Midge Ure Rocks 1980 40 Years Later

I was wondering what Midge Ure playing the “Visage” album would sound like – now we’ll know!

How timely can we get? Just last week when we dug into the DLX RM of Midge Ure’s first solo album, “The Gift,” there was a comment I made about wanting to hear him play more than “Fade To Grey” and “The Dancer” live from the Visage songbook. Just days later, Ure has announced his tour for 2019/2020 which sees him revisiting his 1980 output with a full airing for the seminal “Vienna” album as well as highlights from the equally seminal “Visage” album. This far, the world has heard “Fade To Grey” and “The Dancer” sounding very well, but I am exceedingly interested in hearing him take on tracks like “Visage” and “Malpaso Man.” Sure, sure, anyone reading this would sign up to hear the full “Vienna” album, but it’s the nooks and crannies of “Visage” that I’ll admit that I’m most excited in hearing.

Now, do I for a minute think that this tour will play anywhere except for his strongholds of the UK and Germany? Not really, and for that reason I’m interested in the notion of Ure capturing this show on a CD. Because I can’t just fly over there and make it happen. His 2016/2017 tour of The States had a show where 4/9 tracks from “Vienna” got played, and for that I’m grateful. But yeah, I really want to hear that Visage material live in Ure’s hands! That’s why even though I am snowed in at home [I’m still working though] I have made the effort to get this timely news out there anyway.

MIDGE URE | The 1980 Tour – UK | 2019

Oct. 6th | Norwich | Theatre Royal
Oct. 7th | Birmingham | Town Hall
Oct. 8th | Leicester | De Montford Hall
Oct. 10th | Cambridge | Corn Exchange
Oct. 11th | Cardiff | Tramshed
Oct. 12th | Aylesbury | Waterside Theatre
Oct. 13th | Glasgow | Barrowlands
Oct. 15th | Guildford | G-Live
Oct. 16th | Leamington | Assembly
Oct. 18th | London | Palladium
Oct. 19th | Southend | Cliffs Pavilion
Oct. 20th | Ipswich | Corn Exchange
Oct. 21st | York | Grand Opera House
Oct. 22nd | Gateshead | Sage
Oct. 25th | Manchester | Albert Hall
Oct. 26th | Liverpool | Philharmonic Hall

The Midge Ure website says that German dates will be forthcoming any day now, with other territories to follow. Like I said, I don’t expect to see any US dates but I’m ready to be pleasantly surprised should they happen. Any tour might come as close as Charlotte or Raleigh. We’ll see. With Ultravox a non-starter, we’ll have to be thankful for the reunion shows a decade ago. We got a live album/DVD/EP out of it. I don;t need a DVD of this but I’d be very content with a CD of such a show. It’s hard to believe that “Vienna” is coming up to the 40 year mark, but almost everything I cherish musically is that old. Where did the time go? UK and Euro fans be sure to catch this and to share your thoughts.

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection, New Romantic, Organ Auction Live Event, Scots Rock, Tourdates | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

REDUX: A Young Person’s Guide To: The Dickies – Nights In White Satin


July 30, 2014

A+M Records | UK| 7" | 1979 | AMS 7469

A+M Records | UK| 7″ | 1979 | AMS 7469

The Dickies: Nights In White Satin UK 7″ [1979]

  1. Nights In White Satin
  2. Waterslide [remix]

Back in the New Wave era we had a crate load of irreverent, smart-assed cover versions. Cover versions usually follow new genres. Disco was filled with ’em. It’s how new styles become ripe for exploitation after the pioneers define them. What set New Wave apart is that is was full of cover versions that were intellectual responses to a lot of what came before. Much of the genre was a reaction against: rock pretension, smugness, and accomplishment. As Meatloaf said, “two outta three ain’t bad.” The record we’re looking at today certainly hits the target for the first two criteria, but don’t let their amphetamine speed fool you; The Dickies had talent to spare even as they were practically allergic to using it in the ways that, let’s say, Rick Wakeman, might have done. They partially existed to mock rock royalty’s penchant for pretension and smugness.

And nowhere is that ethos more encapsulated than within the grooves of this record. If ever there was a standard-bearer for middlebrow pretension in rock, it was probably The Moody Blues with their laughably kitschy, albeit game-changing, second album. When I was nine years old, for some reason, “Nights In White Satin,” the 1967 single by The Moody Blues was inexplicably a number one single in America five years later! As a child, I found the song impossibly maudlin and depressing. Five years later, as a pretentious adolescent, it became for a year or two, my favorite song ever! Fortunately, I came to my senses and when I had more education and experience under my belt, I could see it as the processed cheese that it always was.

White vinyl from A+M UK, of course!

White vinyl from A+M UK, of course!

So the time was ripe in 1979 for The Dickies to give this stodgy piece of middlebrow aspiration an injection of irreverent speed and fun; the last quality being completely alien to The Moody Blues, who were as stiff as boards. They rip through this with aplomb, but it’s perhaps not quite as fast as their blistering take on “Paranoid,” which actually was a great song before they covered it. Here, they are content to merely spray seltzer in Justin Hayward’s face, metaphorically, at least. As usual, the primary, A+M UK 7″ was, like almost every Dickies single, issued on colored vinyl. This time it was white, of course. Sadly, this is not a record in my Record Cell, but I should get a copy since the B-side is a remix of “Waterslide” from the band’s debut album. Fortunately, copies of this seem to be plentiful and at low prices.

A+M Records | Portugal | 7" |1979 | PAM 20069F

A+M Records | Portugal | 7″ |1979 | PAM 20069F

The Dickies: Nights In White Satin PORTUGAL 7″ [1979]

  1. Nights In White Satin
  2. Infidel Zombie

Strangely, enough, their is another sleeve variant for the Portuguese release, also made in 1979. As we can see, the tie + tails splendor of the UK sleeve has been eschewed for a straight run of the cover to the attendant “Dawn Of The Dickies” album. Why, I can’t quite say. Sure, the type treatment differs, understandably. But only Dickies completists need apply here, since the colored vinyl stayed in the UK and more importantly, the B-side with a remix variant was swapped for a straight cut from the “Dawn Of The Dickies” album.

A+M Records | US | 7" | 1980 | 2225-S

A+M Records | US | 7″ | 1980 | 2225-S

The Dickies: Nights In White Satin US withdrawn 7″ [1980]

  1. Nights In White Satin
  2. Manny, Moe, and Jack

Throughout my history of collecting records, there are more than a handful that I count myself lucky to own. Records that I simply can’t believe ever found their way to the sleepy hamlet I grew up in and into the right record stores, awaiting my purchase. And then there’s this one! A+M US was a year late to the game in releasing this single compared to the UK and Portuguese divisions of the label, but in terms of packaging, they more than made up for it! Looking at this sleeve, it’s hard to imagine how such a incendiary image would ever have gotten green-lighted! Even more shocking was that I did not buy this in 1980, but 18 years later! Heck, I didn’t even know about this sleeve until I walked into Rock & Roll Heaven in 1998 and saw it pinned to the wall for, what, six or eight dollars?! As a Dickies fan, I didn’t think twice and today, if I wanted the pleasure of its company, I would be looking at serious money to own this.

The B-side is yet another album cut, albeit one that was a single as well in the UK. The band’s song of praise to the three Pep Boys, who sell car parts all over this great land of ours. But who cares about that; just look at that sleeve! These guys were mocking the Ku Klux Klan long before that became mainstream with “O Brother, Where Art Thou!” But, somehow, I can’t help suspecting that this release may have a lot to do with why The Dickies soon found themselves off of A+M Records and faced a three year banishment from the record stores until “Stutkas Over Disneyland” appeared on PVC Records three years later.

– 30 –

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Pete Shelley: 1955-2018

Pete modeling the second coolest shirt of the 80s.

Late yesterday afternoon, the junior designer came up to me bearing news that “the singer from The Buzzcocks has died!” Incredulous, I had no idea that Pete was dead, but his relevance to the Punk and Post-Punk worlds was significant. I first heard The Buzzcocks when I saw the video for “What Do I Get” on Rockworld. I never really bit for that band, for one reason or another while they were first active. They re-wrote the rules for everything that followed when the original lineup had the audacity to press up their own 7″ record. Making the D.I.Y. ethos of the Punk movement officially begun. If Shelley had never recorded another note, that would have been enough for a place in the history books.

But by the time that I knew about the Buzzcocks, I was already deeper into synthesizer music, making the breakup of The Buzzcocks in 1980 an entry point for lots of Pete Shelley in the Record Cell since his solo career that kept him busy from 1981 to 1988 was awash in technological pop. I first heard “Homosapien” on college radio and had to have this album. I first sprang for the mandatory 2×7″ pack of “I Don’t Know What It Is” to get one of the best B-sides of all time – “Witness the Change.” That song was so hot, that WPRK-FM [the aforementioned college station] was playing it with regularity.

Pete was working with the newly electronic oriented Martin Rushent as these two old Punk dogs were learning new techno tricks at the dawn of the 80s. After witnessing the gestation of Visage, Rushent obtained the Roland Microcomposer and a Linn Drum machine and Pete’s songs for the abandoned Buzzcocks album he would not be recording in 1981 became demos for his solo album. Pete sang and played electric and acoustic guitars and the Microcomposer was used as the compositional tool that it was designed to be for songwriters; only when they were done with the demos the notion was “these sound great – why not release them as is?”

At the time, the juxtaposition of acoustic rhythm guitars with synths and drum machines was defiantly exotic. A new sound was being brewed and the “Homosapien” album was the play lab that enabled it. The stage was set here for the next step on Human League’s “Dare” later in the year,” which would bust open the charts with the new way of making albums. Meanwhile, Pete had a solo career that was as far from the punk pop roots of The Buzzcocks possible. The queer core embedded in “Homosapien” insured that it would not become the hit that “Don’t You Want Me” eventually would become, but don’t tell that to the club denizens who took to this anthem and the very first excursions into electro-dubspace that filled the 12″ singles from Pete Shelley.

Rushent applied honest dub technique to electronic sound and in the process became the go-to producer of 1982; at least until “Poison Arrow” byTrevor Horn dropped and changed the game overnight. I had heard that Pete Shelley was doing a solo tour of the US with machines and tapes in tow, but the closest it came to me in Orlando was Atlanta and those games didn’t happen for years. Meanwhile, I haunted the Record City store asking when Pete’s second album was ever getting released.

It seemed like an eternity but in early 1983 it finally got a domestic release and I wasted no time in buying it or the pre-release 12″ single of the mighty “Telephone Operator.” “XL-1” was a more consistent outing than “Homosapien” had been. I had the US version of the former album, and it had some B-sides swapped int the running order for a few of the left-field tracks that were a strange fit for the album. At least “XL-1” was intact in comparison.

After  three year wait, Shelley re-emerged with an album produced by the inescapable Stephen Hague. It wasn’t bad. The singles were strong, but it seemed to lack a certain flair the first two albums had in excess. Maybe the sad fact was that by 1986, everything pop was synthpop. In the last decade I’ve been tracking down the 12″ singles from this album as they are the only Shelley rarities not on CD.

Following that album, Shelley seemed to disappear, until three years later the ’81  Buzzcocks lineup reformed for a series of gigs. The main duo of Shelley and Steve Diggle would helm various versions of the band and in 1993 they made a new album that is the only Buzzcocks in the Record Cell: “Trade Test Transmission.” No… wait. That’s not quite true, I just remembered that I have a Buzzcocks laserdisc [which I’ve never seen] that came out in the USA [!] in 1990 called “Live Legends.” I think it’s a show from 1980. I’ll need to crank that one up and finally watch it this weekend.

1994 finally brought the CDs of “Homosapien” and “XL-1” but owing to the budgetary impact of my first computer purchase [a top of the line 1993 Macintosh @ $4500 – really]  and a move that happened at the same time, I did not get these CDs for another 7-8 years. The “Homosapien” CD had some clear editing errors that saw the beginnings and endings of the bonus tracks all messed up, but if listened to in a linear fashion, it sounds just fine. All of the bonus tracks that either album required were added.

Around that time was the one time that I actually saw The Buzzcocks live at the club at Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg. My friend Tom was just back from the UK with a British wife who loved two bands more than any other: Gong and The Buzzcocks. I know, I know. I can’t make up that sort of thing. Would I be interested in seeing them in St. Pete? Most definitely! I got to meet Tom’s wife and I drove us all the 90 minutes to the gig. The band were inside the club at Jannus Landing, not the patio/outdoors venue. It was a zippy, upbeat concert that had everyone singing along with the closing “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.” We got back into town after 3:00 and fortunately, I was a lot younger then. Four hours later it was off to work with me. Looking back, I’m so glad that I made the effort! It would be my only Pete Shelley concert moment.

One thing that has stuck in my craw was how difficult it was to get the Buzzcocks albums on CD. The “Product” box in 1989 would have been the thing to buy to finally take the Buzzcocks plunge, but I never saw it in anything but the cassette version in any record stores I traveled in. It’s still on my want list. I’ve been a little better at buying all of the ’84-’88 solo singles that were not on CD, with the exception of “Homosapien II” from 1989. That one I’ve never seen, but I have “On Your Own” and recently got “Blue Eyes.” I still need “I Surrender,” “Never Again,” and “Waiting For Love” [in addition to “Homosapien II”] to craft that Shelley rarities REVO edition, Be sure to play some Pete Shelley; Buzzcocks or solo, this weekend as we mourn the loss of a vibrant talent who managed to blaze vital D.I.Y. trails in addition to being the 800 lb gorilla of punk-pop, and also a maker of dynamic club music that blazed new trails for synthpop at the dawn of the genre.

– 30 –

 

P.S. – Stop the presses [?] It looks like the first tribute to Shelley happened yesterday with Leæther Strip’s cover of “Telephone Operator.”

 

Posted in The Great B-Sides | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 5]

The US cassette

[continued from last post]

Live tracks from Ure’s Christmas ’85 date at Wembley Arena filled out the program. Two songs, “When The Winds Blow” and “After A Fashion” came from the “Call Of The Wild” 12″ B-side. Of the two, the latter was much more interesting. While the former was much better pop than the number one song that came from this album, the latter was a one-off single from ’83 with Mick Karn of JAPAN. At the time, it was an underwhelming experiment. Nowhere near the ideal of JAPAN Meets Ultravox that could have caused us all to burst into flames if it had lived up to the full promise of that premise. But the live take here took a dryly reserved bit of art rock and gave it a vocal performance that bit down hard into the song’s neck. He’s singing it like he meant it here.

Finally, two more live tracks from that Wembley show were added to the DLX RM as previously unreleased tracks. “That Certain Smile” wins no favors with me. The cloying opening lyric is hard to overcome, no matter how much the middle eight tries. The title track from “The Gift” is a stuffy bit of art rock that makes more sense on a record than trying to imaging 60,000 people in a stadium hearing in a Midge Ure concert. Wembley was ill suited for such introverted material.


This album felt like a mashup of maybe three different projects; a move into chart pop, an instrumental album, and the bones of an Ultravox album. Some of the pop was not to my liking. The first two singles were problematic for me. Ure was hitting too far below his weight for my tastes on “If I Was” and “That Certain Smile.” But I felt that “When The Winds Blow” and “She Cried” worked for the pivot to pop that Ure was obviously trying to make. I suppose he thought that there’s no reason why he couldn’t manage to get a Phil Collins-like solo career out of this. They each had a rock past [Prog Rock, in Collin’s case] but were at home on the pop charts. And Ure was certainly a much, much better singer. But Collins’ career was built on transatlantic hits of the sort that evaded Ure, who couldn’t get arrested in The States.

The instrumentals ran the gamut from perfunctory to revelatory. At worst, these were like late period Ultravox B-sides of little consequence, but “The Chieftain” was a stunning track. It held none of the bloodlessness that sometimes typified the album. The appearance of “Wastelands” and the title track… and maybe “Living In The Past” all contributed to a little back pedaling by Ure; as if he were still keeping a foot on Ultravox soil. Paradoxically, the only two songs here with an Ultravox styled motorik beat were the least ‘Vox-like songs on the disc: “If I Was” and “That Certain Smile.”

We know it as “the pink thing…”

And the fallout from this album would have a lingering effect on the future of Ultravox. I couldn’t help but notice that after designing the first single and the LP cover, long-time designer Peter Saville was replaced with Michael Nash Associates instead. They had designed the “Love’s Great Adventure” single and “The Collection” album it was added to the previous year. They took over on Ure’s solo material from “The Gift” and when Ultravox re-convened, they were the design team who helped make “the pink thing” possible. Similarly, Mark Mark Brzezicki of Big Country drummed on “Wastelands” and found himself asked to sub for the sacked Warren Cann on “U-VOX” the next year. These were external signs of a sea change in Ultravox.

I also found that the lack of aggressive rock drive that typified a side of Ultravox at their best was something that would be in very short supply from him going forward. Fiery songs like the “The Chieftain” were thin on the ground for Midge Ure post-1985. As much as he wanted to be a pop star, to me at heart he’s a rock guy with rock values. Visage may have been a “dance band” but their ties to rock were much stronger than many would think at first. That band had muscular rock sensibilities at their core. The one song I could enjoy on Ure’s 2000 album “Move Me” was another powerful instrumental called “Monster.” Like “The Chieftain” it came out of nowhere to grab me by the lapels and make me notice it. In fact, the context was much stronger in 2001 when I bought a copy because it had been the 15 years and “The Chieftain” since I had heard Ure making as bold a musical statement.

“The Gift” was certainly a high water mark for Midge Ure. It generated a number one single in “If I Was.” That was a feat that evaded Ultravox’s grasp thanks to Joe Dolce. The album charted at number two, and he was able to have a live date at Wembley Stadium. That’s rock on a level heretofore unknown to Ultravox. But not to the co-architect of Band Aid.  This solo career launch was, in a sense, a valedictory lap for the talented and affable Ure. After over a decade of moving and shaking, partially behind the scenes, and at other times as the face of Ultravox in their run in the spotlight, Ure had arrived with his well-honed rock chops ready to grab the brass ring. He touched it a few times, but did not get to grasp it for long.

As things stood in 1985, Midge Ure was the old guard peaking and maybe not realizing it just yet. His music oriented chops would be less important to pop going forward. The seeds of the PWL empire were growing underfoot in 1985. Buy 1986 they would be the tail that wagged the UK pop dog. And dance oriented house music would be taking the place of New Wave rock [on its last legs by this time, in any case] on the UK pop charts. Midge Ure would never have a berth in the UK Top 20 again, and the notion of playing a solo gig to tens of thousands of people as he did at Wembley on December 23rd, 1985 would be a distant pipe dream. Afterward, Midge Ure became an elder statesman of Rock. The go-to man for the Prince’s Trust concerts for several years afterward, but a stranger to the charts.

Following the release of “The Gift,” it  was as if a five year dream of success was ending for Ure with the cold reality that he would never again command the sway that he had from ’81-’85. This album was the line in the sand for him in many ways. I had a hard time with this album when it came out and I was biased against it for the longest time. Now I find it the apex of Ure’s solo career. If I were to make a Midge Ure Rock G.P.A., this would rank at 2.5/4. Maybe 3 on a good day. It was not a bad run. There are many musicians whose time in the limelight was much shorter but “The Gift” will always have a bittersweet whiff to me for all of the sea change that it represented on what I could expect from Ure and even Ultravox moving forward.

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, Mid-80s Malaise, New Romantic, Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 4]

JPN LP with obi

[continued from last post]

The second supplemental disc managed to round up almost every affiliated rarity that surrounded the album. There were a few items missing, which we’ll duly note. The 7″ version of “Call Of The Wild” was missing, and while the “No Regrets” single discussed in the next paragraph was here, “After A Fashion,” his team up with JAPAN’s Mick Karn wasn’t. It would have been nice to get those 12″ single tracks on an album like this. Since this was a “definitive edition” of course they had to add some previously unreleased bait for the fans to buy again. While “The Gift” was al album of the ’85-’86 period, the bonus tracks began with something that went all the way back to 1982, and was the first solo Midge Ure release, and we’re so glad that they did.

“No Regrets” was a UK single that when released in the summer of 1982, went top 10 in the UK. The Tom Rush heartbreak ballad had been a single for the writer in 1967, so it had knocked around a bit in the 15 years before Ure covered it. It looks like dozens of artists took a crack at this one. It was last heard in the UK charts as the late-in-the-game hit single by the reformed 1970s Walker Brothers in 1975. Ure was definitely a Scott Walker fan as he’s admitted that “Vienna” was influenced by “The Electrician” and on this song, he stuck fairly close to the arrangement that The Walkers made a hit with; even sticking closely to the iconic guitar solo.

Ure, chopped off an extra verse and ramped up the tech and buffed the final product to a fortissimo 4:00 length. This single was killer great stuff that I first heard when MTV would occasionally play the video in the early 80s, in defiance of the fact that the song had never been released here until 1993 on a Ultravox/Midge Ure “best of” compilation. I finally got the song in the Record Cell when it showed up as a B-side on the “Wastelands” 12″ single. It took me long years to finally get the 7″ of this and the 12″ [pictured here – I still don’t have one] had a different sleeve but was musically identical to the 7″ version. The instro B-side was notable for naming Ure’s music publishing company and little else.

Next, the full contents the “If I Was” 12″ single appeared. The extended A-side ramped up the instrumental quotient of the song with standard buildups favored at the time. It’s nothing that made the song any better or worse. The version of “The Man Who Sold The World” was another of Ure’s 1982 side trips brought back into the fold. He recorded it for the 1982 soundtrack album of the movie, “Party, Party,” a rather fun group of mostly covers by UK pop stars of the time. I had to have this in 82 for his version of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World.” I had not heard the original at that time, but it was Bowie with Ure covering it! It had to be amazing.

Well, the song has never done anything for me to this day. Even the Bowie original, which I heard by the 90s. The version on the B-side of the “If I Was” 12″ is a 5:30 version and the version on “Party Party” is a 5:50 take. I have heard that it’s a newer recording in 1985 but I’ve not bothered to do the forensic listening and analysis to determine this or not. It’s still a dreary, turgid song; now with added synthesizers and drum machines. The real prize of this single was the instrumental non-LP B-side, “Piano.” It showed that Ure had been listening to Philip Glass back then and was taking notes! It’s all piano and [sampled] piccolo ostinatos and builds in an infinite loop of swirling tension. It’s an exciting 2:30 at just the right length.

One of the defining features of the 12″ single of “That Certain Smile” was that there was no extended 12″ remix; and almost unthinkable notion in 1985! That did not mean that they didn’t try. There is a 6:30 extended mix on this CD; the only place where it can be heard. For a reason! It sounds like a rough mix that might have been abandoned since anyone could see that it was not meant to be. The EQ darts all over the place here and what little integrity the song had is eviscerated in the attempt. I did like the extended coda on the fadeout though! They had something going there.

The other 12″ B-sides featured here. The instrumental version of “The Gift” was less anguished without Ure’s vocal on top. As usual, the winner here was still the B-side from the original 12″ single. The live version of “Fade To Grey” from Ure’s rehearsals for his big solo tour of late ’85 featured Mick Ronson on the left channel playing guitar. Slide, by the sound of it. Ure took the leads on the right channel. The whole thing had a wild west, Morricone tinge to it and we had always waited to hear this song sung by Ure, so it managed to fulfill the dream well enough.

The first real winner on 12″ mixes from Ure was the “Wastelands” extended version. It managed to build up the levels of the song’s melodrama exceptionally well. The extended intro built, and built, until it was finally undercut by a single piano note just prior to Ure’s joining in on the song. While the album mix was a highlight, the 12″ version stood as definitive to these ears. Mark Brzezicki, of Big Country played the drums on this track and cemented his place in the future Ultravox lineup, though no-one here knew that it would happen! The other tracks from this 12″ were the live @ Wembley Stadium versions of “The Chieftain/The Dancer.” Live band drummer Kenny Hyslop [ex-Slik] does his best but the monster drum machines of “The Chieftain” were not to be topped, and Kevin Powell does his best to walk in Mark King’s footsteps in an admirable attempt. The live version wisely segued after 2:30 into the first ever live Visage track; “The Dancer.” This lively track from the Visage debut came across exceptionally well. Almost making us wonder what a full Visage tour by Ure and his band might have been like.

The créme de la créme of Midge Ure’s solo career was definitely the 12″ version, remixed by Rik Walton, of “Call Of The Wild.” This was probably a full Messenger’s track that never got released since Colin King was also credited on the writing of it with Daniel Mitchell and Ure. The 12″ mix was radically re-structured with the thunderdrums dropping the listener right into the middle of a team of horses running at full gallop. The bass of Kevin Powell managed to keep up with the rapidly firing drum machines here rather well. The metallic squeals of Ure’s guitar added frissons of howling rock tension to the song. Whenever I hear this it’s pulse-racing time. Ure never sounded better than he did here, and the 8:00 12″ mix always ends way faster than I would have preferred it to! It’s too bad that Razormaid didn’t make a killer 10:00 version of this one.

Next: …Live At Wembley

 

 

Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, Mid-80s Malaise, New Romantic, Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 3]

The Euro 1st pressing CD

[continued from last post]

The second side of the album began with a breezy instrumental called “Antilles.”  The melodically simple song made certain to vary the instrumental attack between the “verses” and the “chorus” structure with a variety of instrumental leads on the verse and guitar leading in the chorus, but the tracks overstayed its welcome by about one of its four minutes, by my reckoning. A little editing would have made this one just right. As it stood, listening to it makes me eager for the next song a little too much.

Fortunately, the next song was among the best on offer here. It was after I finally bought the third single from “The Gift” that I could entertain the notion of buying a copy of the CD. “Wastelands” was credited to Ure/Mitchell but the truth was more nuanced. When writing this album with Danny Mitchell of Messengers, Ure proposed that they “Lennon/McCartney” the credits. Split everything 50/50 no matter who did what. But the song had been written five years earlier by Mitchell alone, when fronting the band Modern Man, whose “Concrete Scheme” album had been produced by Ure in 1980.

To his credit, Ure transformed the thin sounding cut which had a Buggles feel to it with rhythm box percussion and heavily filtered vocals. On “The Gift” it was the powerhouse single after two fairly light pop tracks filtering out first. The melodrama was laid on thickly throughout. This one had the familiar Ultravox heft to it. The instrumentation was reliant on sampled strings; achieving an Ennio Morricone vibe with the sampled cellos that were nicely underscored by the pizzicato highlight on top. Ure finally unleashed the vocal kraken here, as well.

Another instrumental, “Edo,” followed. Named after the pre-modern name for Tokyo, I thought for decades that the famous DX7 koto was at play here, but the shocking truth was that Ure played a real koto on it, according to the comment left by Gareth on day one of this thread. Color me shocked. The fact that this had never been a favorite album of mine meant that I had never listened very carefully [i.e. with headphones] to it. So I never heard the sound of the fingers on the strings that Ure discussed in that informative SoundOnSound article. Until yesterday. In the end, he might as well have used the DX7. The instrumental was a lightweight ethnic piece. B-side caliber stuff.

I can’t say that at all about the tremendous instrumental that came next! It’s not an exaggeration to say that “The Chieftain” was the one that slayed us all at 50 paces when we first heard the album. Maybe Ure had taken inspiration from his pal Rusty Egan’s 12″ single remix of 1981’s “Burundi Black,” but this was on a completely different level! Ure had sampled his garage door and used that sample to be triggered by his drum machines, which multiplexed the sound into a roaring wall of percussion. This alone provided pulse-quickening techno-tribal thrills, but the killing stroke was delivered by having Level 42’s Mark King solo on bass over this urgent foundation. His fastidiously nimble playing gave his bass line the vibe of a random wave synth since he was laying down so many notes with a boundlessly creative tone coloration. When I hear the instruments drop away in the coda, leaving just the bass and the brittle metallic synth loop prominent, I sometimes forget to breathe. Ladies and gentlemen, this one was a monster.

Then, having climaxed, the album went for a lighter touch with “She Cried.” It was another breezy vocal track that would have slotted in very nicely with “When The Winds Blow” and “Antilles” to make an EP that was very coherent; unlike the very eclectic album they came from. Only Ure’s overdriven wordless expression vocals on the middle eight were a rough patch here. This was otherwise Ure successfully “going pop” without pandering. Then, to add some gravity back to the album for its closure, a brief instrumental reprise of “The Gift” wrapped up the classic album.

Next: …Further Listening

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Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 2]

The Canadian cassette

[continued from last post]

Ure has revealed in his autobio that “If I Was” or maybe an instrumental [not a chance] were the only songs he was willing to have as the lead single from the album, since the intent was to separate Ure from the baggage of Ultravox for his solo career. He felt that Ultravox was getting too pretentious and top heavy, so the move to pop was deemed de riguer, but there’s good pop and bad pop in my opinion. “If I Was” was definitely the latter for my ears. I like simple pop music a lot, but that song had the whiff of deliberately aiming low for commercial effect. That Ure had a five year history of aiming higher with me… much higher, made it all the worse in my opinion. After such a poor opening hand, the album could only get better.

And it did. “When The Winds Blow” I felt would have made a much better opening salvo in his now serious [but not really serious] solo career. It had the breezy pop feel he claimed he was aiming for by using Daniel Mitchell’s “If I Was,” but without the turgid, overblown arrangement and such sub-par lyrics. In spite of this one being a full-on solo effort from Ure, he managed to give the programmed rhythm section some real syncopation that carried this song far. I feel that it could have passed muster as single material and represented a lost opportunity.

Years prior to “The Gift,” Ure had mooted a solo album ala David Bowie’s “Pinups” formed of his favorite songs from growing up. Successful stabs at “No Regrets” and “The Man Who Sold The World” carried this through in earlier times, and the only cover song to be included here was a curious version of Jethro Tull’s 1969 hit “Living In The Past.” The arrangement here was a languid, funky take on the old chestnut with a star turn from Level 42’s Mark King taking the bass by the horns and leading the song into entirely new grazing territory. Unfortunately, the heavy handed cha-cha rhythms programmed by Ure only served to let the song down. Making it a near miss.

The second single was “That Certain Smile,” which I bought the 12″ of to see if it was better than “If I Was.” I found it to be another “yes and no” situation. The song started out with the worst opening lyric for a song I can recall hearing. “Cross your heart and hope to die, it’s love.” Oooof! That knocks the wind out of me right there! The simpering music surrounding this was even more disappointing from the first play, than “If I Was” had been. Fortunately, the song’s middle eight was superb; a full on cinematic guitar solo with all of the atmosphere that Ultravox would have served the song up with. I was not crazy about the lead synths, but from that point on the song was certainly a good one.

Nigel Ross-Scott of Re-Flex was enlisted as bassist, and while he’s no Mark King, he gave the song some human feel to wisely get it away from the machines. As did live drums from Lindsay Elliott. Ure was smart to vary the rhythm attack between himself on machines and guest players throughout the album. I would have started the song at the middle eight; it makes a great intro. Strangely enough, the 12″ single was missing an extended mix, but as evidence of whether I should buy “The Gift,” which had been on the racks for some time now, it was inconclusive.

The title track closed out “side one” and it was an interesting return to art rock for Ure on an album that was closer to soft rock thus far. The lurching, slowly paced number was a song dedicated to the art of Charles Rennie Mackintosh; one of Glasgow’s most famous artists and designers.  The sampled anvil made for interesting metallic percussion throughout but the most interesting thing about the arrangement was how Ure had taken the soundtrack to what sounded like a TV documentary and used it for percussion.

He ran the dialogue through a noise gate triggered by a synth or drum machine pulse  and it turned the dialogue into a rhythm track; an effect I had not ever heard before. I’d be willing to bet that his audio source was a documentary on Macintosh. It showed some real creative thinking and indicated that Ure was not yet fully ready to leave behind the technological foundation that Ultravox was famous for in his solo work just yet. The bass here sounded like Ure playing fretless, unless he was using a sampled bass in that way.

Next: …Not Quite The Instrumental Side Two We Were Waiting For

 

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