We are all the Human League. WE WISH! If there was a band that, given a few early synths that we would want to be, it would be the League. How hard can it be, a few simple melodies and semi-portentous lyrics sung over the top? How hard is that. And then we all got a Casiotone keyboard (with additional calculator functionality) and we realised how hard it was. Take Open Your Heart.
The Human League made a choice to play Open Your Heart in an oddly high key, which then necessitated Oakey to sing it all shakily either too high or then an octave lower (Jo and Sue on backup). It is, as you would imagine, terrific. Phil Oakey’s voice is a donkey dressed as a horse. It brays, it strains and it puts itself through remarkable contortions to hold a tune sometimes – but it does it all with its head held high. And then, when you step back and ask exactly why he has had to make such efforts the blame always comes back to him, its his song. But sometimes a donkey is right for the job.
Dare era Human League is magnificent stuff, the true cyborg man machine conflict made whole, . It is The Terminator in musical form (and yes, lets cast the girls as Linda Hamilton). On the one side we have synthesizers which can play devastatingly unearthly sounds, keep perfect time and in their staccato way blow away all boring old twangy instruments. But they lack a certain spontaneity, their monophonic restrictions relegating them to toytown tunesmiths. On the other hand we have the men behind them. Geeks, boffins, oddly becoiffured builders mates, girls spotted in a nightclub. Neither side has sent the best team into to battle, but the moment they decided to stop fighting and team up – well that was moider
So Open Your Heart (bip bip). Well it uses about twenty pop tricks. It starts in the middle, it uses LOUD quiet LOUD to its advantage, and goes overboard with its sweeping sub-operatics. But this one will always be Oakey vs the machines. This is the first League single I really remember, and I certainly remember how much it seemed that Phil meant it. I had it on a compilation (Chart Hits 81 maybe?) and it started a side, I think. Early on, its oddly theatrical robotics got sped over to get to, oh I don’t know, some tat like Je Suis Un Rock Star. But man cannot live by the fast forward button and soon I got to love its strange synth melody break, playing – what was that instrument? I never knew what it was supposed to be, though the sound soon turned up on the weeny Casiotone as Fantasy I believe. And that Casiotone that everyone had allowed us all to be the Human League, as long as we sang a bit off, and had some way of turning the little bugger up. AND EVEN THEN WE COULD NEVER BE THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Because we were only Human.
Though that’s a different song.