The biggest album in Human League history almost did not happen – or that’s how rumor had it. After the dismal sales of 1984s Hysteria and the slow progress on a follow-up, the band’s record company insisted that they take up the invitation of a new production team in America. I wonder if the members of the Human League had their doubts, as they boarded a plane and flew to Minneapolis in the dead of winter to work with two Negros who knew their away the funk.
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had made a name for themselves with The S.O.S. Band, Cherelle and Janet Jackson. Before that they had a legendary stint with The Time. After hearing The Human League’s US hit “Don’t You Want Me”, the duo became interested in the Sheffield band. Initially the recording sessions went well, but eventually The Human Leagues lead singer and writer Phillip Oakley began to butt heads with Jam and Lewis. It seemed the studio was not big enough for the trio as both Oakely and his Minneapolis hosts were accustom to total control in the studio.
The Human League left before the mastering was complete. Rumors suggested that they stormed out, but in reality, they had completed the four songs they wrote and left Jam and Lewis and a few session musicians to master the 6 they wrote. Not only were the recording sessions laced with tensions, but the photo shoot for the album cover was scrapped due to a French fashion photographer’s contrasting vision and insistence on focusing a bit too close on the bands two female singers, Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall. Those pictures were said to have been saucy to put it mildly.
The last-minute substitute photo featured the band just out of focus as to suggest that the whole recording session was just a bad dream. Upon returning to England it was said that the band all but disowned Crash, but after hearing it on the radio everywhere, I doubt that could have been true. The band was surprised that they had a hit on their hands. “Human”, the first single went to #1 in the US and was a top 10 hit in England. Other singles failed to chart in any significant way, but the damage was done and the band came to embrace Crash as the album that put their careers back on track.
Musically, Crash has the signature Jam and Lewis sound that could have been easily interchanged with The S.O.S. Band or Alexander O’Neal. Somehow the robot- like monotone sound of Phillip Oakey’s voice worked perfectly with the slick R&B production style. The four or so tracks produced by Jam and Lewis are recognizable standouts, but the Human League pinned songs were not without merit. Today the band concedes that Crash was not ideal project under the circumstances, but in the end it kept The Human League together and gave them the steam to blow through the 90s.