Think Hysteria after Dare, and now Credo after Secrets (or even Octopus, as that was a cracker too). Oddly the sparseness of a lot of the arrangements here is also reminiscent of some tracks on Hysteria, and that's the problem as this album is from 2011! I am a huge League fan, whether Travelogue (my all-time fave), Dare (the ultimate 80s electro) or Octopus/Secrets (both very welcome). As such I was waiting for this album like all fans, and was delighted when they signed to Wall Of Sound.
First impressions are not that good, as we get fairly awful packaging and some very uninspiring artwork (only Joanne comes through it reasonably favourably). You've probably never seen a slimmer fold-out digi, which will scratch the CD within days. Why no sturdy jewel case option?
Onto the music itself - there are some half-decent tracks here, and it generally flows well, but why oh why did I Monster crank Phil's vocal so high in the mix on every track (bar Never Let Me Go)? I have listened to the album 4 times now, once on headphones, and the clarity/volume of his vocal against some very sparse backing tracks often grates, when it should be a plus. If he'd produced these himself as demos I could understand, but the producers have introduced the beginnings of a fresh, sophisticated sound, only to spoil this with the vocal balancing.
The songs themeslves vary from reasonable to mildly embarassing, highlights being Never Let Me Go (oddly), Night People (it sits much better on the album, trust me), Sky (which I love, a bit like Louise Part 2), Egomaniac (rather topical at this time, unfortunately, but nicely energised) and the completely OTT When The Stars Start To Shine. This closer is great, fun, whimsical and refreshingly different from the rest of the album....should be a single.
Most songs sit as segued pairs, which is a really nice production touch.
However many arrangements almost sound half-finished, and the songs often have repetitive lyrics (Night People and Single Minded being two good examples of this). Phil has a new co-writer on this album, but I'm not convinced this has worked as well as they'd hoped. No Neil Sutton or Jo Callis credits anywhere this time, who both lent a more melodic twist to things.
The tunes, as they are, are often mainly carried by the lead vocal, and digital stutters/flanging/phasing and all other manner of studio gimmicks do not make a mediocre song a good song. The basslines are excellent, but the rest of the keyboards often fade into the background. Needless to say the harmonies between Phil and the girls are still great though!
Unfortunately WOS really seemed late on board when it came to marketing or promotional activity. True, there have been a quite a few Radio Interviews, including a prime-time one on Radio 2 very recently, and these will certainly help in the final push. But prior to the album release we got half-hearted single releases (with no official CD release), a hurried change of second single in Germany, a rather eclectic selection of remixes, and no real UK TV promotion. Compare this to Duran Duran's Saturday telly gig 2 days before the release of their latest album, and they're on a fairly unknown record label now too! Maybe this is because this album simply isn't WOS dance material, but a fairly solid electro-pop affair - who knows? Whatever their reasons, it's a real shame the label didn't do more, and much earlier (ie 2010 to promote the first single).
You'll gather I am a tad disappointed as this album could've been so much more. A decent remix on some of the tracks would've saved it from 3-star territory, but for now I'm off to enjoy Octopus/Secrets again, and enjoy a more creative 'new style' HL experience that is strong from start to finish!