Heaven 17 - Penthouse and Pavement
You can spot neon traces of the source material all over Heaven 17's 1981 debut. When Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware split from The Human League, recruiting Glenn Gregory on vocals, they took with them much of the League's steely electro soul. Penthouse and Pavement, the best part of three decades on, still sounds like you'd expect. The overly fondly-remembered 80s were jam-packed with danceable synth pop but Heaven 17 tempered their beats with a politicised edge that remains sharp to this day. If the album title doesn't sell it, it's biggest hit, (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thing', removes any ambiguity. Incredible to note that such a well known pop song didn't even make the top 40 when released, not helped, of course, by being shunned by the mini-Thatcherites at Radio 1 (Morning, Mike Read !)
Penthouse and Pavement models the slickest electro grooves with the emphasis on the clinical, the serious, the robotic. The overall effect is one of a starched, computerised landscape in which men in smart suits and decent haircuts rail against the modern world. All good. The likes of 'Play to Win' and 'The Height of the Fighting' are as good an indicator of what was happening just left of, say, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club as any act of the period. I can hear traces of Landscape, early Ultravox and, in Gregory's artfully declaimed tenor, echoes of the melodramatic delivery in favour at the time (Billy Mackenzie, Neil Arthur of Blancmange - also recently reformed.) On the odd track here and there, a clipped riff offers up more a touch more funk and warmth but it's largely a cerebral affair. For fans, the addition of a second disc crammed with alternate version as well as rarities ('Heavy Drum Experiment', anyone?) and a 'Making Of' DVD, makes reinvestigation a no-brainer.