Level 42 were enormously successful in the 1980s. I have not bothered to research them for this piece, and so the following is a mixture of half-remembered factoids and conjecture. As I recall, they hailed from the Isle of Man, or possibly the Isle of Wight; certainly one of those places that is sorta in Britain but kinda not, and you don’t have to pay tax, and there are a lot of yachts and they still have feudalism and are descended from the original mutineers from The Bounty.
The band members looked like they had possibly met at school and played together since then. They had the appearance of fellows who had fairly wealthy parents who had bought them their instruments and indulged their ingénue noodlings until they flourished into the chart-dominating monsters they were for a handful of singles. Their countenances were typically benign; a lot of smiling went on; they looked comfortable in themselves and with each other, and not in a smug Stingesque way either. It was unlikely that a single rock and roll thought had every troubled any of them; in press shots they looked like they had just set down their pints of bitter moments before.
Their lead singer was a chap called Mark King, who played bass. Mark King had the dependable, blokeish vibe of somebody’s dad. I would imagine that he owned racing cars and was probably friendly with Mark Knopfler. Mark King wore his bass implausibly high, and instead of playing it in a normal fashion, would slap the strings with his thumb. This was the source of incalculable wonder and excitement to my peers. No-one in the entire history of humanity had ever played any instrument with such aplomb; he was the greatest musician (with the possible exception of Enya) in the universe. At school, fellow pupils and teachers would confirm to me Mark King’s incredible musical prowess on average every 25 minutes during the years 1985-1987.
Level 42 were responsible for two abominable records that caused me a tremendous amount of suffering for many years. These records were Lessons In Love and Running In The Family. The first of these is conceivably one of the blandest records ever written. I would imagine that it was an enormous hit in every country in the world, probably top 10 in the USA, #7 in the Dutch East Indies and #1 in South Africa. I would imagine that it probably ‘broke’ Level 42 in the US, where I have no doubt they were described as a ‘hot’ ‘new wave’ band, ‘spearheads’ of the ‘British invasion’ or suchlike. I would imagine Jonathan King liked them very much indeed and that Lessons In Love featured regularly on his abominable television programme, No Limits. Thankfully I have excised these things from my memory, so the facts are lost in the mists of time, or possibly a few clicks away on Wikipedia. Either way we will never know the truth.
The second record, Running In The Family, is the least rockandroll record produced in the history of humanity. By comparison, Lessons In Love sounds like a 1971 Stooges outtake. I cannot bring myself to discuss the tune or the lyrics, for both make me physically sick.
The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up) predates these singles by a couple of years and is an exquisitely crafted, laid back, note perfect ode to doing not very much at all, avoiding responsibility and the triumph of the superficial. I like absolutely everything about it – the words ‘down’ and ‘up’ and inspired use of parentheses in the title, the delicate, funky intro, the ‘girl at the back making eyes at me’, even Mark King’s faux-patois halfway through the song. It is a masterpiece of restraint which for me absolves them of all their future sins.
I would imagine that Level 42 split up in the 1990s, citing personal and creative differences, but that they have now got back together and are once again comfortable with themselves and each other. I am very happy for them, and I hope that you will be too.