on 7 May 2002
I can still remember the effect this album had on me when I first heard it way back in 1981. I would listen to it on headphones and marvel at every note of every layer. I had simply never heard anything like it before, and to be honest, it blew me away. In the early eighties, people were really beginning to tire of thrashing guitars that lacked melody and all that hopeless American rock that filled up the European charts. Dare was the first successful mix of electronics with pure, commercial pop. Taking it a step further than the godfathers of electronica Kraftwerk, the League brought in sequencers and mixed it with their love for cult films and fashion. The album contains synth baseline which are still being imitated by dance acts today some 20 years after this classic album was released. Dare paved the way for groups such as Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Heaven 17, & New Order. It was a period when music was reinvented and enhanced.
This landmark album represents the very nucleus of electronic music that many would copy and it's relevance today cannot be under estimated. It is rare nowadays to find an album that has so many strong tracks but Dare still manages it effortlessly. Highlights include" Seconds" and "The Things that Dreams Are Made Of" which are pure brilliance with killer hooks.
Dare remains a true masterpiece and a record that everyone should cherish.
on 24 September 2002
It's hard to believe that this classic album was released just a year after it looked to be all over for The Human League, following the departure of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh (and most of the band's equipment). They used to record at their own Monumental Pictures studio, now they released a monumental album. "Dare!" will forever stand as the League's greatest achievement, which they're doomed never to match.
From the first track ("The Things That Dreams Are Made Of", a simplistic tune backing Philip Oakey's recital of the finer things in lfe according to Wright) to the last (the stomping Abba pastiche "Don't You Want Me", without which no wedding/21st/80's night can hope to be complete), there's hardly a poor note, never mind a poor track on this album.
All four hit singles from 1981 are here; a re-recorded "Sound Of The Crowd", "Love Action (I Believe In Love)", "Open Your Heart", but the wonder is that anything else here (except the "Get Carter" theme cover) could have been a monster hit single as well. "Do Or Die", "Seconds" (the assassination of President Kennedy), "Darkness", the haunting "I Am The Law" (inspired by the uncompromising comic book future cop Judge Dredd) were of a standard that the competition and imitators would have killed to compose. Yes this album really is THAT good.
The production is unbelievable too; Martin Rushent was famed for working with punk and new wave bands such as Buzzcocks and the Stranglers, but everything here has an amazingly clean sound that set the tone for the first half of the new decade. It doesn't need remastering - there's hardly a squeak out of place on this record. How many bands can say they've released one album in their career on which they actually got it right first time? - not many!
It's arguable that, without "Dare", the likes of Animal Nightlife, ABC and the Thompson Twins would probably never have had a clue where to start. It would be a bargain at full price; as a mid-price album it's an absolute steal.
on 24 April 2007
I have said in my review of Kate Bush's "The Hounds of Love" that that is the best album of the 1980s. This one comes a very close second.
It is very rare for a pop album to be as original, ground-breaking and perfect as this one. It is a thrilling blend of stark-sounding early Human League and the newer, warmer sound they forged with the addition of the two girls. It is packed full of gorgeous tunes, any one of which could have been a hit (and 4 were).
"Things That Dreams Are Made Of"
For a 12 year-old boy in 1980s suburban England, this was an exciting glimpse into the glamourous world of travel as Oakey sang about driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and march march marching across Red Square, while also name-checking Norman Wisdom and ice-cream. A few of his favourite things. Wouldn't catch Julie Andrews singing about them, though, and certainly not in that gorgeous baritone!
"Open Your Heart"
My favourite Human League song and one of the best pop songs ever written. It is such a strong song that the verses sound like choruses with their uplifting hooklines. Play it to a friend who is depressed. If it doesn't cheer them up then they must be dead.
"Sound of the Crowd"
To anyone tarting themselves up ready for a night out, get ready to this song. That's it, lard on the slap, nice and glam now!
When I first heard this song, I was genuinely scared. It is Stephen King set to music. Oakey's apocalyptic (I like that word) vocals and the church-organ-like synths, plus the desperate lyrics make a potent combination.
"Do or Die"
I still don't know what this song is about but who cares? I just love the rasping synth sound and tribal drum patterns.
The album's only instrumental and inspired by the Michael Caine film of the same name.
"I Am The Law"
Inspired by Judge Dredd, this song is most reminiscent of early Human League - minimalist, stern and dominated by Oakey's vocal. I love the way he prolongs the last word "law" as the song slides down into the next one, which then lifts you up again. Great juxtaposition.
Considering its subject matter - the assassination of President Kennedy - this song is surprisingly poppy. Probably one of the first ever songs to be written about stalking.
"Love Action (I Believe In Love)"
I always used to think that the beginning of this song sounded like a cat going "miaow, miaow, miaow"... Great tune when it gets going though, and apparently a bit of a confessional.
"Don't You Want Me"
What can I say? This track consistently turns up on the "100 Greatest Songs"-type programmes and deservedly so. It charts the story of a cocktail waitress plucked from obscurity and made into a star by a man she no longer loves. The man is simultaneously threatening and pleading, the woman defiant and the song, gorgeous. Avoid Snap's remix, though, if you ever come across it.
A perfect synthpop album which has stood the test of time with not a duff tune in sight.
on 18 September 2011
The theory that a musical decade starts about half way through the actual decade certainly wasn't true of the Eighties. By 1981 the best album of the genre that defined those years, synth pop, had arrived. It sounded like the future then, and thirty years later, incredibly, it still does. When the original artily (and hitless) electronic Human League split in two everyone expected the half with the brains (Heaven 17) to triumph (they had to wait a few years for that). Instead it was Phil Oakey's crew that went global with their manifesto of marrying Chic and ABBA to a synthesised beat.
Drafting in Martin Rushent to produce was the master stroke. In 1981 we seemed on the threshold of a brave new world where guitars and drums gathered dust in museums, and the sleeve of "Dare" proudly lists the technology behind this album; Casio, Korgi, Roland and Linn. And thanks to the Rushent touch the League's tunes were given a gleaming, electronic snap, crackle and pop that catapulted four of the tracks on "Dare" into the upper reaches of the UK singles chart. The production also made these metronomic tracks perfect for the dancefloor; check out the prickly, punchy, almost military beat of "The Sound of the Crowd" or the lush sweep and swirling percussion of "Do or Die".
For inspiration Oakey had swapped his cult sci-fi obsessions for the world of high fashion (the album's title and sleeve design were lifted from Vogue magazine). He cleverly oversees the crafting of state of the art electronic wizardry onto traditional 'boy meets girl' love songs, delivered in his trademark 'annoyed android' vocal style. The truth is most of the ten tracks on "Dare" had hit potential; quite how they failed to have a follow-up hit in America after "Don't You Want Me" is a mystery. The less radio-friendly "I Am the Law" and "Seconds" (about Kennedy's assassination) add some experimental weirdness and a link back to the Human League of old. It's just a shame B side "Hard Times", a warped dancefloor staple of early 80s 'night life' and one of the League's finest tracks, wasn't added to the running order of the original record (or subsequent CD releases). But that would have been spoiling us, I guess.
After their early cult albums and then this bona fide synth classic, the group should have just stopped at this. Post-"Dare" it all unravelled with cheesy synth Motown pastiches, clumsy political commentary on the Lebanon civil war, desperate (but successful) bids to reignite their American success with producers Jam & Lewis ... the truth is, I never bought one of their records again. But in 1981, when men in eyeliner and lipstick was the height of sophistication and synths threatened to sweep away all before them, this record was indeed "the sound of the crowd", the definitive soundtrack of young Britain (and, soon after, way beyond). "Dare" has it all: intriguing lyrics, the chicest of visuals whose shiny white brilliance matches the music inside and, above all, those synthetic martial beats and swathes of sleek, thrilling and icily cool synth pop. 'One day all records will be made this way', they promised. These are the things that dreams are made of.
This album was just so right for its time. Kraftwerk, Bowie, Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder and Gary Numan had been paving the way in using the synthesizer in popular music, so melodic synth-pop of Human League's third album was received with open arms. The fashion magazine cover perfectly captures the atmosphere of rock's early 80s 'new romanticism' . After all these years, the synth & drum machine novelty has worn off, but this album remains a pleasure on account of the quality of the songs. Phil Oakey's voice is perfectly framed by the female vocals and the arrangements are great. My favorites include the soaring Open Your Heart, the solemn lament Seconds, plus The Sound Of The Crowd, Do Or Die, Love Action and Don't You Want Me. This classic is definitely their best album and the recommended entry point for those wishing to investigate the band.
on 1 August 2004
I feel in love with this album the first time i ever heard it. This is the ultimate album of the 1980's. Phil Oakey is at his vocal best with songs such as Open your heart and Love action. The splendour of the synthesizers and the harmonious addition of the drum machine. I could go on for hours about the sheer beauty of this album. A must have for any music collection, and one that will never age.
on 19 January 2014
Whilst aware of their earlier incarnation and tracks like "Being Boiled" and "Empire State Human", it was seeing The Human League performing "The Sound of the Crowd" and "Love Action" on Top of the Pops, with the new four-blokes-with-synths and two dancing girls line-up, that hooked me. That singer Phil Oakey, with his lop-sided haircut, make-up, piercings and penchant for high heels, gained the disapproval of my parents, of course made me like them even more.
"Dare" has been described as the first number one pop album to be made using synthesized sounds and vocals only, which may or may not be true. I don't think it matters. Quite simply, "Dare" is a perfect pop record. Nothing is overdone, nothing is out of place, nothing that should be present is missing. On a technical level, the album was revolutionary and years ahead of its time, but the technology supported the songs and never overwhelmed them. The album's melodies are stunning and the arrangements breathtaking. "Dare" is something of a zenith of ingenuity and craftsmanship in the world of pop music. Of course, the role of producer Martin Rushent can't be overstated here. The Human League's interim single "Boys and Girls" clearly showed that when Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware left and formed Heaven 17, they'd taken a major part of the musical ability with them.
Martin Rushent might have been the band's musical saviour, yet in Phil Oakey and the band's "director of visuals" Philip Adrian Wright, the band had two fine lyricists. "The Things That Dreams are Made Of" and "Seconds", for example, stand head and shoulders, lyrically at least, above anything The Human League had achieved on their earlier albums "Reproduction" and "Travelogue". Perhaps it was because the lyrics were more emotional and revealing that made them easier to connect with. Previously their lyrics had dealt with subjects that were rather more remote, influenced by sci-fi and J. G. Ballard. Whatever, these were real 'human' songs, set to tunes you could whistle and rhythms you could dance to.
After "Dare" and the success of the ubiquitous "Don't You Want Me", it all went a bit pear-shaped. Egos took over, as invariably they do, Martin Rushent refused to work with the band again, and The Human League failed to capitalise on the album's artistic, critical and commercial successes. Perhaps they knew that they would never again be able to match it, despite much pressure to do so, and this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. But "Dare" still stands as the perfect blend of emotion, melody and technology. And it still sounds like the future.
on 14 May 2006
It still sounds great today. I 're-discovered' it recently and it brought back memories of my teenage years. Anyone who was of that age when 'Dare' was released will no doubt have a similar reaction. I remain convinced that 'Seconds', in particular, is as good as this type of music ever got.
Dare is one of the most memorable albums of the synth-pop genre of the late 70s and early 80s, in the company of masterpieces like Architecture & Morality by OMD, Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics and Upstairs at Eric's by Yaz(oo). True, Gary Numan had conquered the charts by synthesizer in 1979 but his was a darker vision and more properly called synth-rock, just like the Human League's first two albums of dark eerie music: Reproduction and Travelogue.
This 3rd album, however, is pure brilliant pop created by synths and syndrums. The songs are catchy, tuneful and emotionally profound, which is why this album has remained such a timeless treasure. The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, Love Action (I Believe In Love), Don't You Want Me and the magnificent Open Your Heart with its soaring vocals are the most immediately appealing with their strong hooks and melodies but there is something unique and atmospheric about every one of the lesser known tracks as well.
The aforementioned first two efforts are worth investigating for their ingenuity, but the band never managed to recapture the magic with their subsequent output.
I am a very forward looking person. I am not one for wallowing piteously in nostalgia and banging on about how good things were when i were a lad. I like discovering new bands, movies etc . Sure i don,t mind listening to old music now and then but mostly i want to hear what is now. However a few albums make me ache with frustrated longing for times and places long gone. Foremost amongst these is Dare by Sheffield synth popsters The Human League.
Released on 20th October 1981 Dare was the bands third studio album after "Reproduction" and "Travelogue" but saw a change in the line up that had produced the previous two albums. In January 1981 the Human League consisted of just Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright with newly recruited teenage dancers Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley. After the acrimonious split of the original band in October 1980 and the subsequent recruitment of Sulley and Catherall- infamously recruited after Oakey spotted them dancing in a Sheffield nightclub- the new band had only just survived a European tour by bringing in session keyboardist Ian Burden to temporarily assist. The band were deeply in debt and only barely commercially viable.Burden , an accomplished musician and song -writer was invited to join the band full time . For any future recordings record label "Virgin" decided Oakey needed professional help in the studio so producer Martin Rushent was drafted in . His proficiency with the the latest technology- the album was to be made entirely electronically using Casio, Korg, Roland and Yamaha keyboards - made him an ideal choice. The subsequent recruitment of Jo Callis , formerly of the Rezillo,s completed the bands line up Because of the "unhealthy" atmosphere at Monumental Studios in Sheffield caused by the Human League sharing it with new band Heaven 17 (containing ex Human League members Ware and Marsh, Rushent moved the band to his Genetic Sound Studios in Reading. In addition Rushent's studios were better-equipped for the type of music the band was making. A downside would be that the distance would cause problems for Sulley and Catherall who were taking their final school exams and had to be bussed down from Sheffield regularly. I,ve no idea how the girls exam results turned out alas.
The album itself is a landmark fusion of shiny new technology and consummate pop sensibilities. The album was named after a Vogue Magazine cover and is also incorporated into the lyrics of the song "Things That Dreams Are Made Of". Talking of the songs though many of the albums tracks were eventually released as singles the band approached the song writing with the mindset that they wanted every track to be a potential single. This is something every pop band would allude to but with the exception of the brief cover of the "Get Carter" theme and the somewhat austere "I Am The Law" every track on Dare would have made a viable single , though a song like "Seconds" -about the assassination of John F Kennedy and - were in truth too dark thematically in those hedonistic times to be commercially viable.
The remainder is about as perfect as pop music can get. From the soaring opener "Things That Dreams Are Made Of" where Oakey strains for the high notes in the chorus to the celebratory "Sound Of The Crowd" -one of the greatest electro-pop songs ever written for this reviewer- Dare is a flawless gleaming pop edifice. The semi-autobiographical "Love Action( I Believe In Love)" fuses its trickle down keyboard notes over sumptuous dance floor rhythms. "Open Your Heart" while a glorious exhortation for communication within relationships is also the most complex track on the album , both structurally and vocally. "Darkness" written mainly by Philip Adrian Wright showcases a more vulnerable side to the band while "Do Or Die" reveals true versatility with its curious African/ reggae drum patterns."Don,t You Want Me" while cleverly at odds with the rest of the album, most notably for its male/female counterpoint vocal suffers somewhat nowadays from 0ver-familiarity thuogh it,s a fiendishly accomplished pop song by any standards.
Dare is not only one of the best British pop albums ever ,as well as one of the outstanding albums of the wrongly maligned eighties but is also an album that has stood the advancement of the years and technology. As i mentioned at the reviews start it also brings a nostaligic glow that very few albums can match. After the welcome fury and spite of punk the gossamer surfaces and melodic verve of bands like The Human League , made it despite the socio-political climate, a wonderful time to be young and alive. Every song on this album still brings that back and my only regret is that it was a tiny bit wasted on the rather grey young man that was misery me. I , of course, know better now.