AS FAR as Sheffield music goes, this month is a bit like a lunar eclipse (albeit, less impressive).
Two of the most important players in the city’s pop universe have released records at the same time. The Human League has released its much anticipated Credo, their first album in ten years and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner celebrates the release of the critically-acclaimed Brit flick Submarine, for which the I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor star penned the soundtrack.
But their orbits are very different. Alex Turner is on the rise, evolving as an artist to accommodate new sounds and new demands whereas the Human League is, in many ways, running to stand still.
Credo is a slick affair, an eleven-track synth pop album produced by Sheffield’s avant garde electro group I Monster. It is every inch the Human League - single track Night People is a sharp, edgy dance number – an anthem for club-goers, as it says on the tin. But it’s difficult to tell whether this is progressive or static – even regressive.
As far as influence goes, however, The Human League absolutely has its finger on the pulse, with artists such as La Roux and even Lady Gaga citing them as an inspiration.
In late seventies and early eighties Sheffield, when home-made synth pop was – truly – avant garde and when bands - with the exception of Abba and Fleetwood Mac - rarely featured men and women, The Human League was an original, almost futuristic response to a faded rock legacy. HL didn’t need instruments, their female cohort were sixth formers plucked from a nightclub and invited to join because of their dancing. Hell, Phil Oakey himself couldn’t even play any instruments. But they didn’t need to. HL’s technophiliac aesthetic was, in a pre-mass marketing, pre X Factor, pre Gaga world, creative genius. And matched with songwriting smashes such as Don’t You Want Me Baby, the sky was the limit.
But the question is whether the pioneering synth poppers can continue to create lasting, progressive music when the rest of the music world has caught up with them.
Credo, released in a post X Factor, post Gaga world, answers this question in a lukewarm, static manner.
And then, colliding with Credo, is Turner’s Submarine soundtrack, written for pal, director and IT Crowd comedian Richard Ayoade.
Ayoade asked Turner to write five songs for the film – which is based on Joe Dunthorne’s comic novel about a 15 year-old Welsh boy – in 2009, but didn’t expect the Arctic Monkey to agree. “It’s a bit like asking someone to help you move house. Does he really need to be writing more songs now?” said Ayoade in a recent interview.
But he agreed. And the result is a collection of songs which often work in contrast to the story line. Turner wrote the tracks at his New York home, which he shares with model TV presenter Alexa Chung. “I wasn’t sitting there with picture trying to match them,” said Turner.
The demands of a film soundtrack have, once again, drawn out another facet of Turner’s songwriting talent. In 2008 he collaborated with Miles Kane for the lush sixties pop duo Last Shadow Puppets and in 2009 the Arctic Monkeys revealed a darker, grungier, rockier side. Turner may well be one of Britain’s most mercurial, progressive artists of the last decade. His orbit is moving, quickly. And thus this brief eclipse, of two reputable Sheffield acts, will be short lived. The only question is the direction in which each is heading.