We have a look by way of the albums of Ultravox, from their earliest days with John Foxx, to their final document – to this point – from 2012…
First coming collectively in 1974, vocalist John Foxx, guitarist Stevie Shears, bassist Chris Cross, violinist Billy Currie and drummer Warren Cann didn’t have essentially the most auspicious of begins.
Their first single, titled Ain’t Misbehavin’, was a Fat Waller cowl that was commissioned, however embarrassingly then unused, by producers of a tender porn flick. And their makes an attempt to rebrand themselves from Tiger Lily to The Damned have been, unsurprisingly, thwarted by a then-unknown outfit fronted by Dave Vanian.
Even once they signed a cope with Island, renamed themselves Ultravox! – the exclamation mark a nod to krautrock pioneers Neu! – and duly bagged Brian Eno as co-producer, their fortunes failed to vary.
Certainly, the overall response to the quintet’s self-titled 1977 debut was about as animated as its mannequin-themed cowl artwork, with neither the album nor dub reggae-inspired single Harmful Rhythm troubling any sort of main chart.
Admittedly, Ultravox!, additionally notable for being Steve Lillywhite’s first important manufacturing credit score, wasn’t the simplest promote.
Impressed by the dystopian fiction of JG Ballard and William S. Burroughs, Foxx appeared to exit of his method to offend the London vacationer board, poetically bemoaning in regards to the loneliness, decay and all-round discontent of life within the capital throughout 9 tracks, in his soon-to-be trademark sneer.
“Tottenham Court docket Highway litter skitters within the wind,” he bellows on intentionally misspelled opener Sat’day Night time In The Metropolis Of The Useless, whereas “Delightfully disagreeable with the cunning adolescents,” is how he describes a sure demographic on Extensive Boys.
He even finds the time to take a potshot at London’s greatest musical export, The Rolling Stones, on the puntastic Life At Rainbow’s Finish (For All The Tax Exiles On Fundamental Avenue).
The album’s sound was unimaginable to pigeonhole, too, lurching from the pop of the band’s youth (Slip Away) to new wave, glam rock, proto-punk and a haunting temper piece (My Intercourse) which primarily put the New Romantic wheels in movement.
The latter’s use of synths has since been hailed as a watershed second however, on its launch, it largely confounded those that couldn’t grasp the idea of considering exterior the guitar-bass-drums (and violins) field.
As Foxx would inform The Quietus: “Being forward of your time is worse than being behind your time.”
Regardless of the overall apathy that greeted the arrival of Ultravox!, this audacious assertion of intent stays one of the vital important entries within the band’s again catalogue.
“We have been out to piss off as many individuals as doable,” remarked Currie within the liner notes for Ultravox!’s second album, Ha!-Ha-Ha!, issued simply eight months after their debut LP.
ROckWrok, a grammatically-jumbled post-punk anthem that includes the road, “Come on, let’s tangle at the hours of darkness/ Fuck like a canine, chunk like a shark” means that English lecturers and conservative dad and mom have been high of the record.
Once more with producer Lillywhite, the band have been equally abrasive, from the feedback-drenched cry of Concern In The Western World to the glam-tinged defiance of Whereas I’m Nonetheless Alive, with Foxx’s caustic tones on the latter suggesting that he, too, had been gripped by the summer season of Intercourse Pistols.
But there have been additionally moments of unusual magnificence. Lifting its title from a French New Wave basic, the melancholic lament of nearer Hiroshima Mon Amour permits Foxx to show dreamlike crooner, Cann to showcase his newly-purchased Roland TR-77 drum machine and Gloria Mundi’s C.C. to steal the present along with his wailing sax solo.
And whereas Distant Smile ultimately explodes into life, it begins with a solemn piano instrumental that foreshadows Foxx’s future collaborations with Harold Budd.
Ha!-Ha!-Ha! offered as little as you’d count on from an LP with such antagonistic intentions. However because the sound of a band who clearly wanted to get one thing out of their system, it’s an enchanting pay attention.
Programs Of Romance, 1978
Continuing their prolific work charge, Ultravox’s third album in lower than 18 months was one among many milestones. It was their first (and final) to function Robin Simon of one-time help act Neo: founding member Shears had exited in early 1978.
It was additionally their first since dropping the exclamation mark and the primary of three data to function the manufacturing skills of German studio wizard Conny Plank.
The latter infused Programs of Romance, named after his love of methods music, with the motorik rhythms and Teutonic electronics that he’d pioneered with main Ultravox inspirations Kraftwerk and Neu!
In the meantime, Foxx, though nonetheless in disillusioned mode, determined to tone down the nihilism and embrace a poetic mix of introspection and surrealism: see “I’d wish to glide/ Within the lengthy inexperienced gentle/ Of a July afternoon/ Sliding down a obscure dialog” on the ebullient I Can’t Keep Lengthy.
So, did this extra pronounced sonic and lyrical shift lastly give the late-70s perennial outsiders their mainstream breakthrough? Properly, no.
Though it reportedly offered a creditable 20,000 copies, Island determined to chop their losses shortly after an Previous Gray Whistle Check efficiency of opener Sluggish Movement, mockingly a monitor Cann claimed completely encapsulated the way in which the band blended rock and synthesizer.
Nonetheless, this amalgamation nonetheless helped to form Ultravox’s historical past and past. Foxx’s second solo LP, The Backyard, took apparent cues from the document, most notably on the same-named leftover from the Programs Of Romance classes.
It even satisfied their soon-to-be new lead vocalist that the band was value abandoning his journeyman profession method for. Exterior of the ‘Vox’s revolving door coverage, Gary Numan – who’d ask Currie to carry out on 1979’s The Pleasure Precept – cited it as a key inspiration.
However you’ll be able to hear traces of everybody from OMD and Teardrop Explodes to Duran Duran and The Remedy in its 10 tales of twentieth century dislocation.
In 2019, Foxx informed Traditional Pop he believes that Programs… is the final word Ultravox album, recorded at a time once they’d “consciously removed all of the rock clichés” and every member was on the high of their sport. For those who favor the group within the days they couldn’t get arrested, it’s arduous to disagree.
Ultravox appeared to have been lifeless and buried as soon as they’d been dropped by Island and by Foxx, who jumped ship to pursue a usually esoteric solo profession and, to a lesser extent, Simon, who joined Journal. As a substitute, from a purely industrial perspective anyway, all this upheaval proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Alternative frontman Midge Ure – whose CV already included Skinny Lizzy, Wealthy Children and Visage – immediately revitalised the slimmed-down four-piece on an LP which not solely attained that elusive chart success but in addition ushered in an entire new musical motion.
Admirers who had witnessed Tiger Lily’s no-frills glam-rock beginnings might have gasped at Vienna’s reliance on electronics, to not point out its deliberate sense of pomp and grandeur. However followers of the burgeoning New Romantic scene latched onto the album, and its title monitor particularly, sending each hurtling to inside a whisker of No.1.
Vienna the music will, in fact, be best-remembered for the way it failed to achieve pole place, with Joe Dolce’s culture-appropriating novelty hit Shaddap You Face offering one of many all-time chart injustices.
However greater than 40 years on, and that second the pencil-moustachioed Ure belts out “It means nothing to me” above these cascading classical keys nonetheless has the ability to boost the hairs on the again of your neck.
However there’s extra to Vienna the album than its eponymous near-miss. You possibly can perceive why Chrysalis supplied a deal on the only foundation of Sleepwalk, a surging digital pop quantity which gave the band their debut Prime 40 hit.
It’s also possible to think about the befuddlement of the informal Radio 1 listener on listening to opener Astradyne, a synth-prog instrumental which stretches previous the seven-minute mark.
However with Conny Plank nonetheless on manufacturing duties, Vienna isn’t the roots-betraying affair its detractors (NME: “an album of gaudy, typically magnificent, however principally hole edifices”) claimed.
Publish-punk anthems New Europeans and Passing Strangers may simply have escaped from Programs of Romance, whereas the anti-capitalist anthem Western Promise proved that societal downfall was nonetheless very a lot on their minds.
Rage In Eden, 1981
“There’s a starkness about it. An austere, mystical distance – a coldness to it however a coldness that sort of works.” Ure may have been describing any one among Ultravox’s LPs as a private favorite in a 2015 interview with Rhino.
However he was, actually, referring to 1981’s Rage in Eden, which because of Vienna’s monumental success compelled the ‘Vox to cope with “troublesome second album syndrome” on what was really their fifth.
To fight any stress, the quartet modified tack, heading into Plank’s Cologne studio with none materials already written.
This extra spontaneous method appeared to encourage a extra experimental one, too. For those who’re questioning why the title monitor’s refrain appears surprisingly acquainted, it’s as a result of it’s additionally the refrain from I Keep in mind (Loss of life In The Afternoon) performed in reverse.
And in an extra signal of Ultravox’s classical tendencies, Accent on Youth, The Ascent and Your Title (Has Slipped My Thoughts Once more) are all segued collectively in a single lengthy suite.
Rage In Eden didn’t produce one other monolithic Vienna-esque hit like Chrysalis have been little doubt hoping for (“They used to come back up and say, ‘You recognize, ‘Paris’ is a extremely good metropolis identify,” Ure added to Rhino).
The galvanising drums, staccato bass and vitriolic lyrics (“And those that sneer will fade and die/ And those that snicker will certainly fall”) of lead single The Skinny Wall climbed no increased than No.14 within the UK, whereas ghostly follow-up The Voice peaked two locations decrease.
However regardless of reuniting with Plank, Ultravox by no means appeared serious about putting lightning twice.
Though Rage In Eden shares a sparseness with their ode to the Austrian capital, the cavernous slow-motion beats and glacial piano chords of closing monitor Your Title (Has Slipped My Thoughts Once more) actually don’t appear designed for a chart battle with a faux Italian cabaret singer.
Likewise, the title monitor, a equally desolate anthem of doom which ends with a burst of dissonant radio-wave suggestions.
Maybe conscious of these sell-out accusations, the Prime Of The Pops regulars as a substitute delivered an album that was nearly as uncompromising as their days enjoying in entrance of 1 and man his canine.
Having appeared to intentionally veer away from the mainstream with their first post-Vienna document, Ultravox then wholeheartedly embraced it with their second. Out went cult favorite Plank and in got here essentially the most profitable producer in pop historical past.
Inspired to work with the four-piece by his teenage daughter, George Martin was left impressed by his unlikely detour into New Romantic territory.
Certainly, the fifth Beatle, who’d simply labored with the likes of Low cost Trick, UFO and Little River Band, described Ure and co because the “most musical group I’ve come throughout in years.”
Sadly, the band themselves weren’t fairly as enthused in regards to the expertise. Cann would later go on to say the band have been underwhelmed by a definite lack of sonic experimentation within the studio.
It’s true that 1982’s Quartet, launched simply six months after Ure first dipped his toe into solo waters with a canopy of The Walker Brothers’ No Regrets, smooths off lots of the ‘Vox’s chopping edges.
Reap The Wild Wind, a music with no actual lyrical which means, was blatantly recorded with one eye on the opposite aspect of the Atlantic: the monitor subsequently grew to become their first and solely look on the Billboard Scorching 100, making it to No.71. And there’s a notable lack of proggy instrumentals and their USP, Currie’s piercing viola.
But regardless of cosying as much as the pop institution, it’s nonetheless not fairly the full-on AOR-fest that some disgruntled followers purported.
We Got here To Dance continues Cann’s penchant for splendidly creepy spoken-word interludes, for instance.
In the meantime, the baroque pop balladry of Visions In Blue and Hymn, a diatribe in opposition to the abuse of political energy which borrows its melodic hook from Ure associates Zones’ Mourning Star (launched on Arista in 1979), are worthy of becoming a member of the band’s top-tier canon.
Nonetheless, regardless of Quartet being the one Ultravox album to spawn 4 Prime 20 singles within the UK charts, it stays the least important long-player from their imperial part.
Maybe burned by sell-out accusations from their collaboration with George Martin, Ultravox selected to provide their ’84 follow-up themselves.
It proved a re-energising transfer. Lament spawned their second-biggest UK hit, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes which, because of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes, was solely the 12 months’s second-biggest hit about impending nuclear doom – its video additionally appeared to foretell the Chernobyl catastrophe two years early.
In addition to addressing Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to communist China (White China) and political disillusionment (Coronary heart Of The Nation), this seventh LP additionally discovered the ’Vox getting unusually private, with each A Buddy I Name Need and When The Time Comes ostensibly break-up anthems.
Accompanied by a windswept promo filmed within the Outer Hebrides, lead single One Small Day and Man Of Two Worlds, boasting some evocative Gaelic vocals from Mae McKenna, advised that the band have been eager to muscle in on U2’s Celtic rock territory, too.
But regardless of the heavier reliance on guitars, Lament’s true spotlight was its synth-based title monitor, a fantastically sombre ballad that had extra in frequent with the electro-miserablism of Depeche Mode than the chest-beating antics of Bono and co.
As the ultimate album with their chart-bothering line-up, this was a creditable, if sometimes spinoff, swansong.
To say that the two-year hole between Lament and its 1986 follow-up was eventful can be an understatement, one thing the latter was sadly missing.
Not solely did Ure assist organise each the UK’s best-selling single ever and most iconic stay present in pop historical past, he additionally launched his solo profession correct. On high of that, founding member Cann was sacked because of that age-old cause of ‘artistic variations’.
The drummer, changed by Huge Nation’s Mark Brzezicki, little doubt counted this dismissal as a fortunate escape on listening to his former outfit’s eighth album. U-Vox was apparently nicknamed ‘The Dreaded Pink Factor’ by followers because of its neon-coloured paintings.
Sadly its musical accompaniment was nearly as garish. Certainly, it’s troublesome to consider that its 9 tracks have been co-produced by Conny Plank, the German who helped mastermind the band’s transition from post-punk unknowns to synth-pop family names.
U-Vox really begins comparatively promisingly, with the big-lunged vocals of Carol Kenyon (Heaven 17’s Temptation) and brassy horns of jazz-funk trio Beggar & Co on Similar Previous Story proving that Ultravox may mix the shiny with the grandiose.
Their different collaborations, however, clarify why Ure as soon as revealed the album ought to have been titled ‘U-Bend’ because it ought to have been flushed down the drain.
It’s robust to find out what’s extra ham-fisted on second single All Fall Down, the try at Celtic people which makes Irish music stalwarts The Chieftains resemble a pub band, or the moon-in-June lyrics that detract from the well-meaning anti-war sentiment (“Properly look within the mirror and what do you see/ An American, Russian, a soldier or me”). The idiosyncratic musings of the Foxx period had by no means appeared so distant.
Additional proof that Ultravox had misplaced their manner arrives on nearer All In One Day, a self-indulgent reflection on Reside Support orchestrated by a subtle-as-a-sledgehammer George Martin, and the bombastic fusion of sax and hair metallic riffs on Moon Insanity.
U-Vox accomplished the band’s run of 5 consecutive Prime 10 albums however, in contrast to its predecessors, didn’t spawn a Prime 20 hit. It additionally proved to be the nail of their seven-year coffin.
“I believe a few of the Revelation album is absolute crap,” Currie admitted 13 years after his ill-advised try to increase Ultravox’s legacy with out another unique members. Some would argue that this usually sincere reassessment remains to be manner too beneficiant.
Certainly, whereas the band have been as soon as thought of pioneers, their ninth LP sounded hopelessly dated. No Turning Again and Unified each try for anthemic standing however find yourself resembling failed A Music For Europe entries, whereas I Am Alive is the sort of fist-pumping schlock you could possibly think about David Hasselhoff belting out on a crane above the fallen Berlin Wall.
Currie’s appointment of Tony Fennell, who’d performed bass for Edwin Starr and written for Kenny Thomas, primarily hampered the revival earlier than it started.
Ought to Ultravox stage a jukebox musical, then his theatrical vocals would little doubt play properly to a budget seats. On document, nevertheless, they sound overwrought to the purpose of parody.
Revelation isn’t totally with out benefit. True Believer is an intriguing synth-funk quantity which takes goal on the loopy world of televangelism.
And issues may even have been worse. Currie and Fennell duly introduced their partnership with a karaoke cowl of Vienna that was so anodyne it left you eager for a visitor look from Joe Dolce…
Ultravox Model 6.0 noticed Currie dispense with the duo method in favour of a youthful full band that included guitarist Vinny Burns, bassist Gary Williams, drummer Tony Holmes and, notably, new lead vocalist Sam Blue.
The latter, whose record of collaborators consists of Insanity, Montserrat Caballé and The Streets (he duets with Mike Skinner on Dry Your Eyes), is way more suited to the frontman position, his gutsier supply steering Ingenuity away from the MOR hell of its predecessor.
Though not fairly residing as much as its title, nearer Majestic was their first instrumental since 1980’s Astradyne, whereas the propulsive lead single, There Goes A Lovely World, and throbbing synth-bass of Give It All Again proved that Currie hadn’t forgotten what made the Ure period so fruitful.
Sadly, Ingenuity additionally provides in to a few of latter-day Ultravox’s worst excesses. Take a shot each time you hear an air guitar-friendly solo and also you’ll be on the ground by half-way. Whereas no embarrassment, this might nonetheless be filed below ‘totally pointless.’
Ultravox have been at all times setting themselves up for a fall by naming their first album in 18 years – and their first with the core line-up in 28 – after such a superlative. Certainly, ‘Underwhelming’ would have been a extra correct title.
Ure, Cann, Cross and the ever-present Currie have been impressed to move again into the studio following a triumphant reunion tour. But there’s little on 2012’s Sensible to replicate this.
The truth is, with its dreary quasi-showtunes, which counsel that Ure was angling for a job in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s subsequent dirge (Remembering), meandering prog (Contact) and patience-testing ballads (One, Fall), the band’s eleventh album is extra funereal than celebratory.
Often, the extra vibrant manufacturing skills of Stephen Lipson (Annie Lennox, Paul McCartney) shine by way of, as on the shoegazey Movement and Moroder-esque Rise. However even Ure, whose whispered, torpid vocals are gentle years away from the fervour he dropped at Ultravox’s heyday, sounds relatively bored by all of it.