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July 19, 2006

"And where there used to be some shops..."

With Israel's Army Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz threatening to "turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years", I couldn't help the other day turning the clock back 20+ years and re-listening to The Human League's bitterly disappointing follow-up to 'Dare', 1984's "Hysteria", complete with appropriately named opening single "The Lebanon".

After the huge success of "Dare" (featuring such poptastic hits as "Don't You Want Me", "Love Action(I Believe In Love)", "The Sound Of The Crowd" and "Open Your Heart") the Human League released another two classic 80s hit singles - "Mirror Man" and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" - and then followed with the shocker that is "Hysteria".

I remember reading an interview with Phil Oakey who claimed it wasn't a bad album but that the timing was just all wrong - they'd gone for a really sparse under-produced sound just as the rest of the world decided it was going to get into the over-blown pomp of Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

But that's no excuse. "Louise" must have one of the worst spoken word passages in any sound recording in history. "The Sign" is twee beyond belief. The nadir is a cover version of the Lyn Collins tune "Rock Me Again And Again And Again And Again And Again And Again (Six Times)" which is pitifully executed, and compares extraordinarily unfavourably with the great cover versions the earlier incarnation of The Human League used to turn out ("You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and "Rock'n'Roll/Nightclubbing")

About the only tracks to bear any scrutiny whatsoever are the opening pair "I'm Coming Back" and "I Love You Too Much", "Betrayed" and subsequent second single "Life On Your Own".

I used to have a bootleg cassette of the album when I was a kid, and it does still have a certain nostalgia value - recalling listening to it whilst playing games on my trusty ZX Spectrum - then having to interrupt the album to load a new game from my one portable cassette recorder.

It was also interesting to note again that at the time I found the idea of the protagonist of "Life On Your Own" just chucking it all in and moving away somewhere rather a romantic notion - perhaps the song unwittingly contributed to me being in Hania. Although, to be honest, the lyrics actually suggest Phil has moved to Norway or Iceland somewhere to escape his finacé, so maybe the comparison isn't that valid.

Still, despite perhaps some of the most awkward rhyming couplets in the history of the English language, I still have a soft spot for "The Lebanon", a record I actually purchased on 7" single.

Before he leaves the camp he stops,
He scans the world outside.
And where there used to be some shops,
Is where the snipers sometimes hide.
He left his home the week before.
He thought he'd be like the police.
But now he finds he is at war.
Weren't we supposed to keep the peace?

The biggest question of course, is how come this album ended up amongst the 10,640 songs on my iPod, when loads of really cool stuff that I've wanted to listen to for ages (like anything by Board of Canada, or the first two Strokes albums) is inexplicably missing. I'm going to be back in the UK shortly, and very high on my list of (probably incorrect) priorities is getting my PC set-up and my iPod docked to it for the first time for 8 months, to sort anomolies like this out!

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In a remarkable display of synchronicity, I was also listening to this album a few days ago for the first time for many years. And probably for very similar reasons to you.

I don't dislike it as much as you do though. In fact it was all rather pleasantly nostalgic. I have 7" singles of all three singles from the album (but, bizarrely, none from "Dare") and even over twenty years later "Louise" still strikes a chord with me.

But I agree that "The Lebanon" is the stand-out track. And the one that drew me back to the album.

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