Human League Octopus

REVIEW: ‘Octopus’ (Special Edition) – Human League

Human League – “Octopus”

The late 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s were not kind to The Human League. Having arrived ten years later with iconic hits like “Don’t You Want Me?”, “Love Action” and “Fascination”, the group struggled to attract the same audience that had shown so much appreciation a decade earlier. Out of four singles released during the period 1986 to 1994, only “Heart Like A Wheel” had managed the UK top 40 and that stopped at No.29 with the album “Romantic?” breaking their hattrick of top ten hits at home when it charted at No.24. Across ‘the pond’ it was a similar story having topped the chart with “Human” in 1986, subsequent releases fared less well.

The band spent most of 1993-94 recording their seventh studio album, “Octopus” and things could of carried on as they were. But with a killer lead single in the shape of “Tell Me When” released in the last week of 1994, 1995 would see a renaissance in the trio’s fortunes. The song would peak at No.6 in the UK and No.31 Stateside, their best sales and chart effort in eight years and that set the bar of anticipation high for the forthcoming “Octopus”. The album was delivered at the end of January and featured nine new compositions with the superb and addictive “Tell Me When” kicking things off. There are some wonderfully creative titles on this album, not least “John Cleese: Is He Funny?” (Tribe Of Toffs take note!) while others such as “Housefull Of Nothing” and “Filling Up With Heaven” are classic League headings. “These Are The Days” begins in true electro-synth style with great vocals from Phil and the girls. This is a personal favourite that could so easily of been a great single, and a successful one too, albeit in edited form.

The album version extends to nearly six minutes in length! For something different, Susan Sulley performs the next single mostly on her own. “One Man In My Heart” almost sounds like a homage to Saint Etienne both musically and vocally. The song was released as the second single reaching No.13 in the UK and is a perfect halftime break at Human League concerts and is always welcome. “Words” is another long six-minuter as well as being the most down tempo track on the album. Nevertheless, irrefutably sublime in extreme. Bring back the bubbly-pop beats: and they do with the synth majesty that is “Filling Up With Heaven” that sounds soooo 1995, whatever 1995 was meant to sound like! The song was released as the third single in the early Summer and gave the band three consecutive top 40 hits for the first time in nearly nine years. The aforementioned “Housefull Of Nothing” follows suit with lots of high pitched synthing and electro beats as you feel each twist and turn deep inside every note. Susan’s repetition of the song’s title in between Phil’s voice-deep verse lyrics are almost robotic and it makes this song feel like the inside of a computer, in the days when technology was much simpler. Once again, this could very easily of been a candidate for single release.

So the question is: IS John Cleese funny? Many would argue, yes. Just as John Ketley is, or was, a weatherman, The Human League ask the question of John Cleese, not in words, but in music. This is an instrumental, so what a bizarre title for a four minute piece of electro-synth heaven. You have to make your own decision as to the answer being posed by the title… “Never Again” is another slice of subliminal, smooth synth-pop with its moody beat and dour words, this song is another standout in an album where virtually every track is a standout. Another missed opportunity for a single and a hit…? “Octopus” concludes with “Cruel Young Lover” which takes some time to get moving, but at four second short of seven minutes, there’s no undue concern required. Phil reaches for some pretty high notes throughout this almost techno-dance number that is by far the raciest number on the album, which has its roots in clubland and provides the perfect ending for this brilliantly conceived collection of HL anthems. “Do you hear me?”.

“Octopus” also put the group back in the chart when it reached No.6 in the UK, gaining a Gold certification for sales of more than 100,000 copies, their best seller since “Crash” in 1986. Although America welcomed “Tell Me When”, the album struggled to gain traction and saw only a small volume actually leave the record shop shelves. Germany was somewhere that was always kind to the group and “Octopus”, like the three singles from it, saw the bands best success outside their home country. More than forty years on from their debut, The Human League continue to tour and perform live and although die hard 80’s fans go to see them just for the all time classics, it’s great to see that they also acknowledge their rebirth in 1995, perhaps with a new following as well as those fans who began the 1980’s working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. This new, expanded edition of “Octopus” is released in CD and LP formats with additional demo tracks, single edits and remixes that is a must for HL fans, no matter what era you come from. So tell me when, will I see you again…?(!)

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