Monday, 10 January 2011
41 Hysteria - Human League
Purchased : May 1985
Tracks : I'm Coming Back / I Love You Too Much / Rock Me Again And Again And Again And Again And Again And Again / Louise / The Lebanon / Betrayed / The Sign / So Hurt / Life On Your Own / Don't You Know I Want You
This was purchased on cassette from Bostock's in Leeds. I already had two of the three singles but crucially not the one I most wanted.
This was the much-delayed follow-up to their multi-platinum selling "Dare" in 1981. Released two and a half years later, after a couple of standalone singles and a remix album, "Hysteria" has been marked down as a critical and relative commercial failure. It brought their brief spell as chart superstars to an abrupt end. It had a difficult birth with first , "Dare" producer Martin Rushent and then Chris Thomas being dropped from the project before Hugh Padgham completed the sessions. The title is reputed to be a reference to behaviour in the studio. None of this is very evident from what's on tape. Apart from the introduction of Jo Callis's guitar the sound isn't a great jump forward from "Dare" ; it's clean and spare synth pop that doesn't seem to leave much scope for quarrels with the producer.
Ironically the first song is titled "I'm Coming Back" and it's a muted resurrection to say the least. Written by Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright it's a mid-paced electro-dance number about defiance without a strong tune and most notable for the introduction of Callis's power chords in the bridge to the chorus. The electro-percussion break in the middle eight resembles Yazoo's Don't Go which is ironic given Oakey's public dismissal of the latter group.
"I Love You Too Much" was written by the two musicians, Callis and bassist Ian Burden with some input from Wright and is much sprightlier with arching harmonies from the girls Joanne Catherall and Suzanne Sulley and an impressive Bernard Edwards-inspired funk bassline from Burden. Callis plays some sizzling guitar in the middle eight of a song about obsession which could have been a single.
"Rock Me Again And Again And Again And Again And Again" reminds you of Oakey's taste for ironic cover versions carried over from the original line-up, this time taking on a song by the sainted James Brown. I've never been a great fan of Brown's music so I just take the track on its own merits. You fear the worst from the intro with Oakey really straining on the exclamatory "oh's but after that he does a credible job in a style well outside his comfort zone. Musically too its interesting with a minimalist staccato synth line and ironic Shaft guitar commentary from Callis. A decent false ending too.
Next up is "Louise" a delayed third single in December 1984 released as a follow-up to Oakey's big hit with Giorgio Moroder, Together In Electric Dreams that autumn and like the others peaking in the teens. Written by Oakey, Callis and Wright it's hung on a nagging synth bassline that would be irritating on a lesser song. Conceived by Oakey as the long-delayed reunion of the two protagonists of Don't You Want Me it's touching and sincere despite the hammy spoken bit and has a good claim to be his best lyric.
Side One ends with "The Lebanon" the fan-flummoxing first single whose failure to reach the Top 10 foreshadowed the fate of the LP. With the synths taking a back seat and even the drum machine programmed to a rock rather than dance beat the sound is dominated by Callis's searing PiL guitar and Burden's thundering bassline which combine for a great intro. Written by Callis and Oakey as a response to the Palestinian camp massacres of 1982 it understandably avoids getting into the ferociously complicated politics of the hotspot state concentrating on the observations of a couple of individuals caught in the mayhem. I think the much-criticised line "And where there used to be some shops is where the snipers sometimes hide" is actually quite good at highlighting the human tragedy involved. The girls do let it down a bit singing their lines off-key with all the passion of an answering machine and this version goes on too long merely repeating musical passages from earlier in the song.
"Betrayed " is another Wright / Oakey composition and like the previous one displays their tendency to write dirges when Callis and Burden aren't involved. But for Callis's neat surf guitar break in the middle eight this could have come from Travelogue (the girls don't feature at all) setting unspecific images of desolation and desperation to slow and ominous synth lines. It's OK but B-side material really.
"The Sign" actually was a B-side to "Louise" and lives down to it. A lousy attempt at a What's Going On state-of-the world address, it pootles along at mid-pace with a decent bassline and the pay-off " I saw the sign" line copped from Blancmange's I've Seen The Word.
"So Hurt" picks things up again with another great funk bassline from Burden who co wrote it with Oakey and a keyboard riff that suggests Oxygene. Addressed to a deserted man the song has a similar feel to "Love Action" with the same shrill harmonies on the chorus.
Then comes the delayed gratification of "Life on Your Own" my favourite HL single both then and now. Released as the second single not long after the LP it perhaps suffered as a result of the lukewarm reception to its parent and only reached 16, disappointing Virgin who had hoped for another number one. It should also be mentioned that having an opening line of "Winter is approaching there's snow upon the ground" didn't help it sell in June. The classic intro starts with just the percussion track then the synth bassline comes in followed by some warm minor chords on the synth. That sort of gradual introduction of the instruments is always a winner with me and the song itself lives up to it, a mature reflective ballad from the point of view of a man resigning himself to his unsuitability for commitment - "other people settle down ; I never do". Even the girls do it justice with their mournful harmonies on the chorus.
That just leaves "Don't You Know I Want You " written by Callis, Burden and Oakey. The synths again take a back seat to Burden's brooding bassline and Callis's white funk guitar at least until the soaring chorus with its impressive ascending harmonies. I like the skittering synths on the middle eight and Oakey's line "You can act like a monarch or a pillar of the bourgeoisie" seems like a sly poke at the often ponderous socialism of his ex-bandmates in Heaven 17.
I personally prefer this to "Dare" ( which we will get round to eventually ) for its more adult songs and smoother sound but I guess I'll always be in a minority there. By the time of their next LP half the band had been shed and much of the group's personality had been surrendered to Jam and Lewis who , the big hit single "Human" apart, produced a very uninspiring album. Oakey and the girls have soldiered on ever since dividing their time between 80s revival tours and sporadic hit singles which haven't persuaded me to invest in the relevant LPs.