The album's sound is notable for the nearly exclusive use of analogue synthesizers, a marked change from the band's primarily "digital" sound in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Octopus saw a return to the public eye for The Human League, who had been out of the top ten since their 1986 album Crash. The first single, "Tell Me When", received support from MTV in the UK and the U.S. and the song became the band's first top-ten hit in nine years, peaking at number six in the UK singles chart. The single also climbed to number thirty-one in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The Octopus album also peaked at number six in the UK, becoming the Human League's sixth top-ten album. It was later certified Gold.
Although the album sold well and created a resurgence in interest in the band, East West Records went through a complete change in management and decided to cancel the band's contract as well as those of other established artists. It was another six years before the band released a new album on a new label (Papillion Records).