Cooking Vinyl, 2008
For those unaware, Heaven 17 existed on the periphery of the pioneering electronic new wave scene. They didn’t have the pop flair of the Human League or the sequined glitz of ABC. Releasing a handful of albums sporadically throughout the 80s they never had the repeated chart success of their peers. Now as the 80s has become the decade that refuses to go away, they’re back with a live album recorded in front of someone else’s audience (Erasure, no less!) in 1999.
Band members Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware formed Heaven 17 after being reckless enough to leave the Human League before things supernova-ed for them. Phil Oakey, obviously missed the presence of Marsh and Ware, replacing they with a couple of birds he picked up on the dance floor in a local Sheffield hotspot. I can imagine the guffaws in the Heaven 17 band room when the news went round, but who had the last laugh, huh?
Reading through the long list of hits in the Heaven 17 canon isn’t very time consuming, though this unfortunately doesn’t make the live album any shorter. The left-wing disco stomp “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” still suffering from bad sloganeering and atrocious lyrics kicks off the show. The rest of the set (80’s new wave recreated as bland euro disco) is perfect fodder for an Erasure audience. Their greatest hit, “Temptation” is the only redeeming moment here, and reinforces the belief that every band has at least one good song in them. As a point of “hey, we knew them before they were famous” Heaven 17 pay tribute to their ex-colleagues by covering the Human League’s “Being Boiled”. But does it sound good? Does it matter? The only blessed situation here is that being a live album as a support band, this CD is reasonably short and you’ll probably never have to listen to it again. 11 tracks, 55 minutes. Thank you very much Glasgow, good night.
It’s probably not entirely all Heaven 17’s fault. Live albums are at best stop-gaps that find release too little too late. In Heaven 17’s case, they’re on tour soon and they probably needed something new on the shelves to keep the fans interested, and an enticement to see them, this is truly not. It’d be interesting to keep tabs on just how many of these coasters become landfill as a warning in these cash-strapped, credit-crunch times for indie labels to think twice before throwing money out the window. Why not give it to charity? Spend it on the office Christmas party? Surely someone at Cooking Vinyl asked the pertinent question “Do we really need to put out a Heaven 17 live album that was recorded two decades after they were any good?”. If so, give that person a raise and give me their job!