on 2 September 2006
Virgin's reissues, approved by the band, are long overdue, and priced to attract casual listeners as well as die-hard fans. "Penthouse and Pavement" was BEF's first official pop album, after the Human League split (post the brilliant "Travelogue") and it's sparse sound, juxtaposed with political lyrics or convoluted love-songs, was an immediate critical success. Glen still sounds a bit like Phil Oakey here (less so on the warmer follow-up album)and some of the percussive tracks remind me of "Reproduction", but the whole thing works far better than the League's first album. The remaster is beefed up a bit on the lower end (not a bad thing) but retains the spikiness of the original release. Highlights - well there isn't really a bad track here! From the opening "Fascist Groove Thang" to the 'looped' outro of "We're Going To Live..." we are taken through a whole range of lyrical subject matter and rhythms. Some may sound a bit dated now, but that's not the point, this album is a classic of it's type.
The bonus tracks are also interesting, as most are either vinyl only or from the BEF import CD of "Music For Listening To", but all remastered. Some of the bleeps on "I'm Your Money" 12" seem to sound a little harsh in places, but that's probably exactly how they were meant to sound. As per another reviewer, it would've been even better if they'd added the 12" original mix(or instrumental) of "Penthouse", as it is different from the album version - and there is space here - but other than that this reissue is great. It's nice to see references to track titles on "Before After" in sleeve-notes too, just to remind fans they are still very much around!
on 31 January 2008
This LP is a classic. A true ageless piece of work. Here you can trace quite a few future types of music here. The title track alone points towards future music from artists such as Squarepusher (in use of the bass), House music (the piano stabs in the instrumental breakdown) and, in Facist Grove Thing, the keyboard parts are copied lock-stock-and-barrel by 808 State in most of their early work.
Remaster has one major flaw, and the reason why this edition misses 5 stars of greatness. The MASSIVE audio dropout on the title track (just before the lines "Pistol, Pavements, No TV") is criminal, and just does not appear on the original LP, or any of the compilation LP's I have heard this on since (it was on 12"/80's comp perfectly). Shame. :(
on 20 December 2010
This is the era of boxed sets, deluxe editions at any price (almost) and risks of redundancy for various albums which tend, more often than not, to be simply rebought by fans (sometimes you have the vinyl and the first CD versions already in your collections: isn't it?).
Well this reissue is a labour of love (no pun intended) and in ideal world should be kept as an example for future reissues, but an ideal world this is not.
Each of the two CDs and the DVD stand alone; the poster, the cards reproducing 12" covers are a welcome addition to the package. Thumbs up for the liner notes too.
Fully recommended in both form and substance, especially substance: Heaven 17 are today maybe even better than 30 years ago, like all good spirits.
I do not know why, but I think of them like I think about Magazine: the best of the post punk ones are immortal classics which still make you think, while you enjoy the sound and the words.
You may, also, want to dust off the first two Human League albums in CD format (which at the time came in single configuration but with enough bonuses).
on 21 August 2006
Listening to the remastered 'Fascist Groove Thang' a quarter of a century on and you wouldn't think that it was recorded within a week. Nor would you believe that that H17 took random lines from their favorite US soul records and mixed in a few heart felt socialist observations deep from the heart of Sheffield concerning the early warning signs about our 'special relationship' with the US.
Things were bad back then, but Reagen (President elect) and Thatcher are nothing but quaint figures of comedic proportions when compared to the current nightmare scenario of Bush and the UK leader whom he addresses as 'Yo Blair!'.
As a 14 year old listening to this track for the first time, I couldn't quite understand H17's American stance in this song. The Russians were the ones pointing the missiles at us (although we later learn that the Red's nuclear arsenal was in fact a joke reinforced by alien agencies that included the CIA).
It is a delight to report that the remastered opening track has an added vibrancy that should serve to remind most listeners how H17 were simply light years ahead of the Visage and Duran crowd who were content back then to use the nearest pre-set synth option.
NME were wrong about a lot of things over the years but during this time, even they understood the genius that combined the production talents of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh - the founders of The Human League and two individuals who would mess around with unstable analogue synths regardless of current fashion to create just for us, brand new sounds that you would hear no where else.
The remastered version brings out many layers lost on the old 80's CD transfer including the brilliant soul infected female vocals of Josie James on title track 'Penthouse & Pavement' (no one was doing this at the time and it took a while for other acts to catch on to the power of such an exotic mix of musical styles).
'Penthouse & Pavement' is a rare gem of an album of epic 'Dare' proportions (which is apt as both shared the same genesis in a run down recording studio during alternative shifts in Sheffield). Every track is a melodic stomper with infectious choruses, and one ultimately has to wonder why H17 aren't universally adored and appreciated for that they achieved. Forget the ground breaking production techniques of BEF and those bizarre electro sounds that current acts would strive to sample today, H17 should also be remembered for their killer vocal hooks superbly delivered by Glenn Gregory.
'Geisha Boys & Temple Girls' is a perfect example of H17's talent in knocking out a tunes that you simply have to whistle along to whilst clapping in time to it's complex drum pattern.
Curious chord changes (that no doubt set alight the creative mind of a very young Martin Gore back in 1981) are attributed to the track that has an almost impossible task of following 'Ghesha Boys'. 'Let's All Make A Bomb' is no mid-album filler (infact there is no filler on this H17 debut) and whilst it's central CND message may have subsided in recent years, the song is simply adorable containing everything you want from an album track.
The first H17 track I ever heard was 'The Height of The Fighting' (though the 12" version my brother bought was different to the album version and it's a shame that it wasn't included as a bonus track), it's one of those tracks that instantly grabbed me as coming from somewhere completely different.
It was released as a single in 1982 but never dented the charts but looking back, it really should have done with it's innovative synth bassline (Arthur Baker would copy it a few years later with Freeze and their massive 1983 hit 'IOU').
'Song With No Name' is a curious number with some rather spooky electro backing that oddly sounds very current. The track appears to tell the story about an artist struggling to come up with creative ideas expected of him but things seem to take a sinister twist. Curious chord changes too that evokes memories of Travelogue's 'WXJL Tonight', chord changes that few bands could get away with in today's musical climate (except Depeche Mode and Hot Chip).
H17 always knew a thing or two about album finales and their debut is rounded off by an 'attack' on organised religion.
It's a ridiculously catchy track sung from the perspective of happy-clappy Christians who think the rest of us are damned, a song about religious fundamentalism 25 years ahead of it's time.
The remastered P&P comes with one or two welcome extra tracks most notably the extended version of H17's second single 'I'm Your Money' (a track that should have made the final tracklisting for the original album but was neglected which is odd considering that it is a definitive H17 stomper). Containing some very clever wordplay, the track pays mock homage to capitalism with terms such as 'the overnight treasury' and other city buzzwords that you're unlikely to ever hear on any other pop track, and the amusing line 'I'm offering you the post of wife' always makes me smile.
'I'm Your Money' is one of the few H17 tracks in which the lads proudly display their musical heritage for it is a track that Kraftwerk would have been proud of and it also provides a blueprint for the current crop of electro acts that includes Mute's Client (their 2004 single 'In It For The Money' even used a H17 rift) and The Modern who were recently agonizingly close to scoring a UK chart hit with 'Industry'.
'Are Everything' is presented here for the first time on CD in it's original 12" mix, a superb electro cover of a Buzzcocks track and (an edited version first appeared on the B-side of 'I'm Your Money'). Most people will be new to this ancient H17 cover and I can assure you that it's worth purchasing the remastered P&P just for this rarely heard track (though the whole album is worth so much more).
Also worth checking out is the BEF instrumental 'Decline of The West', a haunting and distictively beautiful analogue instrumental that would have fitted in perfectly with the Vangelis Bladerunner film score a few years later in 1982 and it begs the question, why didn't H17 do film scores?
The instrumental also evokes memories of Wendy Carlos and her soundtrack for Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange' (pictured opposite) that introduced us to the name 'Heaven 17'.
Together with the BBC's now defunct Radiophonic Workshop, both would go on and influence many of the major players in the UK analogue movement during the late 70's/early 80s.
A huge round of applause should be directed to Donal Whelan of Hafod Mastering who has done such a fantastic job in cleaning up these archive recordings.
This is one of the best digital remasters I've ever heard.
on 16 December 2010
Beautifully presented in a cardboard box, with a lovely booklet, reproductions of some 7" sleeve artwork, plus a remastered copy of the album, a 'making-of' DVD and a CD of rediscovered demos. All with fantastic artwork and graphics.
At this low price, this is very good value compared to the also-available regular CD of the album. That said, having heard the demos once I did skim the last few and doubt I'll ever play them again, as they didn't really add anything to me - and merely made the excellent album sound a little dated alongside them. The DVD is a good watch though - although, again, I'm not sure how often you'd get around to watching it. Very nicely put together, very low key, but very informative, and with some great interviewees.
'Penthouse & Pavement' as an album is obviously pretty much one of THE best albums of the early 80s, and bearing in mind the current political climate, seems very apt again 30 years later. I saw these guys a few weeks ago on the 'P&P' tour and it was really exciting to hear the music live. Definitely a classic album.
on 13 November 2009
This was Heaven 17's first album after leaving the Human League, and is really the true follow up to the excellent Travelogue.
This was always a bit of an avant guard album and was hugely successful, but because of the experimental nature of the electronic 'pop' it didn't spawn any monster chart hits.
However it was huge in the clubs, and a string of singles were lifted from it.
The biggest hit from the album is in fact the first track 'We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thing' a perfect piece of eighties political dance pop.
The entire album has a strong political slant and many of the songs are about war and bombs, reflecting the cold war paranoia of the times.
There really isn't a dud track on the original album, my only negative criticism of this version are the bonus track, they are a little weak with the exception of 'I'm Your Money'.
If you are an aficionado of eighties pop, this really is a must have album, and often overlooked after the release of the excellent 'Dare' by the new line up of Human League, a very different commodity.
on 30 January 2015
Penthouse and Pavement (1981) is the debut album by Heaven 17 and reached #14 in the UK album charts, outstripping the sales of all its singles, which performed poorly. Once half of The Human League, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware left the band due to a rift and the British Electronic Foundation (B.E.F.) was formed; they recruited singer Glen Gregory and Phil Oakey continued with The Human League. Heaven 17 was subsequently formed, the name being taken from the Anthony Burgess Novel, A Clockwork Orange, in which there is a band called The Heaven Seventeen. The difference between Heaven 17 and The Human League was immediately evident when the albums Penthouse and Pavement and Dare (1981) were released. Both albums were recorded simultaneously, the two bands sharing the same recording studio, recording at different times of the day. Whereas The Human League were playing fairly standard electronic synth pop, Heaven 17 injected more soul and funk into their electronic music, and political views into their lyrics. The only strikingly obvious similarity between the two bands is the voices of Phil Oakey and Glen Gregory.
The opening track on Penthouse is (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang (1981). The song makes use of a variety of electronic rhythm tracks and appears to move along rapidly tempo-wise. Lyrically it condemns racism and fascism, even citing Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan; it was instantly banned by the BBC (Mike Read); and yet, it still managed to peak at #45 on the UK singles chart. But then music and politics were always inextricably fused in the music of Heaven 17. The other singles taken from Penthouse are I'm Your Money (1981), Play To Win (1981), Penthouse and Pavement (1981), and The Height of the Fighting (1981); Play to Win and Penthouse and Pavement charted - at #(46) and (#57) - the others either did not chart or were not released in the UK. So, what about these social and political views of Heaven 17? Listen carefully to Penthouse and Pavement from beginning to end, not just the music, beyond that to the lyrics. You see, humanity have never managed to get it quite right, they were not getting it right in the 1980s, and they are still getting it wrong. Some are greedy and controlling, deceptive; and many more are blind to this.
Penthouse and Pavement, the single, like the later Crushed by the Wheels of Industry (1983), alludes to working an eight hour day for slave wages, basically. Being slave to a greedy capitalist system that promises food on the table and a whiff of free time as long as you play by their rules, conform, clock in at nine - clock out at five, sell your soul for a few material goods and a pint of beer at the end of the day. Selling your soul is where the track Soul Warfare comes in. In fact, the entire album brilliantly combines electronic synth, soul, and funk music, whilst the lyrics continue to hammer home the fact that you can live in a capitalist society and sell your soul for an unfair price if you want to. They even have a pop at religious fanaticism on the track We Are Going to Live for a Very Long Time, and the cold war arms race on Height of the Fighting and Let's All Make A Bomb (money spent on war and arms during the era of Reagan and Thatcher, money that could just as well have been spend on needy causes, like famine or the AIDS crisis and ... dare I say it ... industry).
Coming from Sheffield - Both Heaven 17 and The Human League - one of the main industries there is or was steel. Think Thatcherism and the closure of so much of Britain's industry in the early-to-mid-eighties (coal, steel, iron and so many others); think high unemployment and rioting; think punk rock revolting against the way things were. Penthouse and Pavement was born out of this era. But Heaven 17 cleverly wove their anti-capitalist ideals within their soulful electronic dance music, avoiding all-out aggression like the punk bands of the 1970s. This is mostly likely what scared those at the BBC and the conservative politicians: Heaven 17 were reaching out to the other side of youth - not the punks or the mods, who thrived on combating greed and fascism - but those who just wanted to go out and party.
The message was being spread even further through Gregory, Marsh and Ware.
To sum up both the album and the group: I couldn't choose between Heaven 17 and The Human League; neither could I choose between Penthouse and Pavement and Dare; they are both classic 1980's albums, both iconic bands from their era. Furthermore, I like both bands styles of electronic music and can't fault either one's songwriting or output. I guess it is a blessing in one way: the rift ensured that two brilliant bands came out of one, giving fans of electronic music twice the amount of records to listen to and collect. I certainly had hours of pleasure listening to Penthouse and Pavement as a teenager in the 1980s; I still do now. I believe it is quality music that will live on and both give pleasure to and educate even future generations - because things never really change.
Formats and Editions:
The orginal vinyl, cassette, and CD contained 10 tracks; the remastered version features 4 addional tracks, the 12" tracks of "Are Everything" (a Buzzcocks cover), "I'm Your Money" and the B-sides of BEF tracks "Groove Thang", "Decline of the West" and "Honeymoon in New York"; a 2-CD + DVD version followed with 32 tracks (including demos) and a film: The Story of Penthouse and Pavement: A Documentary (2010).
Its a strange analogy, but some 30 years ago synthesizers were possibly akin to social-networking. It was a development that everybody felt they 'had' to accustom to, and as such, some were prepared to use the technology righteously, some plain hideously! For the latter, you would need to look no further than Steve Winwood's abuse of a Casio keyboard from around 1982, when MIDI was popularised.
Heaven 17 were perhaps unique then in that, thanks to their talented musicianship, they knew how to work around such instruments in a positive manner. Enter 'Penthouse and Pavement', the ultimate satire of 'Yuppy' culture that spawned from the likes of Thatcherism and new capitalist ideals for the young working man - commonly viewed as owning a dodgy clip-on ponytail and primitive mobile phone. The album artwork itself demonstrates the new rush of a society plagued by expectation and achievement, flawed by a means of greed.
As such, 'Penthouse and Pavement' was produced in a manner resembling 1980's 'Power Music' - that which got our subject ready for a board meeting, eager to rally the troops. On face value, the present tracks mimic this situation well, but is laden with all manner of lyrics that highlight issues of the time. So memorable are these lines that you're confused as whether or not to stand up and wiggle wildly to the busy 'Fascist Groove Thing', or punch the air at the Cold War relic 'Lets All Make a Bomb'. No matter which you choose to do, the album is obsessive in its own right. One listen to 'Height of the Fighting' would put anyone a high.
Counter this album to the bands "The Luxury Gap", and its ultimately clear that the only gap present is in quality. You won't want to skip any track on 'Penthouse and Pavement' as, just as all classic albums do, the listener appreciates the work of the artist in its entirety. As such, what we have here is marvelous piece of work that, from start to finish, outlines issues that are probably more apparent now than they have been since its initial release.
on 13 January 2011
I first came across Heaven 17 about 1983, when a friend of mine had "Temptation" on his walkman (on tape - those were the days). That song stuck me immediately, as I had never before heard anything like that (and mind you, at that time I was 16 years old).
I followed Heaven 17 over the years, bought their LPs and Maxi-Singles, and eventually had their quite varied "early canon of work" together (their first 5 albums are quite different from each other).
I must have acquired "Penthouse and Pavement" and the corresponding Maxis around 1984, and although the sound here is not as "full" as on "The Luxury Gap" - "Penthouse and Pavement" is a predominantly "electronic" album - it sounds striking, fresh, exciting. And as usual with Heaven 17, the songs have great melodies.
As CDs started to appear, I switched to that format (the first Heaven 17 album I bought on CD was "Pleasure One"), but I never came to replace my first 3 Heaven 17 albums which I had on vinyl to CD... (until quite later, and then only "How Men Are" in about 1994 and "The Luxury Gap" in 2005, going for the Carolina Records edition).
So, when "Penthouse and Pavement 'Special Edition'" came out, I concluded it was high time to grab it - not least because of the accompanying documentary "The Story of 'Penthouse and Pavement'".
The album: it just sounds great, and it is hard to believe it was recorded in 1981. Hearing it again (properly) after so many years, it struck me how smartly the funk bass (played by a 17 year old John Wilson, a guy the group met by chance...) is weaved into the overall soundscape. Precise, relentless electronics with a pulsating funk bass - genius (this is for all of the songs on the "Pavement"-side of the original LP: instead of "Side A" and "Side B", Heaven 17 called the first side "Pavement" (songs 1-4) and the second side "Penthouse" (songs 5-9)). The "Penthouse" side is overall more "electronic" (no young John Wilson playing bass there).
Song highlights for me are: "Fascist Groove Thang", "Geisha Boys and Temple Girls", "Height of the Fighting". Stupendous songs for me are: "Soul Warfare" (fascinating harmonies!), "Song With No Name". And the remaining songs are "just" great...
The 2 CDs on the "Special Edition" are expanded from the original album (which had 9 songs) by individual songs from a couple of their Maxis from that period (the Maxi "I'm Your Money" had the title song and "Are Everything", "Decline of the West" was on the "Fascist Groove Thang" Maxi) and a CD best described as "Sketches" (Demos, Experiments, Rarities & Oddities). That second CD is something for fans and musicologists, but interesting nevertheless - giving you a glimpse of how the band worked its way through to eventually and finally the album "proper" (as for this aspect of Heaven 17's work, the demo of "Temptation" - with some unknown German student singing the female vocals - is also highly interesting).
The documentary "The Story of 'Penthouse and Pavement'" on the DVD is a very well done 60 minute film, having mostly Glenn and Martyn talking about the making of the album, their childhood and upbringing in Sheffield, with the appearances of some other "notables" (Paul Morley; Bob Last, Heaven 17's first manager, Kim Wilde, Stephan Fry, and some other), the formation and subsequent split of "The Human League", and generally those years. It is very insightful and surprisingly entertaining.
Overall, I very much enjoyed "revisiting" this seminal album, and I am very grateful Heaven 17 decided to add that most interesting documentary - it complements the album excellently.
on 24 November 2010
Always loved this album ,bought it when it came out about 100 years ago it seems,heard what they were doing with it so of course i had to have it,wasn`t expecting that much ,better sound due to remastering ,extra tracks,it has both.
What i didn`t expect was the attention to detail and all the extras ,mini reproductions of the single sleeves ,extensive booklet with loads of photos,poster all in a natty box.
Nice to hear the demo`s on disc 2 ,i may not want to listen to them every day ,but a fascinating listen non the less,the video i had already seen on the tv, but great to have my own copy,cant believe it was only just shy of (...),i would have payed more .