Thursday, June 24, 2010

Forgotten Music Thursday: Level 42 - World Machine (1985)

If you had a pulse and an FM radio in 1985 chances are you are at least peripherally familiar with Level 42’s Something About You. Peaking at #7 on the US Billboard Charts. It was and remains Level 42’s most successful US single.

But Level 42’s story is one of much greater success in their own country than in the United States. All but the most die-hard of fans in the US would be hard pressed to name any of their other songs. World Machine, the album that really made the US sit up and take notice of Level 42 only peaked at #18 on Billboard’s Top 200 album charts here in the US, whereas in the UK not only did the album peak at #3, it remained on the charts for 72 weeks!

Besides the ever familiar, Something About You, World Machine features several thoroughly listenable and enjoyable songs like Lying Still, World Machine, Coup d’Etat, Leaving Me Now, and Physical Presence The cornerstone of Level 42’s sound is the contrast between bassist/vocalist Mark King and the high falsetto of keyboardist Mike Lindup. Their vocal and instrumental stylings are further augmented by brothers Boon Gould on guitar and Phil Gould on drums. World Machine would be the last of Level 42’s albums to feature their original line-up as the Gould brothers, disenchanted with the more pop-friendly direction of the band opted out.

All of the songs have a relaxed jazz/fusion vibe—largely thanks to the Gould brothers and funk influenced bass grooves compliments of Mark King. What is undeniable throughout the album is the superlative musicianship of the entire band. These guys were and are musician’s musicians.

As this is Level 42's most commercially successful release, it is also an excellent album to start with when delving into their catalog.  A 2009 re-release included a 2nd CD with dance remixes and live versions of many of the songs from the album which, while nice, are a bit unnecessary for those who are merely casual listeners of the band.

But in the end, the best thing about Level 42 is their fusion of pop with jazz and funk created a sound that was rather uniquely their own.  Few other bands have been able to pull off such an interesting blend of styles with such aplomb.  If you enjoyed or were a fan of Steely Dan or possibly of some of Toto's more jazz-oriented songs, chances are you'll thoroughly enjoy Level 42 as well.

 Related Links & Media
Something About You video

Level 42 (official site)
Level 42 (official Facebook)
Level 42 (official Myspace)
Level 42 (wikipedia)
Mark King (wikipedia)
Mike Lindup (wikipedia)
Boon Gould (wikipedia)
Phil Gould (wikipedia)
Wally Badarou (wikipedia)
Gary Barnacle (wikipedia)


Charlie said...

You're right! This is the only song I know by Level 42. I never heard another note! Your review does make me want to investigate them further.

luminous muse said...

Hey thanks. That was always a nice car radio song for me, but as such I never even knew the name of the band. Is "Level 42" some kind of sci-fi thing? What does it mean?

Perplexio said...

Charlie: I recommend picking up either Level Best or The Ultimate Collection for a snapshot of their musical catalog. If you prefer to avoid compilations then World Machine is the best studio album to start with, imho.

Luminous Mouse: To answer your question, I looked to Wikipedia:

King and Boon Gould decided the band should be called simply by a number, and they both favoured '88' - the number of the bus they used to catch to the recording studio. However, Lindup and Phil Gould saw a poster for a band called Rocket 88 so their idea was abandoned (although '88' was later used as a song title). King and Gould both claim to have been reading Douglas Adams' comical science fiction novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy wherein the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, is '42'. Therefore '42' was suggested as a name for the band.

It should be noted that their then producer, Andy Sojka (now deceased), similarly claimed to have been reading the book, and claimed to have put forward the number as a suggested band name. It is known therefore, that the use of the number '42' in the band name came from either King, Boon Gould, or Sojka. The appendage of the word 'Level' is claimed to have been from either Sojka's lawyer, or John Gould's (the third brother and band manager) lawyer.

Anonymous said...

You should try "Pursuit of accidents", "Running in the family" or "Staring at the sun" instead, all those 3 albums by Level 42 too.
I've never been too keen on "World Machine". Yes there is "Someting about you" which is a good song along with "Leaving me now" and "Lying still". But for me the other tracks are filler more or less.