Songs of the Human League
With so many indie pop bands turning to the synth-heavy, lush-yet-sparse sound of early •80s new wave for inspiration, it’;s fitting that March Records is paying tribute to one of the key bands of that era, the Human League. Reproductions does a fine job of showing how the League were much more influential than anyone could have expected back in the early days of MTV, gathering 16 of indie’;s brightest lights to honor Phillip Oakey and the gang.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about Reproductions is the fact that Stephin Merritt is all over the record, appearing on no less than three tracks in various guises (though not his best-known, the Magnetic Fields). Instead, he shows up with the Future Bible Heroes for a tasteful rendition of one of the League’;s biggest hits, the ubiquitous “Don’;t You Want Me.” It’;s a faithful remake with one interesting twist, reversing the male/female parts so that Merrit was the one “working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.” Strange but fun. Merrit also appears as the 6ths, teaming with another •80s icon, Lloyd Cole, for an atmospheric, almost darkwave take on “Human,” and starts the record solo with a snippet of “Get Carter.”
Elsewhere, most tracks either stick pretty faithfully to the source material or warp it into something all their own, both with varying results. Barcelona (one of the most obviously League-influenced acts on the record) contribute a fun and extremely faithful version of “Mirror Man” that’;s an easy highlight, as is Ladytron’;s slightly more sterile take on “Open Your Heart.” The Aluminum Group contribute a good, respectful “Love Action (I Believe in Love),” but Superheroes’; “The Sound of the Crowd” and Clicks’; “Seconds” seem to fall a little short of the mark.
On the “changing things up” tip, the real stand-out is Baxendale’;s unique take on “Keep Feeling (Fascination).” Being my all-time favorite Human League tune, when I spotted it on the track listing, I hoped it would be a faithful version, as I didn’;t think I’;d care for a reworking. To my surprise, Baxendale made me fall for their version, which starts out pretty, mellow, and acoustic, achieving the same effect Frente! did when they covered New Order’;s “Bizarre Love Triangle.” Seascape sounds and a sweet answering machine message come in after the first verse, and the song starts to build in tempo, layering on sounds until they spring full-force into a modern-day disco sound that reminds me of the Pet Shop Boys, except with male and female vocals. Scratching and another message lead to an original rap paying tribute to the Human League, recalling their heyday with affection. It’;s probably the best tribute on the whole record, which, considering I really didn’;t want this song mucked with, is saying a lot in Baxendale’;s favor – I’;d really like to hear more from this band!
Changing things up also worked well for Lali Puna, with a mellow, atmospheric “Together in Electric Dreams,” and the always-entertaining Optiganally Yours, who do their thing to “Empire State Human.” The surprising clunker of the record is Momus’; baroque new wave version of “I Am the Law” – the tuneless strings and overwrought delivery just don’;t click.
Overall, though, Reproductions is a fine tribute to a band that’;s long past deserving their due. Pick this up and rediscover some classic tunes – you’;ll be surprised to discover what an impact this band had. Hopefully, this will lead the indie kids to rediscover the Human League’;s back catalog, too – there’;s some wonderful material there that deserves to be heard!
March Records, 51 Main Street, Hastings On hudson, NY 10706, http://www.marchrecords.com