When they dropped the brilliant, decade-defining pop slab Dare, way back in 1981, David Bowie praised The Human League as the “sound of the future.” Let’s fast-forward 30 years: It’s 2011, and the future has long since caught up with Phil Oakey and his merry crew of synth-poppers. Three decades’ worth of imitators have co-opted their formula and, in many cases, even developed it further. What was once the sound of the future now sounds very dated, frozen in an age that some readers have only experienced through VH1 Classic video marathons. Luckily for The Human League, we’re currently entrenched in an era of music where every other indie act is doing their damnedest to sound like a vintage 80’s recording.
How does Credo, the band’s first album in a decade, stand up to a generation of musicians who have retooled the band’s once-futuristic style and regurgitated it as retro kitsch? The Human League have done little to update their recipe since ’81. We’re still primarily listening to male and female vocals soulfully traded over cold synths and digital drumbeats. “Sky” ascends with a soaring, ethereal chorus from band mainstays Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley, and the arena-ready hook in “Egomaniac” would have made this song a hit in the band’s prime, Oakey’s mechanical singing taking on a noticeably more sinister edge. In “Never Let Me Go”, even the most heavily filtered vocals and manufactured beats manage to somehow sound natural, without a hint of posturing. Songs like these will make you feel like you’re listening to a vintage (albeit middle-of-the-road) album from one of the New Romantic era’s original powerhouses. Unfortunately, tracks like “Night People” and “Privilege” are missteps, testaments that no amount of fashionable studio gloss can hide a string of subpar lyrics.
Credo falls well short of the sublime Dare, but that’s a disgustingly unfair comparison to force on any album. A band can only re-chart the course of popular music so many times in a career. You won’t find a “Don’t You Want Me” on this disc, but you will find a band that’s aged a lot better than many of their contemporaries, as well as a few tracks that will stand up well alongside those of their modern-day followers.
Essential Tracks: “Egomaniac”, “Sky”, and “Never Let Me Go”