❉ Ange Chan revisits the funk-pop band’s most commercially successful period.
In March we reviewed Volume 1 of Level 42’s Complete Polydor Years anthology series covering the years 1980 -1984 and asked our readers to ‘watch this space’ for Volume 2. Well, after a few short months later, here it is. Hardly any wait at all!
Level 42 were formed from the last embers of the 70s and started as a Jazz Fusion band before embracing dance rock, for which they would be best known. Throughout the 80s the band released a large number of albums and toured regularly, building an impressive and devoted fan base.
This Volume Two release contains all the Level 42 albums from the period between 1985 – 1989 which is best regarded as the band’s most commercially successful period, and these discs feature all the hits from the time including well-loved tracks such as Running in the Family, Lessons in Love and Leaving Me Now and much more.
The first two discs in this set contain the live album A Physical Presence (Parts 1 and 2), which was recorded at a number of venues across the UK and as released in 1985. It was the first live double album that the band were to produce and contains the previously unreleased song Follow Me. Present and correct are performances of The Chinese Way, The Sun Goes Down (Living it Up), and Hot Water all of which were big hits in the 1980s.
At this point in their career, Level 42 were more or less guaranteed a hit with anything they released as a single. Their unique style made any track they produced instantly recognisable, with their multi-layer melodies and funk-laden style that’s guaranteed to get you shaking your tush! Mark King (Singer) said of those shows, “I used to come off stage thinking my heart was going to stop. There was real hysteria!”
Disc 3 of the set contains the album World Machine and contains the big hits Something About You and Leaving Me Now. The album reached number 3 in the album chart in the UK, and top 20 positions in Canada, America and Germany as well as significant chart success across Europe.
During World Service the cracks were starting to appear. Wally and Mark would make a suggestion, and everyone would jump on top of it, and then things often became out of hand. Also, Phil didn’t like not being directly involved. In Mark’s words “We were starting to go left and right.”
Disc 4 of the set contains the album Running in the Family and contains the hits Lessons in Love, and Running in the Family and reached number 2 in the UK album charts, however it failed to chart in America, which was a huge blow for the band. Nonetheless, on the back of their success to date, Madonna asked Level 42 to support her on tour. Mark remembers getting a typewritten note from her, thanking them for supporting her, despite the fact that during those three months that they were on tour, she only said two words to them. “Hello” and “Goodbye”! Despite its lack of a placing in the American charts, this album is generally considered to be one of Level 42’s most popular releases, so much so, that it was remastered and re-issued for a 25th anniversary release.
Disc 5 of the set contains the album Staring at the Sun and contains the singles Heaven in my Hands, Take a Look and Tracie which were all Top 40 hits. It’s their eighth studio album, released in 1988 and was the first Level 42 album not to include brothers Phil Gould and Boon Gould, although the latter did write six of the album’s songs. They were replaced by Alan Murphy who had previously worked with Kate Bush. It was the only Level 42 album he was to appear on as he later sadly died.
The band were at a critical point in their music career. With the Boon brothers now gone, Mike and Mark discussed whether the band could feasibly go on. The decision was taken to continue with Alan and Gary Husband replacing the brothers. Although this album took them in a more jazz-focused direction, the band had reconciled themselves to the fact that their heady days of mass appeal were behind them.
Discs 6 -10 contain all of the B-Sides, 7” Mixes, remixes, live versions from Hammersmith Odeon in 1985, Radio edits, extended mixes, and rare versions from those eras, and as previously stated, much of the material included in this box set and particularly on these discs are previously unreleased material. In other words, a must buy for the discerning fan.
The set was compiled in conjunction with Level 42 and band experts Paul Wallace, Paul Waller and Simon Carson. The booklet sleeve notes are by Daryl Easlea (Record Collector) who has spoken to band members current and past to gain a comprehensive insight of what makes the band tick. The box set is housed in a sturdy box to fit 10 CDs and booklet containing a full track annotation and rare memorabilia and complements the Volume 1 set perfectly.
Great news for fans of the band is that they plan to go out on a major tour in 2021 and are fully involved with the release of this box set. Details and tickets can be found here Level 42 Tour Dates & Tickets 2021 | Ents24.
❉ Level 42: ‘The Complete Polydor Years Volume Two 1985-1989’ 10CD Box Set (RobinsongsROBINBOX46) released 30 July 2021, RRP £44.99.
❉ Ange Chan is a Freelance Writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. A prominent contributor to Me and the Starman (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and lifelong lover of music, Ange is also We Are Cult’s Social Media Administrator.