A quarter of a decade ago, The Human League were in a bit of a conundrum. Their last album, the American Crash (1986) had fared reasonably but apart from lead single Human was nothing special. Then two years later, their first Greatest Hits (1988) had proved they had a legacy, but the lead single had flopped, so it seemed their past might be all they had. And now, by 1990, four years had passed since their last album – could they demonstrate that they were still relevant?
This turmoil does, unfortunately, come across on the album that followed, Romantic? The opening track Kiss the Future is reasonable, despite the “uh,” that punctuates the chorus, and it even has some early 1990s house piano and electronic elements, but it really isn’t great. It sets the theme for the album pretty well, to tell the truth.
It mixes into A Doorway(?) (that’s the actual title), which has some good ideas, but doesn’t quite come together as a coherent song somehow. Again, that’s a common theme here unfortunately. The lead single Heart Like a Wheel follows, also showing some promise in its bobbly synth intro, but the chorus doesn’t build into much. It was also the only hit single from this album.
Side A continues with the pleasant but forgettable Men are Dreamers, and then the totally dreadful Mister Moon and Mister Sun. It seems strange now, given how good most of the later Human League releases have been, that this one could have been so misguided. This hardly seems to be the same act who gave us Dare nine years earlier.
Side B delivers the one other single Soundtrack to a Generation, which is, bluntly, rubbish (in what way is screaming “holy cow” in your chorus a good idea?) and then Rebound, which is, by this point in the album, the best thing you’ve heard. It comes as a bit of a surprise actually, as you suddenly realise you used to quite like this group after all. I suspect it might be about Sheffield’s slow and graceless recovery from the Thatcher years, but it could easily apply to the band as well.
Having built the listener back up to where they probably should be, the one really good moment comes with the poignant The Stars are Going Out, which was apparently even considered as a third single. Even this song takes a few listens to appreciate it, but in addition to boasting the catchiest melody on this album, it also delivers a great lyric which might well really about The Human League‘s career during this period.
Later tracks Let’s Get Together Again and Get it Right This Time – and actually on reflection most of the second half of the album – sound as though they were given titles before the release was even being considered, and the songs are about as good. The former has some moments, and isn’t too far away from the template of earlier hits, but the closing track really isn’t great. This was the era of digital synthesis, and that was never going to do an occasionally cheesy band any favours.
So at the beginning of this review, I asked whether the 1990 Human League could demonstrate they were still relevant. Sadly, the answer is no – that job would fall to the 1995 Human League, and in fairness to them they did a spectacular job of it, but for now, their career seemed all but over.
You can only find Romantic? on import or second hand, from locations such as here. The sound quality doesn’t do it any favours either, so tread carefully.