Subject: REVIEW: Heaven 17 - The Best of Heaven 17

Date: Fri, 15 Jan 93 10:30:19 PST
From: (Derek Langsford)

REVIEW HEAVEN 17 - The Best of Heaven 17 VIVPD 118 (UK)

title / time album / time on original album
1. (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang 4.20 4.18 P&P
2. I'm Your Money 5.07
3. Height of the Fighting (He-La-Hu) 2.57 3.00 P&P
4. Play to Win 3.25 3.35 P&P
5. Penthouse and Pavement 4.04 6.22 P&P
6. Let Me Go 4.16 4.18 TLG
7. Trouble 4.02 4.14 PO
8. Come Live With Me 3.37 4.02 TLG
9. Crushed By the Wheels of Industry 3.44 5.53 TLG
10. Sunset Now 3.42 3.35 HMA
11. Flame Down 3.15 3.00 HMA
12. This is Mine 3.23 3.50 HMA
13. Foolish Thing to Do 3.40 3.36 TBDP
14. Contenders 4.29 5.24 PO
15. And That's No Lie 3.27 10.02 HMA
16 Temptation 4.39 3.32 TLG
Total 62.19

album key: P&P = Penthouse and Pavement (1981), TLG = The Luxury Gap (1982), HMA = How Men Are (1984), PO = Pleasure One (1986) ,TBDP = Teddy Bear, Duke and Psycho (1988)

Heaven 17 are one of those bands for which many people have fond memories. They brought to the music scene an intelligent alternative to the image-driven new romantic genre and made danceable music that one would not be embarrassed to admit to liking.

The band, Ian Marsh and Martyn Ware on synths and vocalist Glenn Gregory, were born out of the split in the pre-Dare Human League. They put out 3 albums of top-notch music in the early '80s before succumbing to a rather sudden loss of vitality and inventiveness that led to the band's death in 1988(?).

This is the first comprehensive compilation of their singles output that has been available. And, as with their first three album CDs there is no US release. Although being a UK release, it should be available at a very reasonable price. In the UK it sells for around L7 and I picked up my copy in San Diego for $14.

Despite all but one of these songs being present on the albums, many of the versions here are different and thus making a first appearance on CD. Most of the differences consist of reworked intros and shortening of the longer album tracks. To the listener familiar with the albums these versions may seem frustrating but considering the restraints of the singles market the alterations make sense.

The CD kicks off with the now classic "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thing". The song is automatically dated by the lines:

Democrats are out of power, cross that big wide ocean. Reagan's president-elect, fascist god in motion.

All sung to a fast-paced yet sparse arrangement. Also from their first album are "Height of the Fighting", "Play to Win" and "Penthouse and Pavement". HotF has brass injected into the backing, PtW has a different intro plus what may be tom toms in the mix, P&P is considerably shortened with an abbreviated intro. All the tracks from P&P are somewhat thin, like pre-Dare Human League but the songs are still worthwhile. Unofficial band member Carol Kenyon does a good job of filling out the songs with her backing vocals without going overboard like the backing vox on many of Gary Numan's recent releases.

New to full length CD is "I'm Your Money", previously available only on CD3. A splendid track too although it is difficult to tell whether some of the percussive synth is as it should be, or, is in fact distorted.

From their biggest album "The Luxury Gap" we have the nightclub hit "Let Me Go", "Come Live with Me" a song about love between an older man and younger woman, "Crushed by the Wheels Of Industry" and their biggest ever hit "Temptation". This album is to H17 as Dare was to Human League. The sound is rich and satisfying. CLwM has a slightly different intro, CBtWoI is drastically shortened, has a different intro and seems rather thin compared to the more powerful album version. Temptation is presented here in its 12" form, as is found on the 1986 extended mixes collection "Endless". This song in a remixed form reached number 4 in the UK chart in Dec 1992.

Their third album "How Men Are" yielded 4 singles. "Sunset Now", "Flame Down", "This is Mine" and "And That's No Lie". ATNL has been clobbered to bring it down to singlehood leaving out the drawn out ending and curtailing just about every other aspect of it. Comes across as a rather wanting. SN and FD are not notably different despite the times being slightly off from the album versions. TiM is appreciably shorter but it's not too easy to spot the edits. It was of course impossible to meet expectations after The Luxury Gap but this was a good stab though some doubts started to arise about Heaven's 17's staying power.

Unfortunately those doubts were about to be confirmed, and not just slightly. There was quite a break between album 3 and 4. High expectations were trashed by the insipid and uninspired "Pleasure One". This was released on CD in the USA albeit with a different cover. A shame really as their earlier albums are infinitely better than this. This was clearly the beginning of the end. "Trouble" and "Contenders" are about as good as it gets, the rest is just plain boring.

As if to recognise the downhill trend only one track from their last effort is here. "Foolish Thing to Do" comes from the extremely mixed "Teddy Bear, Duke and Psycho". The version here has a guest lead vocalist (the cowriter? a Mr Plytas?) which makes it sound even less than a H17 track. Sounds like a lounge number. It was clear this was the end of Heaven 17.

To sum up, this compilation would act as a good intro to H17 for the uninitiated. And at the price it should be sold for is a very good starting point. From here I would recommend the first three albums and the "Endless" compilation. Don't bother with the last two albums. You might have a hard time finding them on CD now as both have been deleted. For the fan it is still worth getting in order to have these single versions on CD. A fitting epitaph to one of the early 80's most influential bands.

Derek H. Langsford Dept. of Biology San Diego State University

P.S. Rumours of a remix album have been around for a while and still might happen after the recent success of the "Temptation" remix.