The Human League: Octopus UK CD 
- Tell Me When
- These Are The Days
- One Man In My Heart
- Filling Up With Heaven
- Housefull Of Nothing
- John Cleese; Is He Funny?
- Never Again
- Cruel Young Lover
The Human League just seemed to lose their footing after hitting the top with “Dare!” in the 80s/90s. The slow-motion train wreck that was “Hysteria” was [far] surpassed by the nearly worthless “Romantic?” and honestly, I actually forgot “Crash” [an album I will never own] until I just started typing this sentence! Needless to say, the days of fervently buying each Human League release were long behind me when “Octopus” came out in early 1995. I paid it no mind until my friend Ty, a big League fan, actually sent me a copy with a sticky note on it saying only “prepare to be impressed.” Well okay then! It got a shot.
The lead off hit single returned the band [rightly] to the UK top 10 and the sound here was very contemporary but with taste. It was definitely post-house “electronic” music. What we were about to start referring to as “electronica” in the 90s but to my ears it sounded like the product of an early digital audio workstation environment. This sounds like music constructed from loops to me. To its credit, Ian Stanley [ex-Tears For Fears] took the lightest of touches with the paradigm. What I can’t fail to notice is how the music bed for this music seemed to be as clean and minimal as possible.
The “synths” burbled and popped rhythmically underneath it all in the most modest way possible. The arrangements of the accompaniment were spartan. Where the melody payload was carried on this album was in the vocals. And unlike my memories of “Hysteria” or “Romantic?” I was noticing that here was an instance where Susan and Joanne were almost at parity with Phil for carrying the vocal burdens. “The girls®” weren’t just adding scant bits of sonic icing. They were almost on equal footing with Phil in getting the songs across. Go back an listen to “Dare!” They were an occasional spice used in the mix. Here they were a big part of the main course. It also didn’t hurt that “Tell Me When” was a fantastic single. Light, clean, and airy, it really went places. Phil’s lyrics were relatively straightforward and the vocal harmonies were strong. It managed the not inconsiderable feat of being a strong song, sounding contemporary, and not descending into rave fodder. This was actual pop music, not dance porn.
The next song was almost as good; a great sign that maybe Ty was right. “These Are The Days” was an intriguing song attacking nostalgic views as retrograde. Quite an interesting and unique point of view for a song to have. And one which was valid at least until the 21st century. Now, I’m not so sure. The music bed began on the same light note as “Tell Me When” but allowed for some drama when orchestral samples brought a bit of heaviness to the song at the middle eight.
Suzanne Sulley got a rare turn at the spotlight for lead vocals on the single “One Man In My Heart” which was the second hit [UK #13] from the album. This one really hit the “electronic ABBA®” target full on as the winsome melodies supported the ode to monogamy. The ballad “Words” was the most minimal sounding thing here with a music bed that seemed to these ears like a throwback to The Human League’s [brilliant] cover of “You Lost That Loving Feeling” all the way back on their debut album from 1979. The modest, crystalline backing track here didn’t have the same contrast without Phil and Martyn going into the red with the vocals.
The third single didn’t do as well, but ”Filling Up With Heaven” had a fuller, rococo sound featuring lots of sonic filigree as opposed to the more minimal backing elsewhere. Then “Housefull Of Nothing” was a darker, embittered track that shook up the vibe and served to foreshadow the album’s last song. Phil really worked up a head of steam with the song, which seemed to be an invective against Thatcherism.
“John Cleese, Is He Funny?” was an instrumental that felt like a B-side that had wandered into the collection of songs. In fact, it was used as a B-side to the “Filling Up With Heaven” single. It felt a bit out of place with the production that depended on the vocals for melodic interest with the music being sleek and minimal. This felt like a throwback to “Romantic?” by contrast. The final song reached an intense peak to finish out the somewhat chilled program. “Cruel Young Lover” was all dark, brooding intensity and clipped, diamond sharp synth loops. The track topped out at almost seven minutes, but earned every one of them.
So I had to admit that Ty was right. This was a huge step forward for the often hapless Human League who had always struggled to follow up the “Dare!” phenomenon. I enjoyed this album then and it still works just fine for me. It’s a great modern [read: 25 year old] Human League album that really pulled the band’s fat out of the fire as they had been dropped from Virgin after the “Romantic?” album in 1990. Their newfound viability may have resulted in a gold album and two hit singles at home, but fate conspired to keep the band down anyway as new label East-West went through a big shakeup and they dropped all sorts of artists. Including The Human League who had done pretty well. Their next move would take six more years but that’s a tale for another day.
– 30 –
No, he isn’t (but the charms of Monty Python & its alumni are lost on me).
I remember at the time thinking that they were holding their own ok for an aging New Romantic outfit and thinking that if you took the best bits of this and Romantic you’d have a pretty solid EP.
I liked ”Filling Up With Heaven” quite a bit, thought it was a fine pop song. I test drove it on my friends and they were unanimously of the opinion that I shouldn’t try sharing that one with people.
Tim – I think there’s only one bit of “Romantic?” worth saving, the excellent “ Heart Like A Wheel,” courtesy of Eugene Reynolds and Jo Callis. I heard that and expected a good album! Phew! And to think that I still haven’t heard “Crash!” I thought that “Octopus” was a very consistent album. Their only one following “Dare!” that I could say that about.
So you’re not a “Python Guy” either? That makes two people I know under that umbrella. You should form a club with Mr. Ware.
I find myself immune to the charms of Dr. Who, too. I know, I know, I need to surrender my credentials of being a pop culture geek of a certain age.
Dannnnggggg……a write up of a sub Human League record captures more commentary than three posts about Stephen Duffy. smh.
Tim – I’m with you there on Dr. Who. I only saw it for the first time in my twenties when chasinvictoria was between ßeta VCRs and asked me to tape it for him for several months. I’m his friend, so… okay. But it’s totally not my cup of tea. We tried the “new” Dr. Who [with production values] and it’s still just a monster fest.
As for the radio silence on Stephen Duffy… sigh.
Not a bad album at all, especially compared to the dreck that preceded it. However, for my money, they came roaring back with a vengeance a few years later with Secrets. Sadly, due to label troubles, it sank without a trace, but damn what a good album.
jsd – I have “Secrets.” I like it but not as much as “Octopus.” Time to revisit. I still need “Credo,” but the second song they released from that was laden with auto-tune so they lost me there. You’re all too right about “the dreck that preceded it!” I didn’t think things could get worse than “Hysteria.” Was I ever wrong! And how many other Sheffield bands called an album that, while we’re at it.
And by the way, does anyone know why “Octopus?” It might make sense for an eighth album but not a band’s seventh!
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Romantic? Yes, a bit lame to put it mildly. Heart Like A Wheel and its b-side Rebound (featuring one of Sulley’s best vocals) for me. I actually quite like Crash but it should have been a Phil Oakey side project rather than the League. Some nice bits and bobs on there’s and better in retrospect than Romantic? These Are the Days is one of my most played tracks off Octopus. And I’ll stick my neck out and say Ian Stanley is a good choice for any band!
I love Octopus, and Secrets. I had written Human League off, like many, prior. (I hated the track “Human” and couldn’t believe the hit status it achieved.) But when Octopus was released, I was so pleasantly surprised. I still listen to it often, with “Housefull of Nothing” one of my favorite tracks. And “Cruel Young Lover,” what a way to end the LP. Have you seen the Discogs prices of the vinyl version of Octopus? Sheesh!
Unfortunately this trend did not continue for me to Credo, which I found disappointing and uninteresting. I think you could safely skip it.
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Human is one of my most hated 80’s songs, probably ties with Don’t Worry Be Happy.
I’d listen to REM before Human that’s how much I hate it. And even follow up with some Joshua Tree. Anything but that freakin’ song.
Tim – “Human” is undoubtedly an all time worst song by that entire generation of bands that we celebrate here at PPM. And I’m there with you on the REM/U2 as well (them’s fightin’ words!)
Mathmandan – I am currently listening to “Credo” [purchased yesterday] and was not quite prepared for the level of “appalling!” that it delivered. I can’t imagine “Crash” being any worse.
A good read Monk. Octopus was definitely a return to form at the time.
I got into the Human League after hearing The Sound Of The Crowd single in Spring ’81. For a while, ’81-’82, they had the world at their feet but through bad decisions and bad luck they couldn’t maintain their appeal.
I think they should have got a new album out in ’82 or ’83, at the latest, to consolidate their success. However they spent a good part of ’82 touring after the worldwide success of the album and singles. I guess they didn’t get the time to write much new material. We had to make do with the Mirror Man single and the Love And Dancing dance mix album. Being Boiled did make the UK top 5 that year on the back of Dare’s success.
Spring ’83 saw the release of (Keep Feeling) Fascination. Another decent single. The expectation was that a new album would surely be released soon. However it seems that the band (Phil?) fell out with producer Martin Rushent and so a new production team was sought, hence delaying any new album. When Hysteria emerged in ’84 it really was a let down. Apparently Virgin had put pressure on the group to start including some traditional instruments. Regardless, for me, most of the songs are forgettable and the production was uninspiring too. All three singles failed to make the UK top ten.
After Phil worked with Giorgio Moroder it was back to writing new material for the next album. Unfortunately Joe Callis, one of the songwriters in the group, had left by this point. I’ve read that Colin Thurston, who produced Reproduction, was brought in for the new project but then dropped. Then someone had the ‘bright’ idea of asking Jam and Lewis to produce the new album. I felt the group sold their ‘musical souls’ in doing so. The group agreed to record a number of the producers’ songs for the new album. A session keyboard player was also brought in to record various parts. For me, the album is the group’s lowest point. The production did not suit the group and the standard of many of the songs are really poor. Human may have been a number one in the US but the group didn’t even write it. As for I Need Your Loving! Surely their worst single ever! The experience of recording the album was too much for Adrian Wright. He left the group at this point. Ian Burden would leave after the tour.
1988 saw the release of a compilation album. By this point the Human League consisted of Phil, Susanne, Joanne and whichever session men they decided to work with on any given project.
Romantic? arrived in 1990. The Heart Like A Wheel single promised much but, for me, the rest of the album failed to match it. The album sold poorly and a second single flopped. Virgin dropped the group and the future was uncertain.
Therefore the release of Tell Me When and Octopus was an unexpected surprise. It is without doubt their best album since Dare. It only took them almost fourteen years to follow up Dare with a decent release! I think the Secrets album is a decent album but Credo is a bit hit and miss. Record company issues has meant that releases have become increasingly sporadic since Octopus.
The group spend most of their time touring these days. Who knows if we will see another album?
Agree that Octopus was a fine return to form, but I actually find something to like about all the preceding (post-Dare) albums too. I thought Crash was a noble (albeit failed) experiment to meld the League with the stylings of producers Jam and Lewis. Hysteria has my fave League ballad (the wistfully pretty Louise), and Romantic contains my all-time guilty pleasure HL tune, the cheese-tastic Soundtrack to a Generation. Seriously, I adore every single “holy cow” and “oh wow” the girls trill in the chorus to this wonderfully hooky flop of a single.
Taffy – Hah ha! “Soundtrack To A Generation?!” I could say “oh wow” here… but I won’t. I have the CD5 single of that one so I have all of the remixes. I can’t dispute its cheese-tastic qualities that you cite, but at least that gave the tune a hint of charm. I can never remember the other songs on “Romantic?” and so I have to play it every eight years, only to resolve to never to that again.
I’m with Taffy on Soundtrack to a Generation. It’s like Phil listened to “I Wanna Be A Cowboy” and said, yeah, I can do that.
It’s cheesey as hell but you know but sometimes you need some mindless cheesey fun,
Tim – 40 lashes with a wet noodle for invoking Boys Don’t Cry, which I thought I’d successfully forgotten.
40 lashes for me as well the, I Wanna Be a Cowboy is a total guilty pleasure song for me. Why? Who knows.
Mathmandan – It was one of those things I simply endured on the early days of 120 Minutes.
There;s some really kooky stuff from the late 80’s early 90’s that sometimes just says fun to my ears. I Wanna Be A Cowboy is one of those songs. Kon Kan – I Beg Your Pardon…I have a club subscription mix of that one that sample much more Lynn Anderson. Some Was Not Was falls in here….Walk The Dinosaur?
Tim – I first thought the Kon-Kan single was New Order [really] slumming the first time I heard it on the radio. Not so crazy considering that they would eventually record that world cup single! The Kon-Kan record is a huge step up; cheesy samples and all. I bought a US 12″ but have never played in in 30+ years. Story of my life.
Not to make a monk feel old, but Tell Me When was the first song I heard as a kid (10 years old) on the radio and felt the need to save up that pocket money and buy the album. I subsequently dragged my folky/beatles loving father to their Manchester (UK) gig and it was a blast. I had no idea that six years later I’d be clad in fishnet tights stomping around to the same band at Friday goth nights! I’d say I had impeccable taste from the start, but my next album was the Spice Girls so hey… Win some lose some
michaellomon – Welcome to the comments. It’s okay since I am very olde indeed. Congratulations on the good [or at least variable] taste from childhood. I still enjoy a fair amount of tunes from my childhood. In one case, I showed very presciently wise taste by hating the Moody Blues as a 9 year old, only to fall for them as a 12 year old… and end up hating them again as a 18 year old. Good for you for making your Beatles-loving parent facilitate your entrance into Human League fandom!
I can’t say I have any love for Octopus. It reeks of pop house beats, and Phil attempting to do his best to imitate Glenn Gregory (Words, Housefull Of Nothing). Even the cover of the album looks like a Heaven 17 ideal, not post split Human League. There may be some sparse space in the music, but the vocals and melody seem at odds with that choice on many of the tracks. I might even say that it has a PWL feel, especially on the opening track. The album’s one saving grace for me is Filling Up With Heaven. It has showed signs of imagination and a potential direction for the band, that the rest of the album lacked.
Two years later, H17 would release Bigger Than America and the mic would be dropped. Cueing track one, Dive now…
Always interesting to hear other’s perspectives on recordings like this one! I had the same reaction to “Bigger Than America” (pleasant, shocked surprise) as Octopus, and I would have to say I like them both on about the same level. Just listened to Bigger Than America again last week…
Echorich – “Oh wow!” For me, “Octopus” is part of the “Mid-90s Sheffield Hat Trick” that saw The Human League, ABC, and Heaven 17 all bounce back in a cluster. True, Heaven 17 and ABC bounced higher than The League, but that did nothing to dispute that, for me, The Human League had finally made what I thought was a consistently strong and listenable album after giving up all hope that it could ever happen. PWL sound? I stopped listening to that when they ruined Bananarama. Just last week I listened to the last thing by them I can stand, “FLM” by Mel + Kim. I can’t say I heard any similarities.
“Filling Up With Heaven” was an interesting outlier to nowhere with the thicker, more fastidious sound. Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. But I agree, that no matter how much I rate “Octopus,” it’s eclipsed by what H17 achieved on their rebirth. As for the cover art, “We Blame Love” had a similar layout to “Octopus” but lacked the polish of the League cover. Maybe that’s what came to mind there. And I guess that no one knows why they picked that title then?
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My Facebook feed these days has an ad for Tears for Fears headlining with ABC supporting.
Uh, wrong way around there…..
Tim – Yeah, TFF are the first album… maybe the second with me. And that’s it. ABC are much more robust talents.
I quite enjoyed the “TFF” (actually just Roland) album Raoul and the Kings of Spain.
chasinvictoria – I actually saw TFF on the “Elemental” tour (also Roland only) at The Edge in 1993-4. It was my 2nd TFF show; having seen the “Big Chair” show years earlier. Given that the first show was in the USF Sundome, the experience was miles better.
I’m sure I’m being harsh on Oakey and the Girls, but I always will be…I like the Mid 90s Tryptic you find with Octopus, Bigger Than America and Skyscraping. But is Glenn Gregory possibly the missing link as he had his fingers in the the ABC and H17 works but no the HL? Yes, I am stirring the shit here a bit…hits play on Rolling Sevens…
Skyscraping is a killer ABC album. My take is that Mr. Fry, while a great presenter of product, has some real creative dry runs and should stick to a slower release schedule.
Case n point – Alphabet City – choice album, the next solidly consistent album is Skyscraping, then, the next solidly good album after that is Lexicon of Love II. I’m not saying that there aren’t treasured cuts on the albums in-between but they either suffer from the flavor of the day sound (Up and Abracadbra) or there’s just an ep’s worth of strong material presented.
Tim – I have to say I’m with you up to a point. I found “Traffic” a pretty strong follow up to “Skyscraping,” considering that the latter is my favorite ABC album. At least on days when I’m not utterly smitten with “How To Be A Zillionaire!”
I’ll travel with you down that path as well Tim. But I have certain affection for Abracadabra. No, it’s not Mr. Fry’s best lyrical work, but there is a feel to the album that works for me. Traffic is a good album that was great live. It has some of the rock and roll strength Fry tapped into on Skyscraping and reinforced by the influence of David Palmer and Chuck Kentis. I would venture to say that Love Is Strong, Love Shapes You and Lose Yourself can be traced back to the songwriting for Skyscraping
Echorich – I stand with you there. I was impressed that “Traffic” maintained most of the quality of “Skyscraping” while even growing some new offshoots of the ABC sound late in the game.
Tim – I dunno. My take is that I think Fry takes too long between releases for my taste. Given that there were completely different writing teams for “Skyscraping,” “Traffic,” and “Lexicon of Love II,” I felt they were pretty consistent, with the neo-glam vibe of “Skyscraping” making it that much better, though the atypical “top-that-Smoky-Robinson” title track will always be my favorite ABC song. I rate the next two albums fairly equally as strong, above par recordings. I think that the last three with Mark White showed that partnership had run its course.
Echorich – Yeah, Gregory had plenty of mojo to share at that point! Not only did H17 get reinvigorated after nearly a decade of inactivity, but he and Lowndes has plenty of vitality to share with ABC. So much so, that I was initially worried when he was not there to contribute to “Traffic,” which I still eventually found to be a strong, solid ABC album, while not the game-changer of “Skyscraping.”
Not to try and be the cool kid, but I did pick up Octopus shortly after release just to check-in on the band, and was very pleasantly rewarded. I was reassured that the band had gone back to what worked for them, touching on the early works with Martyn while not aping them. I don’t think I followed up on later albums for some reason, but I should investigate them.
chasinvictoria – I thought that it was you who recommended “Secret” to me when we discussed it in 2001? Not a bad record, but I didn’t think it had the consistency of “Octopus.”
hi mr monk,
another favorite topic of mine, the prolific history of the human league,
their offshoots, influences, and many other bands touched in these topics.
i will try to stick to the major tracks, and songs released around this era.
i will say that i have kept on top of the human league releases, albums and
singles (yes, even during the crash[shudder] era).
so during the release of octopus and the singles from it, i was able to
keep up with them during that time. a little pre-history though.
people might want to hunt down the ymo vs the human league single
from 1993, before the album came out:
The first 3 tracks have vocals from the Human League
1 Behind The Mask 3:48
2 Kimi Ni Mune Kyun 3:54
3 Kimi Ni Mune Kyun (Extended Version) 5:52
4 Fire Cracker – Tong Poo 7:51
Total Time: 21:25
Behind the Mask, was originally by YMO, and covered later by many musicians
such as Eric Clapton, and others.
The album Octopus came out in 1994, not much extra or unusual about it.
A promo with an hour long interview came out, and the Japanese release
had 1 extra track, which was a mix of Tell Me When. If you were lucky,
you might have even got the UK LP of it, which is in very short supply
Tell Me When came out in several variations, 2 part cd singles, vinyl,
cassette, and more. In the US, we only got 1 single which was mostly
mixes, the first UK one had these:
1 –The Human League Tell Me When (7″ Edit) 4:42
2 –The Human League Tell Me When (Mix 1) 5:09
3 –YMO* vs. The Human League Kimi Ni Mune Kyun 4:55
4 –The Human League The Bus To Crookes 4:52
Total Time: 19:38
Note the 2 b-sides, and the other mix of Kimi Ni Mune Kyun,
which is fun japanese pop track, very bubbly, and upbeat
(which is different from the one previously mentioned).
In the US, it was the b-side to the 7 inch edit of Tell Me When.
The Bus to Crookes, is a pretty midtempo instrumental of the era.
All the remixes were pretty well done, and lots of heavy duty
techno, trance and electronica from name remixers.
one man in my heart was the next single, but it bores me, as
does all the slow ballads sung by the girls. but it was an
interesting release, being split between 2 songs. if you got
both parts of the UK singles, you got an extra mix of
‘one man in my heart’, that wasn’t on the 2 promo 12 inches.
the song was only a promo 12 inch and cd single in the US.
as far as ‘these are the days’ go, the transformative mixes
were way more interesting than the mild album version.
very hard hitting techno, and trance remixes.
The promo 12 inch had one extra mix:
These Are The Days (Man With No Name Instrumental)
this leads to the last single, which again was split between
two songs. the amazing ‘filling up with heaven’ remixes,
and more remixes of the instrumentals of john cleese.
this was all strictly a UK only affair, with 2 cd singles,
a 12 inch, and a cassingle, and promo vinyl, thats it.
if you got the 2 part cd singles, you had most of the
bases covered. but if you got the 2×12 inch uk promo,
you got a bit more:
John Cleese; Is He Funny? (Valentine’s Bonus Beats) 7:25
John Cleese; Is He Funny? (Ula Remix) 5:51 – full version
So with all those tracks and remixes out there, you had a
lot of extra material to listen to. Especially if you liked the
the 90’s techno, and electronica genre. glad that human
league was still going all out with the electronic side, and
dumping all the terrible soul, funk, and anything remotely
guitar oriented (ballads excluded).
negative1ne – I’m not terribly into 90s techno, to put it mildly. I have the US “Tell Me When” from a thrift store. Which I can’t remember. The YMO single was notable for being very expensive from day one, but maybe it’s cheaper now? I’m not strongly motivated to get any more of this material but if I ran across it cheaply… you never know.
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Well Mr Monk, it looks like the japanese YMO single has actually stabilized at the mid $20 dollar range on the low end, that I saw it for on ebay, back in the 90’s. So its pricey, but not that pricey on discogs. The shipping from japan will set you back another $10. So unless you luck out and find it, it could be awhile.
This strange release doesn’t really warrant the money it commands. Very bland and faceless remixes of YMO classics (that managed to retain only smattering of what made them great) with very bland and faceless League vocals stuck unimaginatively on top. Unless one’s a hardcore completist who has to have everything down to sleeve variations, it’s a miss.
Wonder what prompted this project, though, and what was the motivation behind it…
Vlad – It did come at a strange time for the League. In the down time after getting cut from the Virgin roster. YMO were exceptionally busy then with “Technodon.”
The League work really dropped in quality after Dare/Fascination. Hysteria is already uneven, Crash and Romantic are borderline unlistenable. Can’t really say anything about Octopus – only heard it once and don’t really remember anything apart from the hits. For me they only returned with Secrets – but that was the last time, Credo is such a crap release, I remember being most surprised. Surely being a musician you have to release new work sooner than after 10 years – otherwise it’s like when you have trouble walking after a long time in bed. Looks like they’ve lost the necessary qualifications to make even half-decent music. Also, another band that’s in dire need of a great producer to fuction properly.
Having said that, I usually managed to salvage one or two songs from each of their 80s albums – mostly moody ballads that the League could do so good. Hysteria has “Betrayed”, Crash – “Are you ever coming back” and Romantic – “The stars are going out”. I even feel they form some kind of a story, along with “Life on your own” and “Dreams of leaving”. Interestingly, this thread was abandoned after 1990, no songs fit the theme. I wonder was it conscious or Phil simply forgot.
Vlad – “Dreams Of Leaving” was the early League at their most political. I was astonished that sci-fi geeks like them could address apartheid in such a dramatic manner. Of course, they returned to political material again with “The Lebanon.” But not so skillfully. I’m with you on the failures of “Hysteria”-“Romantic.” There may be an EP worth of listenable material there. The whole “stately ten year arc between albums” trend is annoying for a fan, but there is no label money any more to fund albums. The artists have to do it themselves, and though it’s cheaper than it used to be, try doing that and juggling your personal expenses!
As an aside, I just bought “Credo” yesterday and I am right there with you! I was simply unprepared for its daring level of suck. At this point I might as well get “Crash” and give it a listen. [I can’t believe I just said that] It just has to be better that “Credo!”
Hi Mr. Monk,
Saw you commented on the Deluxe remaster of this coming out already.
Looking forward to the Demos, and even the vinyl, as that was very expensive before.
Some people want the mixes, some want demos. This is a good compromise.
Though for people that didn’t get them, there are a ton of remixes to hunt down,
if you want to be complete.
…actually the Vinyl will be another limited 500 copies only (!) cash flow move, with a 2nd LP of remixes. Pre-order started already.