All-Time Albums: #82


LEVEL 42 Running In The Family

1 Lessons In Love 4:05 (UK single, #3)
Children Say 4:57 (UK single, remixed, #22)
3 Running In The Family 6:14 (UK single, #6)
It’s Over 6:03 (UK single, remixed, #10)
5 To Be With You Again 5:20 (UK single, #10)
6 Two Solitudes 5:39
7 Fashion Fever 4:35
The Sleepwalkers 6:03
9 Freedom Someday 6:17

If you want to hear a band at the very apex of their creative and commercial potential, try this album for size. Level 42’s route from bright young Britfunkers to well-oiled (and unjustly derided) chart machine took six years, climaxed with the flawless Running In The Family LP, before the band imploded and fatally splintered down the middle; its two most visible members (Mark King and Mike Lindup) remained to soldier on, but the brothers Gould (Boon and Phil, the drums and rhythm guitar) bailed out. So, frustratingly, we will never know if the momentum which really kicked in on 1985’s World Machine would have continued or not.

King and Lindup regrouped, as it were, hastily brought in new recruits and hunkered down in hotel rooms to write the next record (1988’s Staring At The Sun). It was, overall, a dismal affair and saw their sales regress to pre-1985 er, levels once more.

There is a case, a very strong case, for putting World Machine ahead of this album. For one, it wasn’t quite as “pop”, the old funk traits still hanging on for dear life amongst the new-found knack of penning mega singles like Something About You and Leaving Me Now. Yet the 9 songs on Running In The Family (8 on the vinyl) are a lesson in economy and craft. There are no fussy arrangements, no showboating from anyone – be it guitar solos, bass workouts, fiddly synth lines, or drum fills. Everybody works for the greater cause, and if there are perhaps few surprises to be found, it’s a fantastic listen (especially on CD – for years, this was the best-sounding disc in my collection).

Lessons In Love and To Be With You Again haven’t aged as successfully as Something About You, but It’s Over (here in stunning, almost I’m Not In Love-esque album form) trumps anything in their catalogue. It got edited and remixed for single release,  with a slightly unnecessary slide guitar plonked into the mix, but even that couldn’t stop it going Top 10….one of six consecutive UK Top 15 entries for the band between 1985 and 1987. That’s what you call an imperial phase. And like any imperial phase, the sense of right-ness extended to the artwork, the promotional material, the choice of singles and when to release them.

Which makes the rapid descent back to uneven, bland jazz-funk/pop within 18 months all the more of a shame. Some bands have a particular chemistry that can’t survive the loss of a member. Or two. Level 42 are that kind of band.

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