callis, Adrian Wright and Ian Burden, 9 originals and a cover of the theme tune from the film “Get Carter”. The album gave up 4 Top 15 singles (“The Sound Of The Crowd” #12, “Love Action” #3, “Open Your Heart” #6 and of course “Don’t You Want Me”, the Xmas 1981 #1 single) and reached number 1 in the album charts 2 weeks after release.

Oakey got exactly what he wanted, a shiny pop sheen almost entirely removed from the groups previous sound, and hits. The singles, especially “The Sound Of The Crowd” and “Love Action”s B-side “Hard Times”, were still big club favourites, filling the floor at Romeo & Juliets and the like. But it’s musically a very different Human League from the first two albums, lyrically too. These are mostly sparkly pop tunes set in a synth-pop world and not the experimental sci-fi electronic music of “Reproduction” and “Travelogue”. There’s still darkness within (see what I did there?), “Seconds” recounts an assassination (JFK, Lennon maybe) and “I Am The Law” has a title culled from 2000AD comics superstar Judge Dread’s catchphrase.

None of this is to say that “Dare” isn’t a good album, it absolutely is, a pristine chunk of slick 80’s pop. But if you ask me to choose, I’ll take “The Black Hit Of Space” over a drunken singalong to “Don’t You Want Me” every time.

The Sound Of The Crowd - https://youtu.be/xK9uUqvpLyQ

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