Level 42 were one of the standard bearers of the ‘jazz-funk’ movement that was as much a part of the ’80s as Dallas, Frankie Says T-shirts and Mrs Thatcher. Mark King’s thumb-slapping bass sound became so ubiquitous that he was alleged to have insured his thumbs for a million pounds, and the Top Shops of the country rung out to the sounds of Lessons In Love et al.
However, it does comes as something of a mystery as to why a ‘Best Of’ collection is being released now. Hardly one of the more influential bands, it’s rare that you’ll find an up and coming group in 2002 naming them as an inspiration. Nevertheless, this is a good chance to reassess Level 42 and discover just why they were so successful in their day.
The band were formed in 1980 and didn’t reach their commercial zenith until 1985. As this collection is in chronological order, it means that the listener has to sit through several seemingly endless jazz-funk workouts such as Love Meeting Love and Starchild. These songs haven’t aged at all well, devoid of any passion and characterised by King’s reedy voice, these will only appeal to the most hardcore of fan.
Luckily things pick up when the hits kick in. The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up) and Hot Water are likely to engender a warm glow upon listeners who remember the band’s peak. It’s undeniable though that even these songs won’t excite any new listeners or send them scrabbling to the record shop to pick up more of the back catalogue.
Being a double CD, The Ultimate Collection is pretty hard going at times. The chronological order means that the best tracks are at the end of the first CD and the start of the second one. If this had been a single CD, it would have been a lot more successful. As it is, the most memorable songs are bookmarked by some pretty bland, insipid material.
For those who remember the band’s heyday, it’s nice to hear the nonsensical Running In The Family or hear the unfeasibly high vocals of Mike Lindup on Children Say (a man whose vocal style suggests that he needed to buy some less tight underwear). However, by the end of the second disc, it’s clear that Level 42’s glory days were long behind them, and tracks such as Guaranteed and Overtime waft by in a haze of indifference. There’s a chance that this record could lead to a Level 42 revival, and that thumb slapping bass sound could soon be back in vogue. Don’t put your house on it though.