by: The Human League

The Human League followed Dare! with more success, at least when it came to singles. The Motown-inspired "Mirror Man" and the frivolous (in a borderline-genius way) "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" maintained the group's momentum. When recording commenced for the full-length successor to Dare!, however, things got ugly. Martin Rushent, the producer who either receives all or no credit for the Human League's mainstream breakthrough, left the sessions. The slate was wiped clean, but the process was halted once more when another producer, Chris Thomas (Roxy Music, Sex Pistols), also split. Full of indecision and doubt, the group took forever to finish Hysteria. (Two and a half years in the '80s were, in fact, equal to forever, and U.S. label A&M intervened with the Fascination! EP, which contained the post-Dare! singles that did not appear on this album.) Hysteria is mediocre and easily the least of the group's albums to that point. Conscious not to repeat themselves and unable to do it without sacrificing their personality, most of the changes sound forced and fussily mulled over. It was one thing to get political and introduce some uncharacteristic guitar lines on "The Lebanon" (alienating your fanbase should always be encouraged, especially when it's done with a single that looks atrocious on paper but sounds fantastic), but "Rock Me Again" is the kind of thing the group once worked against, with Philip Oakey adopting an awkward, straining rock voice. The melodies are often flat, the arrangements are frequently bloodless. With only a couple exceptions, Hysteria sounds exactly like an album made under extreme post-platinum pressure. If you were to replace your pick of two tracks with "Mirror Man" and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" -- which really wouldn't sound any more out of place than "The Lebanon" -- you'd at least have something resembling the group's old standard. Fun fact: it was released three years before a very different Sheffield band's Hysteria. [Virgin's 2005 expanded edition, released in the U.S. via Caroline, features remastered sound and five bonus tracks: extended versions of "The Lebanon," "Life on Your Own," and "The Sign," as well as B-sides "Thirteen" and "The World Tonight."] ~ Andy Kellman

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