'Secrets' is also an album by the Human League
, released in August 2001. Here is the review I wrote for 'Motion
', a website that reviews albums.
It was inevitable that the Human League would release a record called 'Secrets'. The name fits the knowingly tacky brand of cheap glamour that the band have peddled for the last two decades. Less inevitable was the possibility that 'Secrets' would be any good, especially given that their last two albums - 'Romantic?' and 'Octopus' - contained one good single apiece and lots of filler, and the album before that wasn't even written by them. Surprisingly, then, 'Secrets' is at least as good as their second-best album, 'Hysteria'.
Almost a quarter of a century since 'Being Boiled', Phil Oakey appears to be transforming into a chunkier version of Gary Numan, minus the hair transplants - he has it cut short, instead - whilst the permanent, thick coating of make-up worn by relative newcomers Joanne and Susan mean that they do not appear to have visibly aged since 1981. Odd, then, to discover that Susan Sulley is now Susan Anne Gayle. The music has regained some of the analogue electronics that featured heavily on their first two albums - back when they were Sheffield's answer to DAF, when the group had a projectionist - but there are no obvious concessions to any modern trend or style. The Human League produce their own brand of perfect pop, never letting a passing fad get in the way of a catchy tune or dreadful rhyme. Given that the pop world seems to be going through a cycle of manufactured groups, the deliberately calculated nature of the League's art works equally well as sincere entertainment, and satire. Having said that, there are definite echoes of Dubstar, although given that Dubstar clearly modelled themselves on the League in the first place, that's forgivable.
The old tricks are still there - the girls sing the choruses as if bored, whilst Phil deadpans short phrases over the top in a prototypical rap style which dates all the way back to 'Love Action' from 1981. Like a less rocky, deliberately shallow version of New Order, the League have always skirted a thin line between slickness and shambolism - the cold precision of the production dwarfs the limited vocal and lyrical talents of the people, but the League have charm on their side, and it's easy to forgive their flaws. Their vocals aren't tuneless, they're unconventional, whilst their lyrics - such as the future classic 'You're like the woman out of 'Species', I think I'm going to go to pieces', from 'Love me Madly' - aren't childish, they're child-like.
In between some of the songs are short instrumentals which pass inoffensively without ever developing into anything substantial, but the meat of the album lies in the songs. Lead single 'All I Ever Wanted' starts off in a minor key, before bursting into a shamelessly, brilliantly simple chorus, whilst 'Shameless', 'You'll be Sorry', and 'Reflections' are as good as anything the group have produced since 'Dare'. The verses from 'Nervous' sound uncomfortably similar to those of 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' by the Clash (!), whilst 'The Snake' appears to be a curious cross between the Beatles' 'Magical Mystery Tour' and St Etienne's 'Join our Club'. Not that that's a bad thing, of course.
The only real dog is 'Sin City', a portrait of urban blight, presumably inspired by Frank Miller's famous graphic novels. Rather like 'The Lebanon', it attempts to tackle a big subject sincerely, and fails miserably - the opening lines are "Where did it go wrong? / What happened here? / In a town without pity / Paralysed by our fear", and Public Enemy have nothing to fear (especially given that the chorus is "Sin City aah" repeated eight times).
In summary then, the League are back with an album of pop music as artificial and processed as anything by Steps, but one which it's possible to like without hiding behind irony - it will barely trouble the charts, and they'll never produce a 'Geatest Hits- Volume 2', but the world would be worse off if they were not in it.
Where's John Foxx nowadays?