Number Ones: #142


  • LEVEL 42 Heaven In My Hands (Polydor)
  • Week Ending 17th September 1988
  • 3 Weeks At #1

Well, here we are again! The third consecutive #1 on my charts for Level 42 was their first since the Gould brothers bailed out. Say hello to the new band, same as the old band?

Not quite, for Heaven In My Hands proved to be the end of Level 42’s imperial phase and the beginning of a downward commercial trajectory that would ultimately see Polydor, their longtime label since 1980, refuse to release 1991’s Guaranteed.

Outwardly, this “comeback” single suggested little had changed; the classic logo remained and its chart peak of #12 was disappointing without being disastrous. Yet its brief stay on the UK Top 75 hinted at both the shortcomings of the track itself and the problems ahead.

Opening with a (synth) brass fanfare, before descending into a frenetic funk/rock hybrid, Heaven In My Hands hurtles along in a fashion which obviously appealed to me at the time. Mark King’s vocals have an urgency not heard since Hot Water in 1984, and although the solid songcraft of World Machine and Running In The Family appears to have been jettisoned, the chorus is decent enough.

The Goulds’ absence is tangible; that trademark rhythm section no longer underpinning the groove, and Boon’s subtler fretwork is replaced by the late Alan Murphy’s more abrasive style. Alternative mixes (included on the brilliant Polydor Years 1985-1989 boxset) allow the arrangement to breathe a bit, and sound more like traditional Level 42, but maybe the intention was to place a marker down for the new-look line-up’s debut.

A whole album, written in hotels by King and Mike Lindup, appeared shortly after. Staring At The Sun even had a title that harked back to earlier efforts (1983’s Standing In The Light), and a handful of tracks were as good as anything the band had released earlier in their career. The lengthy jazz shuffle of Man was a highlight, as was the reflective title song. Tracie was really the sole “obvious single” among the rest, and in remixed form did scrape into the UK Top 30 early the following year.

However, the commercial magic touch had vanished; a combination of changing trends, possibly not a long enough gap between the ubiquitous Running In The Family campaign, and the indifferent material itself resulting in poor sales for Staring At The Sun and the album’s second single Take A Look which flopped at #32.

Polydor responded by issuing a timely Greatest Hits in late 1989, punningly titled Level Best, which included an obligatory new recording. Take Care Of Yourself was a rocking, call and response workout. Full of the energy and confidence lacking on most of Staring At The Sun. Which begged the question – should they have waited longer before going into the studio again after the split with the Gould brothers?

Sadly, just as this new version of Level 42 seemed to be finding its feet, guitarist Alan Murphy passed away and the band had to make changes once again.

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