For many years, The Human League came to be regarded as a bit rubbish. The late 1980s were particularly unkind to them, and their exceptional mid-90s comeback Octopus and the subsequent total flop Secrets seemed to have been unable to retrieve their reputation beyond briefly getting them back onto the charts.
But in the decade between Secrets and the following album Credo, something changed. Was it their constant touring, or the perpetual I Love 1981 shows on TV? Was it their record company releasing The Very Best Of, or did everyone just suddenly realise that Don’t You Want Me is in fact one of the most important records of the last few decades? If I had to guess, I’d say it was probably just a combination of all of those, and more beside.
Credo kicks off with the astonishingly familiar sound of Never Let Me Go. It’s wonderfully under-produced, and actually quite unlike anything they had released before, but it’s also extremely good. Within the first thirty seconds you know you’re listening to a legendary band at their absolute best.
Night People is a curious track, and an even odder first single. I’ve got a certain fondness for it because it was the first single and the first hint of their comeback, but the truth is that it isn’t really very good unfortunately. Like the whole album, it is produced by Sheffield soundsmiths I Monster, who, as you would expect, have made a lot out of a pretty sub-standard track, but it still doesn’t have a huge amount going for it.
Third up is Sky, which opens with vintage synth sounds before building into a classic Phil Oakey song. It has all the ingredients – the slightly discordant vocals, the building anthemic chorus – it’s just a typically strong track. This mixes seamlessly into the probably Doctor Who-inspired Into the Night (“Do you turn left? Do you turn right?”) Again, it’s strong Human League, but it’s difficult to be blown away at this point.
Fortunately, Egomaniac takes us back from just “strong” to “excellent”. As with its predecessors, it’s curiously under-produced, but it’s also one of the best actual songs on the album. At this stage it’s a worthwhile reminder that The Human League still have something to say for themselves.
Single Minded and Electric Shock are sadly a little more pedestrian. I really want to like them, but they’re just rather lacking in anything special. Which is not to say they’re bad; they just sound like filler rather than the kind of thing that should be on an album by a musical legend.The artwork too is disappointing. I’ve never felt that The Human League really represented the best in design, but some of their albums (Travelogue, Dare and Octopus for example) have great sleeves. Credo just uninspiringly screams the band name and title; the only statement being “we’ve released a new album,” rather than the preferable “here’s our amazing new album.” But then, it really isn’t all that amazing, unfortunately.
With Get Together, things fortunately start to look up again. A beautifully rhythmic track, you have to wonder slightly why the rest of the album couldn’t have been a bit more like this. The following track Privilege is better still, and is probably my favourite song on the whole album, harking back as it does to the sound of Being Boiled some 33 years earlier.
Breaking the Chains is less strong, although pleasant enough (wild at heart, apparently). And then it’s the final track When the Stars Start to Shine, which has a curiously eighties sound to it. Not eighties in the sense of The Human League either – eighties in the sense of chanted verse building into a high chorus. I wonder what exactly they were channelling here? So Credo is a mixed bag – it screams “new” rather than “good”, but it does have some excellent moments peppered between less exciting tracks. And whatever else you might say about it, it proves that The Human League are back. At last. Credo can be purchased or downloaded from all the usual outlets. Here it is on Amazon.co.uk, and here it is for rather more money on iTunes.