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Bigger Than America

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Album Review

By 1983's The Luxury Gap album, Heaven 17 seemed to have taken a holiday, and their only further releases by the early '90s were two Greatest Hits albums (one in Europe and one in America). Martyn Ware spent his time producing other acts like Erasure and their I Say I Say I Say album. But in 1998, ten years after Heaven 17's last "studio" album, and Ian Craig Marsh, Ware, and Glenn Gregory came back larger than life with Bigger Than America. The album contains a collage of sounds ranging from their early Human League days to the latest cutting-edge '90s electronica. Unlike so many other synth pop acts, Heaven 17 doesn't rely on the barrage of beats and orchestra hits to conceal poor lyrical content. Glenn Gregory is a sensational vocalist, and together with Marsh and Ware has written intelligent lyrics that take center stage in the songs. "Do I Believe" and "Maybe Forever" are the best examples with their percussionless, minimalistic instrumentation taking a backseat to Gregory's voice. These songs have a simple, vintage feel, like Yaz's "Ode to Boy" using only a few synth sounds to carry them through. Heaven 17 fans will recognize their trademark sound on Bigger Than America. Traces of their classic songs like "Temptation," "Let Me Go," and "Come Live with Me" prevail on the new album. In fact, many of the sounds even seem to go back as far as the Human League's "Circus of Death" and "Being Boiled." This does not mean the album is retro; it just draws some of its elements from their history. The single "Designing Heaven" is as contemporary as anything Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys, or the Human League have done recently. Another carry-over is the underlying theme of technology in many of their lyrics that mirror older songs like "Crushed by the Wheels of Industry." As a whole, the album is well-constructed synth pop, and Heaven 17 has made a great comeback with Bigger Than America. Recommended listening for all those who enjoy Heaven 17 or early Human League.


Formed: October, 1980 in London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '80s, '00s, '10s

Taking their name from the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange, the U.K. techno-pop trio Heaven 17 grew out of the experimental dance project the British Electric Foundation, itself an offshoot of the electro-pop outfit Human League. The core of Heaven 17 was originally comprised of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, a pair of onetime computer operators who first teamed in 1977 as the Dead Daughters, a duo that integrated synthesizer patterns with a heavy reliance on tape loops. Soon, Ware and...
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Bigger Than America, Heaven 17
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