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(Credit: Virgin A&M)

Music

40 years of ‘Dare!’ The Human League’s pop masterpiece

@TomTaylorFO

When I first saw The Human League at a festival some ten years ago, there wasn’t what you’d necessarily call a generational divide between the band and the audience, more so a gaping chasm measurable in palaeolithic ages. No 1980s revival had occurred by this point, nor had the glossy charisma of shows like Stranger Things coloured the era with an odd facsimile of faux nostalgia for the youth of today. 

However, streaming services were well underway, and The Human League were aware that ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ was the classic hit that the young audience had quickly acquainted themselves with. Thus, forever the crowd-pleasers, the band decided to forgo the pretentious B-side riddled setlist route and ploughed through their biggest track on two and half glorious occasions.

Such an amiable move might not have secured a new legion of juvenile fans for the band, but it certainly extolled a solid dose of joy and established the statement that The Human League were here to please. This is a mantra that they have upheld throughout their career, and why not?

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In 1981, when Dare was released, the wave of punk had just started to wane. When it first exploded onto British shores in February 1976 after a piece in the NME written by Neil Spencer sported the headline: Don’t look over your shoulder, but the Sex Pistols are coming – it had been an apt reflection of a dilapidated society. Five years later and the rot of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain had set in. With this came an acquiescence to a dower fate and odd apathetic stability.

Amid this malaise was a downtrodden Phil Oakey who had just witnessed half of his band wander off to form Heaven 17. Rather than despair, he waltzed off to his local Sheffield nightclub and upon this fateful jaunt, he discovered a new direction. That night he literally met Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley in a cocktail bar and the rest, as they say, is ancient history. 

The ensuing album shunned the gloomy atmospheric tones of electronic music that seemed to mimic the doom of the era, and instead, they offered up a new wave of alternative salvation. This switch, however, was not done mindlessly, Dare still harnesses darkened spaces with tracks like, ahem, ‘Darkness’ and the brooding dystopia of ‘I Am the Law’. 

However, amid the rubble was simple pieces of glossy exultation that picked up the ghost of punk, shook it out, turned it around and made it into something new. If it was kitsch and soppy for some, then so be it, because, after all, The Human League were only aiming to please.

A wave of imitation mush might have followed from lesser acts, but Dare still proves to be a very promising ground zero for British new wave, with the sort of hits that the youth can still engage with even today. They couple new production methods with simple song structures and harmonious melodies paving to way to a poppy future.