Release Date: Nov 18, 2016
Record label: Virgin EMI
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Dance-Rock, Post-Punk, New Wave
Even in its standard two-disc/30-track edition, A Very British Synthesizer Group is the Human League compilation with the widest scope. It starts with the group's earliest, late-'70s output as the boundary-pushing trio of Philip Oakey, Martyn Ware, and Ian Craig Marsh -- the latter two of whom bailed in 1980 to start B.E.F. and Heaven 17 -- and chronologically summarizes the longer-lasting Oakey/Joanne Catherall/Susan Sulley version through the early 2010s.
The world is hardly lacking in Human League compilations, but this is a goodie. The group started terrifically with the classic minimal wave single Being Boiled, and built up a head of steam with great pieces such as The Sound Of The Crowd (only starring here in club-friendly instrumental form) and Love Action. They reached a crescendo with all-time chart goliath Don’t You Want Me and then continued on with perfectly respectable and sometimes glorious material, showing much continuity, right up into recent times.
Although its contribution is dwarfed in stature by that of Manchester, Sheffield’s influence on British music - particularly of the machine made variety - shouldn’t be understated. Cabaret Voltaire, ABC, Autechre and the Warp label are all natives to the city who remain deeply influential, but The Human League (and by default Heaven 17 whose Martin Ware and Ian Craig Marsh founded both bands) are arguably the act at the top table of Steel City electronica. This extensive four disc collection (two crammed with hits, a third of early versions and demos, plus a DVD of videos and TV performances) lays down each of their phases explicitly.