The Human League – Crash

This week sees the thirtieth anniversary of The Human League‘s 1986 comeback album Crash. This was the album which saw them reject their Yorkshire routes, travelling instead to Minneapolis to work with smash hit producers Jam & Lewis. The results were, as you might expect, largely dreadful. At least, that’s how I remember them.

The album opens with Money, which is one of the less bad songs on here, although it sees Phil Oakey stretching his vocal range way beyond what he’s comfortable with. But this is, as it turns out, one of the less bad moments on here – Swang, once you’ve accepted the completely meaningless title, is absolutely awful. The general rule seems to be that the League-penned tracks are the less bad ones here, and Swang is provided by one of Jam & Lewis‘s regular collaborators, someone called David Eiland.

The exceptions, of course, disprove the rule, as the best track on here is the only one anyone remembers, the brilliant Human. If you only need one reason for this album to exist, this is it. Despite the fact that they didn’t have a hand in writing it, it’s everything The Human League should be – iconic for its era, and a very good pop song.

But as with Phil Oakey probably should have learnt from his earlier collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, one good single doesn’t necessarily mean the resulting album will be up to much. In this case, there’s probably a book in the story of the recording of Crash, as Oakey seems to have struggled with the lack of creative control after a few months in the studio, and pulled out, leaving the producers to finish everything off while The Human League went home and started haemmoraging members.

In that context, it’s almost surprising that it works at all. As it turns out, Jam is tolerable, and Are You Ever Coming Back? is actually reasonably good. Admittedly there’s nothing on here that’s really up to the standard of, say, Dare or even Hysteria, and bad though it is, it doesn’t seem to be quite as bad as I remembered.

There were clearly some errors of judgement here though. Human might have turned out to be a surprise success, but it should have been obvious that second single I Need Your Loving was truly dreadful. It flopped, and, though it may be surrounded by uninspiring songs on the album, it still stands out as awful.

Part of the problem is that Jam & Lewis‘s jaunty production is really starting to wear by this point. Party is far from great – in particular, the lyrics seem to have been written in about ten minutes flat – but with a more traditional UK production, it might have been a little more tolerable. Or maybe not.

Love on the Run would definitely benefit from some more appropriate production (and ideally fewer snare drums) and it might be pretty good. The Real Thing probably isn’t as easily fixed – it just seems to drone on forever. It’s probably fair to say that it could be better.

Closing the album is Love is All That Matters, the third single – actually it was released to promote the group’s first Greatest Hits album a couple of years later. The introduction is pretty promising – it’s got that enormous 1980s epic beginning that other people were doing very well. The song works reasonably well too – The Human League may not be the ideal vessel to deliver it, but it’s tolerably good.

Which might be, as it turns out, a decent description for the whole album. There’s a lot wrong with it – you can almost feel the tension from the recording studio while you listen – and it definitely doesn’t do The Human League justice. But as a snapshot of what music sounded like in 1986, it isn’t all bad.

The 2005 remastered CD never actually seems to be available, so your only chance of owning this really lies with the original release, still widely available.