Level 42 released its first live album A Physical Presence in 1985; at that time, the band had not achieved the world-wide popularity it enjoyed in the late 1980s. A Physical Presence was a solid live album, boasting stellar performances, particularly from bassist and lead vocalist Mark King. What a difference a few years make. After releasing two highly successful albums (1985's World Machine and 1987's Running in the Family), Level 42 became one of the U.K.'s hottest bands and a major live attraction. Level 42 experienced major membership changes in late 1987 when founding members Phil and Boon Gould left the band; King and keyboardist Mike Lindup recruited guitarist Alan Murphy and drummer Gary Husband before recording 1988's Staring at the Sun. This lineup is also heard on Live at Wembley, which was recorded in 1989. Live at Wembley suffers not only from the loss of the Gould brothers, but also from the inclusion of too much material from Staring at the Sun, which is easily Level 42's worst studio album. The previous live effort, A Physical Presence, was recorded at small venues as the band was gaining popularity, and the club atmosphere better suited the band's jazz-inspired pop; Wembley's arena setting is distracting, and the performances on the album suggest the band simply didn't try as hard following its worldwide success. Many of the live renditions seem rushed and sloppy (particularly on the hits "Lessons in Love" and "Something About You"), and Mark King is often unbearably cocky; his half-hearted vocals on Live at Wembley are downright painful to hear. Level 42's early live shows were highly acclaimed affairs, boasting stellar musicianship and a band obviously working hard to prove itself. Live at Wembley is a messy release from a highly successful band that obviously no longer had to prove anything. Live at Wembley is obviously an essential purchase for Level 42 completists, but the casual fan is better off with the studio albums (or 1989's greatest hits package Level Best.) For a much more satisfying record of Level 42's live shows, skip Live at Wembley and search for A Physical Presence.
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AllMusic Review by William Cooper