Pet Sounds: Hysteria

The Human League's eagerly anticipated follow-up to its hit album Dare proves to be controversial.

The Human League.
Storm clouds gather over The Human League.

Hysteria

The Human League

1984

Virgin Records



A major disappointment at the time; shocking, despairing and an argument inducing let-down of galactic proportions. On release, to many of The Human League's fans, Hysteria was just terrible - upsettingly weak and over-blown, and a smack in the face for the critics and music lovers who had loyally waved the band's banner so energetically before the release of this horrid, horrid album.


Nothing would be the same again.


The earth would stop spinning.


The heavens might fall.


It was that bad. At the time.


Today Hysteria sounds actually quite jolly and bouncy.


But that’s pop for you.


Though to be fair, there was a reason (or two) for the somewhat hysterical reaction to Hysteria: Dare was simply too good to be true (today, as always) and a real shock to all those continuing (in 1982, when Dare was released) to look on New Wave with something resembling disdain.


Dare was clever, cunning, brighter than white, artfully constructed, lovingly delivered and packed full of goodness. It was speed-your-heart-up wonderful and the parent to a line of fine chart singles chart, culminating in the Christmas stonker Don’t You Want Me.


Bliss to be alive, with a pair of ears, and all that.


Hysteria had The Lebanon, a sort of (at the time) annoying drone of a song about a country and a political disaster that for many people was confusing, upsetting and/or boring.


Thanks for that.


The album itself, on original release, comprised a neat ten tracks, from the promising I’m Coming Back (oh, the album's just like Dare, hurrah!), to the frankly ridiculous Rock me again and again and again and again and again and again (Six Times), to the lugubrious pantomime doll that is The Sign and the final, the fatuous snigger that is Don’t You Know I Want You.


In between there is blatant filler (Betrayed, So Hurt), overblown pseudo-political noodling (the not quite as bad as it seemed at the time) The Lebanon, and something very sweet and almost out of place here (Louise).


Back in 1984, it seemed not so much an album, more a musical cry for help with heavy, repetitive production - a real treat for the fans, there.


The effect of the angry booing that greeted Hysteria was to send The Human League away on a bit of a sulk from which the band never really recovered its confidence (a situation not helped by the fact that they only had themselves to blame, controlling the writing, arrangement and production Hysteria without the assistance of Dare genius-behind-the-scenes, Martin Rushent - delegated on Hysteria to messing about with some of the drum programmes).


Today, Hysteria is nowhere near as bad as it seemed at the time. It’s a little wandering about all over the place, sure, and rather too smooth for its own good, but it’s not the end of the world it seemed all those years ago. In fact, time has mellowed what seemed in 1984 to be the album's apparently barren, antiseptic sound; Joanne and Susanne sound as cuddlesome as ever and, with a little critical distance, The Lebanon today has an edge and the energy it seemed to lack on first release.


The difficulty only comes if you compare Hysteria to Dare.


In which case it is a major disappointment.


So, let's not do that, and instead, appraise Hysteria on its own merits.


In which case it's something of a charmer.

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