Ultravox Revisit Strengths Before Moving Forward

Absolute | UK | CD/10" | 2011 | 10EDENRL1

Ultravox: Moments From Eden UK 10″/CD [2011]

  1. New Europeans
  2. Herr X
  3. White China
  4. Love’s Great Adventure

When Ultravox popped up in the never ending parade of band reformations in 2008, it registered pretty high on my meter of interest. They were a crucial band to me; the very heart of my core collection, really. I have hundreds of Ultravox-related records in my collection. Many of these are “redundant” releases for the collector’s sickness in me. Of course, I am cynical about these reunions; especially those that occurred after 2008 and the onset of the pillaging of the poor… er, financial crisis that saw most 50/60 something ex-rocker’s portfolios shrivel just when they thought they needed them most. Still, I never had the chance to see Ultravox live and in this period, the possibility still has a ghost of a chance.

The question was, did the band still “have it?” Their 2010 2xCD+DVD “Return To Eden” from their 2009 UK concert tour pointed to “yes.” I bought and enjoyed the set and had to admit, in some ways, they sounded better than ever. The digital synth simulations were sometimes weak, but the actual playing as such wasn’t. And Midge Ure had much more vocal power at his disposal after decades of plying his trade such that his loss of top end was more than compensated for. After the 2009 UK tour album got released, I was shocked to hear that their 2010 European tour would also get a release, and quite an ornate thing it is, too.

“Moments From Eden” was originally mooted as a 10″ and CD EP but the packages were united to form a single gatefold, embossed 10″ sleeve housing a deluxe booklet as well as a red vinyl 10″ EP and a CD of the same tracks! The tracks from the European tour were recorded at Grosse Freiheit, Hamburg, and Admiralspalast, Berlin, on April 23rd and 24th of last year. Songs that were not part of the previous “Return To Eden” album were selected for this EP. “New Europeans” starts the program off with a vicious bite not present on earlier versions of this I’ve heard. Vintage early 80s recordings of this track from 30 years ago come across as genteel in comparison. It’s all about the guitar and fat synths on this track; a prime example of the electronic rock that this band pioneered.

“Herr X” is most appropriate for the surroundings as drummer Warren Cann performs the song “Mr. X” in German, as it appeared on the B-side to the “Vienna” 12″ lo, those many years ago. The band’s debt to Kraftwerk is doubly manifest on this, still the best example of Kraftwerk pastiche I’ve ever heard. This track really sounds like the cut left off of “Man Machine;” no more so than when it’s given German sprechtgesang vocals!

“White China” also gives Cann lots of room to shine as he abets the programmed rhythms most ably with percussive fills and lashings of cymbals from his acoustic kit to make this outstanding track jazzier than it’s ever sounded. Of course, live drumming around programmed sequences were always an Ultravox hallmark. The talent of the band is immense, and this gave them a real advantage over most of their peers back in the day. It’s nice to see that they still have the magic. Watching video of them performing back in the pre-MIDI era was a jaw dropping exercise of sheer talent coupled with remarkable inventiveness as their complex sound was carefully choreographed with various members switching instruments at crucial moments to achieve their trademark sound live. These days it’s a cakewalk [or most likely, Logic Studio].

The final track is a strong outing on their last, classic single, “Love’s Great Adventure.” It’s a vibrant version of one of the band’s most robust and expansive numbers. For a band that often sounded European and introverted, the exhilaration that this song provides was a successful attempt at breaking out of their own comfort zone back in 1984. Had it been the last single they released before breaking up, it would have been a fantastic note to bow out on. Unfortunately, the group dismissed Cann and soldiered on two years later with the disastrous “UVOX” album. There was always a edge of bitter failure to that ignominious end for the band, so if only for that reason, their ability to move beyond the squabbles that ground the band down in its final days in the eighties makes this reunion welcome. That they clearly play with gusto and fire is great. That they acknowledge that the last album they made as Ultravox isn’t worth returning to again, shows good judgement.

And the band will need good judgement on their side since they are currently recording their new album together. They have picked Steve Lipson as producer which has two associations for me. On the positive side, he produced Propaganda’s “A Secret Wish,” one of the finest synthesizer albums of the eighties. Alternatively, he also co-manned the boards [with Trevor Horn] for Simple Minds’ very worst album “Street Fighting Years;” largely on his rep from the Propaganda record! I sometimes think that any of my favorite artists trying to make music in the mid to late eighties should have just sat it out instead. There were so many horrific gaffes by people I’d have thought better of.  These days Simple Minds have a much keener sense of their strengths. I’m hoping that Ultravox will also have a more perceptive sense of their bearing at this time as they return to their legacy and attempt to give it a good buffing for posterity.

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Ultravox Revisit Strengths Before Moving Forward

  1. Echorich says:

    I need to get my mitts on this release! Ultravox means quite a lot to me – So much that U-Vox is one of the only albums from a band that I have just plain thrown away after purchase – it was a catastrophic error in judgement on the band’s part and my own…

    Monk you keep edging closer and closer to that great missive on the fall of music in the middle and late 80’s. So many of the bands we love just let the side down from 1986 on. My personal disappointments came from Ultravox, Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, OMD, New Order… I am sure much can be made of the fact that so many of the bands I love had been fighting an uphill battle for sales and recognition going on 8 yrs by that time and record company pressures to produce played into a lot of the decision making.
    In the end I think my growing love for Chicago and New York House was spurred by the lack of interesting pop and post punk coming out from ’86 to just about ’95.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – You’re lucky. At least you had House. Not only did I hate what my core collection favorites were doing [Ultravox OMD, Bowie, Simple Minds, Duran, Spandau Ballet, among others] but I didn’t like House either. I was really cast adrift by the end of the eighties. The only music that interested me the most in this time was industrial/EBM and theNWOBJP. Then in the 90s, Grunge and Techno also gave me fits. Shovels of dirt on the grave of Post-Punk. That was the time when I began retreating to -gasp- rock music of the garage revival , surf instro, and retro twang style. Basically, I got into those trends by casting my eye towards my city’s best local acts. I will mention that I cut loose a lot of industrial/EBM/WTF [NIN, KMFDM, FLA] from the collection in the mid-90s. It’s sell-by date was way past. I stuck with Nitzer Ebb, though. Also F242. I need Ebb’s contemporary album! I just found out about this!

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      • Echorich says:

        Grunge, Britpop, the aging US Alternative scene all left me really empty. After 85, the Positive Punk/Goth sound that I flirted with as a listener took over, but by 89 it too was turning kinda metal or turning Grebo. The C-86 bands didn’t really make into 87 for me, save JAMC, Pop Will Eat Itself and House of Love. I thought for a moment that the Shoegazer scene had promise, but most interesting bands’ sophomore albums were really just that… Deep House and Garage appealed to me on two levels – sheer musical abandon and a very minimalist structure. Detroit house literally lifted sounds from Numan, Kraftwerk, even Depeche Mode. Chicago house was full of old school drum patterns and plinky/plonky synths.
        In this period there was some great music being made by Peter Murphy, The Cure, the promise of Morrissey, David Sylvian – and it seems as though my music collecting didn’t really suffer the dry spell.

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