March 21, 2012

Heaven 17

Browsed around some Human League songs to see if there was an entire album I'd enjoy, and it didn't look like it. Their first two are a bit too experimental just to be experimental, not much that grabs you. Dare, with the mega-hit "Don't You Want Me?", had better songwriting but still wasn't that catchy. And Phil Oakey's voice on that album is too far in the angry-sobby direction. The groovier Hysteria sounded pretty good, just not great enough to make me go out and get it now.

Then I followed a link from Wikipedia or Amazon to Heaven 17, a group featuring two of the original members with a new singer that formed when the Human League split after their second album. I don't remember hearing them in the '80s, or at '80s night (ever), or the '80s radio station, or anywhere else. Seems like they were big in Europe but not here. Our loss.

I went right out and picked up The Luxury Gap from the nearby used record store and have been listening to it for the last five days straight, and probably will be for the next week. The melodies are all catchy, the song structure isn't very repetitive (just about all have "thru-composed melodic style" in their Pandora entries), memorable motifs abound, the synths have a really warm timbre, the disco grooves make it impossible for you not to respond physically to it, and Glenn Gregory's voice is expressive without going to the emo extremes that Phil Oakey's does.

The only thing that wakes me up from the dream while listening is the occasionally very self-conscious and forced lyrics. When singers get to those kinds of lyrics, they should just muddle their enunciation -- that way a really stilted line won't jar the listener awake. A garbled line just goes in one ear and out the other.

Two videos and two links to videos (to save space). First, the somber yet upbeat "Let Me Go", and the somewhat wistful "Come Live With Me":

Then there's the more driving "Temptation" (whose video was part of the Neo-Expressionist zeitgeist then), and the political dance song "Crushed by the Wheels of Industry".

Shouldn't be hard to find fairly cheap, so if you're looking for a fun synthpop / New Wave album that you probably didn't even know existed, this one will be an enjoyable surprise.


  1. Agreed. Heaven 17 was better than the Human League.
    Slightly OT, there is song called "My Perfect Cousin" by The Undertones that is rumored to be about Phil Oakey. Lyrics reference cousin named Kevin and the band Human League. Here's a link to the Youtube video:

  2. theo the kraut3/22/12, 1:16 PM

    > Seems like they were big in Europe

    Indeed, they were, groovy industrial stuff for us lefties with yuppy leanings. "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang" was their signal tune. I like(d) it pretty much, too, though in retrospect the lyrics are terribly dumb. But it was needed to make the union of "Penthouse and Pavement", ie yuppiedom and proledom acceptable. The future is ours, it'll be politically correct but prosperous--that was the sentiment. Goes without saying that our caring for the pavement and its dwellers was moral preening and nothing more. Still like their music, though, it has an uplifting, positive vibe to it.


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