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Level 42 - The Definitive Collection

Level 42, The Definitive Collection

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

LEVEL 42 were one of the biggest bands of the 80s, especially within the context of the nascent British jazz-funk movement.

At their peak, they chalked up an impressive run of 29 UK Top 75 singles between 1980 and 1994 thanks to hits such as Lessons In Love, Running In The Family and Something About You.

The band founds its origins on the Isle of Wight, where brothers Phil (drummer) and Roland ‘Boon’ Gould (guitarist and lyricist) united with bassist Mark King and then hooked up with Mike Lindup (keyboards). Despite having played in various different bands, the foursome found that they shared similar influences such as Miles Davis and John McLaughlin.

They subsequently started playing together and were eventually heard by Andy Sojka, head of the small independent label Elite, in May 1980. Impressed with what he heard, he signed the band and their debut single, Love Meeting Love was released two months later. Its success brought the band to the attention of Polydor Records, who quickly snapped them up, releasing their next single, (Flying On The) Wings of Love.

That track laid the foundations for future success, exemplifying their ability to fuse jazz and funk with disco elements.

However, with success came trouble.By the time records like Living In The Family and Something About Me had turned them into household names on both sides of the Atlantic, they had moved away from their jazz-funk roots into a more mainstream 80s vibe that led to discord among its members.

Lindup’s gossamer vocals and King’s trademark bass remained intact but the Gould brothers, first Boon and then Phil, left the fold in October 1987, paving the way for Prefab Sprout drummer Neil Conti and guitarist Paul Gendler to fill the void. They were followed, more permanently, by Gary Husband on drums and Steve Topping on guitar – although he, in turn, was replaced by ex-Go West guitarist Alan Murphy soon after.

Despite the upheaval, the band released Staring At The Sun which proved another massive hit for them and went on a four-month tour culminating in six sell-out nights at Wembley Arena. Such was the success of their late-80s line-up that they were the house band at the Prince’s Trust Concert at Birmingham’s NEC in July 1989.

But tragedy was to follow. On October 19, 1989, guitarist Murphy died of AIDS-related symptoms and the group was devastated. There was a sense of closure when their greatest hits, Level Best appeared at the end of 1989.

From then onwards, there were a couple of albums and Phil Gould returned on drums for their final record, Forever Now, before they officially split on October 14, 1994, following a show at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

King has since acquired the rights to the name Level 42 (allegedly named after the top floor of the world’s highest car park or the meaning of it all in Douglas Adams’ Hithchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), and regrouped as a new Level 42 for the 21st Century in 2002. In this form, the group continues to tour.

But they were very much a band that reflected the sound of the 80s and, as such, many of their hits sound dated now. There’s a cheesy pleasure in tracks like Running In The Family and Leaving Me Now (one of their very best records) but this is strictly a greatest hits compilation for die-hard fans and 80s nostalgists.

Approach advisedly.

Track listing:

  1. Lessons In Love
  2. Sun Goes Down (Living Up)
  3. Heaven In My Hands
  4. Something About You
  5. Hot Water
  6. Chinese Way
  7. Leaving Me Now
  8. Running In The Family
  9. To Be With You Again
  10. Tracie
  11. It’s Over
  12. Micro Kid
  13. Children Say
  14. Love Games
  15. Turn It On
  16. Starchild
  17. Take A Look
  18. Take Care Of Yourself