The Human League are one of the essential acts in the new wave and synth pop genres and this record, 1981’s ‘Dare’, was the record that was most responsible for their placement in the higher ranks. In the years that would lead up to this landmark release, the Human League were making some noise throughout the music industry, but it was very soft noise compared to what this record would go on to show for. This record would showcase what the group could accomplish within the ranks of a more conventional, accessible pop format. The group’s previous records weren’t as willing to capture the synth pop sound in a commercial light, lending themselves more to various underground scenes.
The opening track on the record is “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of”, which sets the course of the record effortlessly on its unchanging trajectory. Right off the bat, the Human League are presenting the scope of their vision for this record and it’s clear that they showed up ready to take commercial success with them. Few synth pop records from this era were quite as willing to reach for those commercial goals as this one was, but saying this is in no way a knock on the record. It’s clear that the group knew exactly the strings they needed to pull to make this record a multi-faceted success; a record of commercial and artistic implications of the highest achievements available to such a musical context. At least part of the reason for this is the time period in which the record was released. It was simply the right record at the right time. It was destined to be successful. One of the highlights of the record is “The Sound of the Crowd”, painting a canvass full of ebullient images of urban nightlife that will undoubtedly leave an impression on the mind. This track is followed by what is unquestionably the record’s greatest moment, “Darkness”. This track proves that the group had a bit more flexibility in terms of subject matter than your average pop group. This is also one of the creepiest songs of the ’80s, probably of any decade, for that matter. It isn’t until the very last song of the record, “Don’t You Want Me”, that the record showcases its more shameless grabs at blatantly obvious commercial success. This is less of a criticism, however, and more of a statement about a necessary tactic for ’80s radio airplay.
This record, much like a handful of other distinct ’80s pop releases, has been tainted by the years that have gone by since its release. Yes, this record sounds dated. Synth pop is, after all, an absolute product of its time. However, when you can judge this record on its own terms, you begin to realize that this is a great record. In terms of consistency of quality, this record is has a great deal of success. If you’re an absolutely unapologetic fan of this kind of work (Yes, this is a confession.), then you should have absolutely no problems whatsoever coming to the inevitable conclusion that this is an essential piece of music and a record that, time would go on to vindicate, played a highly important role as ambassador for the new wave movement that would go on to expand throughout the rest of the decade. There is truly no shame in waving the flag for this incredibly potent record. The only shame here is the mere fact that the pop music scene seems to have a much more difficult time pumping out enjoyable, quality material today than it did in 1981.