By: Eric G.
Unsurprisingly, 80's junkie, multi-instrumentalist, and Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt ran with the idea of a Human League tribute, appearing no less than three times under his various guises. You know tributes have gotten out of hand when bands whose contribution to the musical lexicon is a mere three hits are being celebrated (hell, Gary Numan only had one hit over here and he has two tributes). The thing is Reproductions makes a good case for The Human League- as strange as that may seem. The Human League's innovation and cultural impact may have been underestimated because most of these songs are classic examples of the mass appeal of electronic pop music.
The Aluminum Group tackles one of the many non-hits on Reproductions but injects enough panache to make it sound like a song you should know. Seeing as how Barcelona already possesses a blatant affinity for all things 80's, it easily slips into character for a reverent version "Mirror Man." Fusing some of its geeky indie pop with retro-vocal effects and obligatory synthesizers, the band trades some of the song's original bombast for its own brand of indie pop earnestness. "Don't You Want Me?" is interesting because Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson of the Future Bible Heroes sing the opposite parts that the guy and girl did in the original. Otherwise, it's fairly tame.
I saw The Human League open for Culture Club a few years ago on one of those eighties reunion tours, and I remember being taken aback by how pretentious and serious the band was. The entire stage was white, including the monitors, amps, and microphones. I figured either the band realized the kitsch factor was inextricably bound to the setting and decided to ignore the reality of the situation or was just embarrassingly out of touch. I'll assume it was the former, but either way it was highly entertaining to see a band as hokey as The Human League present itself as though it were Kraftwerk. It is unfair, though, that The Human League gets lumped into that whole early-80's, androgynous, new romantic movement that seems so dated and cheesy now because the music is just harmless, danceable pop, which is something that should never go out of style.
Baxendale boldly turns "Keep Feeling (Fascination)" into its own blend of light acoustics and electronic pop, complete with faux-strings and silly sound effects. The chorus is so infectious to begin with that it's hard to mess up, but I must give credit to Baxendale because the original harmonies are tough to compete with. Even more daring is the Pet Shop Boys-style spoken word/rap thrown in at the end. Sure, it's slightly pompous, but it seems to work within the context of the song. "The Sound of The Crowd" is yet another unknown Human League song that should have been a hit. Superheroes drench the song in lightweight electro-pop nostalgia, sounding like a friendly Depeche Mode.
Momus adds his eccentric touch to Philip Oakey's strangely despondent "I Am The Law." Instead of mimicking the Roland keyboards on the original, Momus opts for nagging strings and winds and presents the songs as a dark, campfire chant. Clicks featuring Sally Timms of the Mekons tackles one of The Human League's best, "Seconds." The interpretation is very loyal to the original as Dave Trumfio sounds as if he's imitating Oakey's dramatic baritone. Holland turns "The Lebanon" into an all-electronic pop force, sadly ignoring the original's uncharacteristically raucous guitar riff while Garlands avoids electronics altogether for an indie rock version of "Being Boiled."
No grand statements or predetermined agendas spoil Reproductions. Like The Human League itself, Reproductions is harmless pop fun. It's more of an excuse to dabble in eighties nostalgia than it is an actual tribute to The Human League, but it does inadvertently serve as a pretty convincing argument for buying The Human League's Greatest Hits at the very least, if not a few of its albums.