The Human League – The Golden Hour of the Future

OK, ready, let’s do it. Celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of its release this week and also approximately the fortieth anniversary of its recording is the compilation of early recordings by The Human LeagueThe Golden Hour of the Future.

It opens with the brilliant single-that-never-was, Dance Like a Star, which sounds exactly as it should – The Human League Mk 1, as they are popularly called, the early lineup, featuring Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh alongside vocalist Phil Oakey, always seemed to be making eccentric pop which was a little rough around the edges. This is exactly that – and it might not quite be release quality, but you can still hear the sheer brilliance that’s still to come.

This compilation was curated by über-fan Richard X when he was pretty much at the height of his fame, and pulls together twenty tracks altogether, a mixture of early material by The Human League, their predecessor group The Future, and one solo track from Phil Oakey.

The second track is from The Future, entitled Looking for the Black Haired Girls, and is a fun experimental semi-instrumental track, and that is then followed by the pleasantly melodic and beatsy 4JG from The Human League. It ends, slightly unpredictably, with a child singing Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Most of the earlier tracks are from The Future though, often very experimental, slightly noisy pieces, hinting perhaps at vocalist Adi Newton‘s later industrial work with Clock DVABlack Clocks is pleasant, but definitely more odd than anything, while Cairo takes a lot of inspiration from the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and sounds every bit as fantastic.

As The Human League showed us long ago on those first two albums, they had always been fascinated with advertising, and so Dominion Advertisement should come as little surprise. It serves as a brief interlude before Dada Dada Duchamp Vortex, a very pleasant drifting piece which along for nearly six minutes before passing over to Daz.

You might find yourself drifting with the music, as Future Religion mixes into Disco Disaster. There’s more than enough variety here to satisfy a full career compilation, but there’s also a huge amount of material. Even among that, a few tracks really stand out – Interface is brilliant, as is Phil Oakey‘s solo work The Circus of Dr. Lao, and then there’s a fun instrumental cover of Reach Out (I’ll Be There) in case things need livening up.

There are some more experimental moments with New Pink FloydOnce Upon a Time in the WestOverkill Disaster Crash, and Year of the Jet Packs, a series which are all good, but only the last one really shines. Pulse Lovers is great too, and then we’re pretty much at the end already, with the short King of Kings, and then, after a lot of odd groaning and screaming, the extremely long Last Man on Earth.

Of course, the thing with Last Man on Earth is that it does, to some extent, help explain what on earth Phil Oakey was going on about on Circus of DeathThe Human League‘s first b-side, released just a year or so after most of these demos would have been recorded. This is definitely history in the making.

What’s surprising is just how good this is as an album. I’ve always loved The Human League Mk 1, but their sound on their albums is always a little raw and uncontrolled, and I suppose I expected their early demos to be even more manic. But they’re not particularly, and I’m very glad this compilation appeared to help add more context to those early years.

The CD has fallen out of print again, but you can still find The Golden Hour of the Future through your favourite digital retailers.


Music for the Masses 38 – 30 April 2005

The Live Bit, launched only the preceding week as a new feature, quickly turned out to be way too much trouble and was downsized to just one track, but the Electromix would continue for the rest of the show’s run, this week starring Leeds’s own Utah Saints as the centrepiece.

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Show 38: Sat 30 Apr 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Apollo 440.

  • Moloko – The Time is Now
  • System F – Insolation
  • Faithless feat. Boy George – Why Go?
  • Röyksopp – Remind Me (Someone Else’s Remix)
  • Apollo 440 – Astral America
  • Mylo – In My Arms (Sharam Jey Remix)
  • The Clarke & Ware Experiment – Communication (from Music for Multiple Dimensions)
  • New Order feat. Ana Matronic – Jetstream (Richard X Remix)
  • LCD Soundsystem – Disco Infiltrator
  • Heaven 17 – Being Boiled (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Amorphous Androgynous – The Mello Hippo Disco Show
  • Apollo 440 – Pain in Any Language
  • Moby – I Like It
  • M83 – Teen Angst (Montag Mix)
  • Lemon Jelly – Make Things Right
  • The Flirts – Passion
  • Apollo 440 – Heart Go Boom
  • Ladytron – Blue Jeans [Electromix]
  • Utah Saints – Love Song [Electromix]
  • Piney Gir – Girl [Electromix]
  • Jam & Spoon feat. Rea – Be Angeled

The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.

Erasure – The Violet Flame

Erasure‘s renaissance seems to be reaching a head – after years in the wilderness, they reappeared with the great but over-processed Tomorrow’s World then a lovely Christmas album with Snow Globe. This time, they’re working with Richard X of all people!

The opening track is the eccentric but great Dead of Night. Its chorus falls a little flat by Erasure standards – think back to all those catchy songs you saw them performing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But it’s still good, and the combination of the synth duo and the producer with his head in the 80s is a very strong one.

The lead single Elevation is next, another great piece of production with a slightly disappointing chorus. It would be difficult to really complain since this is Erasure at their best for a couple of decades – ultimately it’s good, but it’s not Always. Neither is second single Reason, but there’s plenty to enjoy here. The verse could easily be lifted from a song on I Say I Say I Say or Cowboy, but again the chorus doesn’t quite seem to grab you in the way that they used to.

Somehow The Violet Flame does this to you – you can’t stop yourself comparing it against their earlier work, however unfair that might be. Promises is similar – if you had never heard of them before, you would probably be able to enjoy it too, but somehow the return to their finest songwriting form and working with a distinctly retro producer makes you think you’re still stuck twenty or thirty years ago.

Be the One is easier to enjoy in its own right, but it’s Sacred where things really start to explode. This really is Erasure at their finest – a great lyric, a fantastic chorus, and some very catchy synth lines. This was the third single, at a time when most people can’t be bothered releasing anywhere near that many, and while they may only be doing it for the fans, it’s still a very notable release.

Under the Wave takes us right back to the start of Vince Clarke‘s career, with a lovely plinky-plonk synth line. Again, the verse is brilliant, but the chorus doesn’t quite manage to capitalise on that, which does appear to be a bit of a theme on this release.

Even towards the end of the album, surprises are lurking. Smoke and Mirrors is an enormous synth piece, and unusually for this album the chorus is entirely brilliant. It’s probably not a good idea to think too hard about the lyrical content, but it’s great nonetheless. The same is true for Paradise – actually, it seems many of the best songs are hidden towards the end of The Violet Flame.

This is particularly true for the final track, the superlative Stayed a Little Late Tonight. When Andy Bell opens with “I just wanted everything to be perfect,” you can’t help but think this might be more than just a one-off lyric – perhaps he really is referring to the whole album. Really, everything has come together extremely well this time around.

Thirty years on, The Violet Flame proves that Erasure definitely still have greatness in them – it’s a shame they’ll never see commercial success again, because future generations of music listeners deserve to know about this. But for those of us who still remember them, this album is extremely rewarding.

There are various versions of The Violet Flame in circulation, but the one you want is most likely the one with a live Greatest Hits CD.

Saint Etienne – Casino Classics (Reissue)

Casino Classics had an odd genesis, as albums go – originally released as the limited edition bonus disc for Saint Etienne‘s 1995 singles collection Too Young to Die, it was then reissued a year later with a second disc of its own, and was a pretty comprehensive collection of the remixes of the first few years of their career.

Now it’s back, as a two-disc or four-disc special edition, with a bonus collection of download remixes too. Each with a completely different track listing from either of the original remixes, attempting to bring together the best mixes from the entirety of Saint Etienne‘s career to date. Let’s take a listen to the new two-disc version.

Unfortunately, things have got a bit confused. All the tracks have been shuffled around from the original release, but some of them have also gained bits from their previous neighbours. I’m not as familiar with these as I ought to be, but Andrew Weatherall‘s Mix of Two Halves version of Only Love Can Break Your Heart has stolen about fifteen seconds from somewhere; I think at the start. It’s still a good mix, fascinatingly almost entirely unlike the original in the style of a mix from the late nineties until the second half, when some slightly dubby pieces of the original start to turn up.

But even in two disc form, this is an enormous collection, so I need to cut myself short here, otherwise I won’t be able to mention The Chemical Brothers‘ quite fascinating version of Like a Motorway or The Aloof‘s take on Speedwell.

But honestly nothing on disc one really blows me away particularly. Highlights include Peter Heller‘s charming Midsummer Madness mix of Kiss and Make Up, Monkey Mafia‘s remix of Filthy, and Gordon King‘s lovely – if ultimately rather dated – take on Avenue. Aphex Twin‘s version of Who Do You Think You Are? still leaves me a little underwhelmed, even a couple of decades on.

Towards the end of disc one comes Underworld‘s sweet and mellow version of Cool Kids of Death, and then right at the end is Hug My Soul, remixed by Sure is Pure. Both have lost a little of their duration to other tracks, but together they close the disc in rather good fashion. But on the whole, this disc leaves me feeling that a bit of editing might be beneficial – there are three tracks approaching the ten minute mark and nothing under five, and while the musical merit of many of them shouldn’t be doubted, some do drag a little.

Disc two kicks off on fine – if even longer – form, with David Holmes‘s thirteen minute dark acid version of Like a Motorway. Then comes a blast from the past, in every sense, with Motiv8‘s extended version of He’s on the Phone. Ultimately I’m no fan of Motiv8 – in fact I think his habit in the mid-90s of churning out the same mix again and again for everybody who was anybody was more than a little irritating. But there was a reason why his formula was successful – it was actually pretty good – and I think He’s on the Phone is probably the best of his series of identikit mixes.

We then get PFM‘s frantic drum and bass version of The Sea, followed by a couple of dull mixes of Angel and Sylvie, before Paul van Dyk‘s great version of How We Used to Live. Then finally, as things always should with Saint Etienne, they take a turn for the brilliant with Hybrid‘s remix of the brilliant Boy is Crying. It may be seventeen tracks into the album, but it does feel a little as though everything was leading to this.

Having persevered through two hours of overlong and often dated fare, all the good stuff seems to be clumped up at the end – you get Two Lone Swordsmen‘s brilliant version of Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi), and then Mark Brown‘s truly exceptional extended single version of Burnt Out Car. The closing track sees Richard X extending his own Method of Modern Love and making it a little less good than the single version, but it’s still pretty special, and really not a bad way of closing the album.

If you go for the four disc version, disc three is distinctly patchy, while disc four features some incredibly good moments, but you’ll be pretty exhausted by the time you make it there. There’s also a bonus disc’s worth of downloads too, which include a couple of forgotten gems, so it is a good collection all round.

Casino Classics is an odd remaster though, and it is a little patchy in places, so I maybe wouldn’t advise first time Saint Etienne listeners to bother with it. As a collection of remixes from one of the most important pop acts of the last couple of decades though, it’s pretty good.

The version of Casino Classics we’ve just listened to is this one, but if it’s still available and your pocket is feeling a little heavy, you could just go with the four disc version, which boasts twice as much music and some lovely DVD sized packaging. Don’t forget the bonus download disc either!

Retro chart for stowaways – 20 September 2003

For no particular reason, here are the top 10 singles for stowaways from exactly a decade ago this week:

  1. Conjure One – Centre of the Sun
  2. Dido – White Flag
  3. Dave Gahan – I Need You
  4. Goldfrapp – Strict Machine
  5. Richard X feat. Kelis – Finest Dreams
  6. Erlend Øye – Sheltered Life
  7. Kosheen – All in My Head
  8. Madonna – Hollywood
  9. Paul van Dyk – Time of Our Lives
  10. Kraftwerk – Tour de France 2003

That was a massive climb back up the charts for Erlend Øye, shooting up from number 19 with Sheltered Life, while Sudden Rush shot up from 20 to 12.

On the albums, Enigma jumped in with an unpredictable number one with Voyageur while Röyksopp continued their hold on the top ten at number 7 with debut Melody AM.

Dido‘s White Flag, by the way, was actually quite a good song. For the record.