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Rock - Released January 1, 2003 | Virgin Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Dare! captures a moment in time perfectly -- the moment post-punk's robotic fascination with synthesizers met a clinical Bowie-esque infatuation with fashion and modern art, including pop culture, plus a healthy love of songcraft. The Human League had shown much of this on their early singles, such as "Empire State Human," but on Dare! they simply gelled, as their style was supported by music and songs with emotional substance. That doesn't mean that the album isn't arty, since it certainly is, but that's part of its power -- the self-conscious detachment enhances the postmodern sense of emotional isolation, obsession with form over content, and love of modernity for its own sake. That's why Dare! struck a chord with listeners who didn't like synth pop or the new romantics in 1981, and why it still sounds startlingly original decades after its original release -- the technology may have dated, synths and drum machines may have become more advanced, but few have manipulated technology in such an emotionally effective way. Of course, that all wouldn't matter if the songs themselves didn't work smashingly, whether it's a mood piece as eerie as "Seconds," an anti-anthem like "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of," the dance club glow of "Love Action (I Believe in Love)," or the utter genius of "Don't You Want Me," a devastating chronicle of a frayed romance wrapped in the greatest pop hooks and production of its year. The latter was a huge hit, so much so that it overshadowed the album in the minds of most listeners, yet, for all of its shining brilliance, it wasn't a pop supernova -- it's simply the brightest star on this record, one of the defining records of its time. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2002 | Virgin Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The Human League's epochal breakthrough album, host to the 1981 mega-hit "Don't You Want Me" and the source, therefore, for the myriad sound-alike synth poppers that poured ceaselessly out in its wake, Dare remains one of the keys to truly understanding all that transpired during the early '80s, from the advent of MTV, through to the "British Invasion" of Duran Duran, Culture Club et al. Though one can argue (quite convincingly) that the entire new romantic movement was little more than a semi-vampiric reaction to the excesses of punk, it also represented the first musical movement since glam rock to openly place style on as high a pedestal as substance -- musically and otherwise. That was a lesson it learned wholly from Dare, and it's a testament to the pervasiveness of the entire genre that this album, at least, still sounds as fresh as it ever did. Sadly, the same cannot be said of what initially appears to be a generous sweep of bonus tracks. Looking to up the parent album's club success even further, the Human League created a subsidiary album of instrumental dance remixes, rounding up all but two of Dare's contents in extended and exaggerated form. Despite mocking their presumptuousness by crediting several tracks to the League Unlimited Orchestra, the group nevertheless completely overshot the mark, by failing to acknowledge that Dare worked because it was not targeted at any specific audience. Love and Dancing, on the other hand, was geared exclusively to club-hoppers, presumably to be devoured one track at a time. As a protracted listening experience, then, it rapidly loses its appeal, winding up somewhere between 40 minutes trapped inside a hip elevator shaft and an absolutely interminable 12-inch remix. Let Dare end where it ought to end and ignore the rest of the CD. © Dave Thompson /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2012 | Virgin Catalogue

Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | EMI Marketing

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Putting together an adequate compilation of the Human League's best moments has proved to be a thankless task. What to include? (How about all of Dare!?) Do you pay attention to the pre-coed version of the band? Do you pay any attention to anything that came after Crash? At any rate, The Very Best Of Virgin retrospective, originally released in the U.K. in 2003 with remastered sound (and a bonus disc of remixes that Americans won't miss), does a respectable job of paying mind to the group's best work through 2001's Secrets (the group's best album since Dare!). All of the expected major hits -- "Don't You Want Me," "Love Action," "(Keep Feeling) Fascination," "Human" -- are provided, as are crucial early moments ("Being Boiled," "Empire State Human") and later singles that history, for the most part, has tried to forget ("One Man in My Heart," "Heart Like a Wheel"). Once again, 1980's Travelogue goes completely ignored; while that album didn't impact the charts all that much -- even in the group's home country -- the atypically abrasive "The Black Hit of Space" or even the non-album single "Marianne" would have made a significant addition. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2003 | Virgin Records

The Human League's second album, Travelogue, was their first to be released in the U.S. (Not that you would have noticed at the time, given the limited distribution; the album subsequently was picked up for reissue by Virgin/Atlantic in 1988.) It was also the last to feature the nearly original lineup of Martyn Ware, Ian Marsh, Philip Oakey, and Adrian Wright. Already, the band's synthesizer textures and Oakey's mannered voice were starting to lean in a pop direction, but much of this album retained the austere tone of earlier synthesizer groups such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. The conflicting musical directions led to a split in the band after this album, with Ware and Marsh forming Heaven 17 and Oakey and Wright reorganizing a new version of the Human League. Ironically, both ventures were more pop-oriented than before. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo

Rock - Released January 1, 2003 | Virgin Records

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Pop fans a bit put off by the Human League's dispassionate vocals on their breakout hit "Don't You Want Me" would have been shocked by the degree of emotionlessness heard two years earlier on the band's 1979 debut. The trio of Ian Craig Marsh, Martyn Ware, and Philip Oakey all handled vocals and synthesizers to create a set of grim, rigid tracks that revealed a greater lack of humanity than even Kraftwerk. It's a surprise that the Human League hit the British charts at all (with the single "Empire State Human"), since this could well be the most detached synth pop record ever released. © John Bush /TiVo
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Pop - Released November 18, 2016 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Even in its standard two-disc/30-track edition, A Very British Synthesizer Group is the Human League compilation with the widest scope. It starts with the group's earliest, late-'70s output as the boundary-pushing trio of Philip Oakey, Martyn Ware, and Ian Craig Marsh -- the latter two of whom bailed in 1980 to start B.E.F. and Heaven 17 -- and chronologically summarizes the longer-lasting Oakey/Joanne Catherall/Susan Sulley version through the early 2010s. The selection favors the singles, such as the post-punk classic "Being Boiled," the global hits "Don't You Want Me" and "Human," and later works from the group's occasionally fine '90s and 2000s releases. The anthology isn't truly straightforward. It bounces from extended mixes to edits, while "The Sound of the Crowd" is present in instrumental form, and the William Orbit remix of "Heart Like a Wheel" appears instead of the original version. That said, it is a representative introduction to the work of a top-tier synth pop group. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 28, 2016 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Even in its standard two-disc/30-track edition, A Very British Synthesizer Group is the Human League compilation with the widest scope. It starts with the group's earliest, late-'70s output as the boundary-pushing trio of Philip Oakey, Martyn Ware, and Ian Craig Marsh -- the latter two of whom bailed in 1980 to start B.E.F. and Heaven 17 -- and chronologically summarizes the longer-lasting Oakey/Joanne Catherall/Susan Sulley version through the early 2010s. The selection favors the singles, such as the post-punk classic "Being Boiled," the global hits "Don't You Want Me" and "Human," and later works from the group's occasionally fine '90s and 2000s releases. The anthology isn't truly straightforward. It bounces from extended mixes to edits, while "The Sound of the Crowd" is present in instrumental form, and the William Orbit remix of "Heart Like a Wheel" appears instead of the original version. That said, it is a representative introduction to the work of a top-tier synth pop group. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Virgin Catalogue

A grab bag of extended mixes and otherwise neglected moments from the Human League's catalog, focusing on Dare! through Romantic?, Original Remixes & Rarities is a useful accessory for fans but -- unsurprisingly -- it's not the least bit essential for anyone else. Highlights include the extended versions of "Sound of the Crowd," "Don't You Want Me" (which is also instrumental), "Life on Your Own," and "The Lebanon," as well as a dub of "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" and the relatively irascible version of "Being Boiled" that appeared on Travelogue (the only inclusion that dates from the League's pre-coed lineup). © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2009 | Virgin Records

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Pop - Released January 1, 2008 | Virgin Catalogue

Instead of following Dare!, their internationally successful third album, with another full-length effort, the Human League re-emerged with this under-27-minute, six-track EP, which consists of the one new track on the group's Love and Dancing remix album, plus the A- and B-sides of their post-Dare! singles "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" (in two versions) and "Mirror Man." Both those songs were hits in the pop-synthesizer style of Dare!, but the Human League's failure to produce a new album after 19 months was an indication of the instability they would suffer for the rest of their career. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Punk / New Wave - Released May 17, 2013 | Rhino

The Human League hadn't learned any new tricks in the four-plus years it took to craft another one of their synth-pop collections. The best track was the most unusual, when Philip Oakey took a backseat and let one of his fellow vocalists -- probably Joanne Catherall, though her singing is interchangeable with Susanne Sulley's -- handle a delicately arranged love song, "One Man in My Heart." But more typical was the song that followed it, "Words," in which Oakey whined at considerable length about undetailed wrongs done to him in childhood. Even with a good dance beat, such stuff was hard to stomach, and most of the blips and blats that filled up the tracks had been used to better purpose on earlier recordings. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 23, 1995 | Rhino

The Human League hadn't learned any new tricks in the four-plus years it took to craft another one of their synth-pop collections. The best track was the most unusual, when Philip Oakey took a backseat and let one of his fellow vocalists -- probably Joanne Catherall, though her singing is interchangeable with Susanne Sulley's -- handle a delicately arranged love song, "One Man in My Heart." But more typical was the song that followed it, "Words," in which Oakey whined at considerable length about undetailed wrongs done to him in childhood. Even with a good dance beat, such stuff was hard to stomach, and most of the blips and blats that filled up the tracks had been used to better purpose on earlier recordings. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Virgin Catalogue

The Human League followed Dare! with more success, at least when it came to singles. The Motown-inspired "Mirror Man" and the frivolous (in a borderline-genius way) "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" maintained the group's momentum. When recording commenced for the full-length successor to Dare!, however, things got ugly. Martin Rushent, the producer who either receives all or no credit for the Human League's mainstream breakthrough, left the sessions. The slate was wiped clean, but the process was halted once more when another producer, Chris Thomas (Roxy Music, Sex Pistols), also split. Full of indecision and doubt, the group took forever to finish Hysteria. (Two and a half years in the '80s were, in fact, equal to forever, and U.S. label A&M intervened with the Fascination! EP, which contained the post-Dare! singles that did not appear on this album.) Hysteria is mediocre and easily the least of the group's albums to that point. Conscious not to repeat themselves and unable to do it without sacrificing their personality, most of the changes sound forced and fussily mulled over. It was one thing to get political and introduce some uncharacteristic guitar lines on "The Lebanon" (alienating your fanbase should always be encouraged, especially when it's done with a single that looks atrocious on paper but sounds fantastic), but "Rock Me Again" is the kind of thing the group once worked against, with Philip Oakey adopting an awkward, straining rock voice. The melodies are often flat, the arrangements are frequently bloodless. With only a couple exceptions, Hysteria sounds exactly like an album made under extreme post-platinum pressure. If you were to replace your pick of two tracks with "Mirror Man" and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" -- which really wouldn't sound any more out of place than "The Lebanon" -- you'd at least have something resembling the group's old standard. Fun fact: it was released three years before a very different Sheffield band's Hysteria. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Virgin Catalogue

The Human League turned to American R&B producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in the wake of their success with Janet Jackson's Control, and the combination brought the group its second number one hit with the Jam-Lewis composition "Human," which harked back to the earlier "Don't You Want Me," albeit with a gentler tone. The album's second single, the Control-soundalike "I Need Your Loving," was also a Jam-Lewis song (as was the U.K.-only third single, "Love Is All That Matters"), but the bulk of the album was made up of group-written songs with appealing backing tracks that maintained their dance appeal while eschewing the overtly synthesized sound of previous albums. That made Crash an improvement over the lackluster Hysteria, but still not on a par with Dare. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released December 8, 2017 | Edsel

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Pop - Released September 17, 1990 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

The Human League reorganized in the four years it took to follow Crash, stripping down to a trio of singers -- Philip Oakey, Joanne Catherall, and Susan Ann Sulley -- then adding guitarist Russell Dennett and keyboard player Neil Sutton. They also shed producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, returning to old friend Martin Rushent on a couple of tracks, among them the Top 40 hit "Heart Like a Wheel." But eight years after "Don't You Want Me," the group's pop-synthesizer sound seemed dated. Although some songs showed a little spirit, especially when Catherall and Sulley were used more prominently, all of this had been done before, and better. Romantic? spent only two weeks in the British charts and didn't chart at all in America. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Electronic - Released August 6, 2001 | Edsel

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Disco - Released July 1, 2013 | Control Room Recordings

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Pop - Released December 5, 2010 | Wall of Sound