Rock GPA: Ultravox – Monument: The Soundtrack | Lament [part 7]

Ultravox – Monument: The Soundtrack | 1983 – 3.5

The final flickerings of Classic Ultravox: Mark II flowered on this live EP released after the “Quartet” tour. It was the soundtrack to a home video that I first saw on MTV as a Sunday Special®. [Showing my age there]. Since I had never seen Ultravox live, this was an incredible boon at the time. It was only a half hour concert film, but it went a long way toward blowing my mind. But more on that later.

The program began with the B-side “Monument” from the “Hymn” single. It’s a great little tense, urgent instrumental of the kind that Ultravox used for B-sides when they didn’t have time to work out vocal tunes during the tour-album-tour phase of their peak career. Then it began the live EP proper with their show opening “Reap The Wild Wind” single. Live, the band glossed over the many sonic faults of the studio album they were touring behind. Midge Ure’s guitar was welcomed back as a presence, and quite frankly, the backing vocals by the support act, Messengers, were fantastic! They sounded way better than Midge’s own efforts in studio as Colin King + Danny Mitchell had proper baritone voices.

The dropjaw stunner here, was even better if you saw the video. “The Voice” was a classic single given new life in this tour setting. After the song worked out for the solos/coda at the end, all four members re-convened on Simmons pads upstage for a massive percussive movement that saw them all joining in with Warren Cann beating different times in a stunning rhythmic cycle. It is visually and aurally jacked up to 10/10 on the excitement scale and is hands down, reason to own this disc! At the time I saw the video, the soundtrack had not been released, and I held out the hope that this magnificent version would be a live B-side or some such. It certainly got its due here!

After that peak, they slot in the classic “Vienna” single. For a change of pace. “Mine For Life” begins with an elegant metal neck-bending solo from Ure that adds considerable texture to the urgent track from “Quartet” that is given a new lease on life here. The EP ended originally with their latest single “Hymn,” live.

This release was first on vinyl, then a CD followed shortly thereafter. In the late 90s, EMI Gold remastered this title and two more songs were added to the mix. “Visions In Blue” was added before “The Voice” and was a good change of pace. More stunning was the live version of “Passing Strangers” that was before “Mine For Life.” The live arrangement has been extended with some hot soloing from Ure at the song’s coda, which then segues seamlessly into the intense “Mine For Life” intro. Who thought excising “Passing Strangers” and fading into the solo that begins “Mine For Life” was a good idea on the initial release? Insanity!

Finally, the 2009 “Definitive Remaster” added a NTSC [0] DVD of the original concert video and the encore song was added to the CD running order. “The Song [We Go]” never sounded better because for once the backing vocal intro/outro melodies are right up front for a change, and Mitchell and King sound even better than Ure did on the studio version. If you’ve never had the pleasure, this edition is the one to go for. Especially since it caps off the New Romantic phase of Ultravox before they head into the great unknown.

Ultravox – Lament | 1984 – 2.5

By 1984, the specter of the mid-eighties had begun to manifest itself and wholesale changes to the now-declining flame of Post-Punk were spreading across the land. Rock was back; together with long hair and “sincerity.” How would arty Euro-synthmeisters Ultravox respond to these changes in the marketplace? By growing their hair long and breaking out the guitars, of course!

The leadoff single, “One Small Day” threw down the gauntlet. Synths were diminished and the guitars were out in force. This was Ultravox’s entry into the “big music” sweepstakes as they began competing with the likes of Big Country and U2. It was a shock to hear for the first time, but for what it was, it was successful enough. The morose, arty New Romantic lyrics were gone with the wind as Ure instead proffering an upbeat anthem of self-motivation and determination. After buying this, I wondered what would confront me with the next Ultravox album.

The answer was smorgasbord of new styles, tentatively branching away from their core strengths in an attempt to meet the changing marketplace head on. “White China” started the album off and was a great example of playing your strong suite first and making a good impression. This was the most synth-heavy track on the album and featured galloping rhythm sequencers peppered with sampled PPG Wave work adding counterpoint. It was great music for driving but almost more redolent of Art Of Noise than their typical sound. Why this was never released as a single is beyond me, and heads were obviously considering this, because there is a killer extended remix of this track that was added to all CD versions of this album as a bonus track. Eight minutes of bliss that says “yeah, Ultravox can negotiate digital synths without getting egg on their faces.”

The second single from the album was “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes.” This song was Ultravox dipping into the motorik well one last time for the second biggest hit of their career as they tapped into the same nuclear anxiety that FGTH would also prey upon that year with “Two Tribes.” It was 1984 and Ronald Reagan was a little too fond of breast-beating and waving cruise missiles around like deadly phalli. Sure, the video depicts a power plant meltdown, but that was diversionary. Let’s not kid ourselves; the song is about sudden nuclear annihilation from above.  This got the only US 12″ release of Ultravox entire career in The States in a nice remix by Steve Thompson that was kinder than the bands own 10:00 12″ opus.

The third and final single was the elegiac title cut. It manages to wrap up the eclectic A-side of the album before the B-side gets underway. On the flipside of the disc, the band moves far from their comfort zone as they negotiate Celtic waters [as the clannish standing stones on the cover portended] and manage to give the world a preview of Midge Ure’s solo career. “Man Of Two Worlds” sounds for all the world like a Clannad number! Mae McKenna’s Gaelic backing vocals do nothing to dispel this notion, believe me! The bitter, yet plodding, political rant “Heart Of The Country” was a single in Germany only, including an 11:06 12″ opus that stretches the limits of listening.

The last two songs on side two manage to go completely off the Ultravox map as Ure takes the wheel and introduces relationship songs to the Ultravox canon! Perhaps as a sop to their fan base, Billy Currie was allowed one of his distinctive solos on each for the only time on the album, and “A Friend I Call Desire” trots out the motorik beat for one, last time, even as female backing vocals add a new pop spin to the Ultravox sound. What’s next? Horns?! [Don’t answer that…]

Well, this album was certainly a mixed bag. After George Martin’s sterile production, the band certainly did a better job of manning the boards themselves and proved that they could steer the good ship Ultravox without any outside help. There were some high points even as Midge Ure previewed his faux-Irish future solo career in a big way here. Hey… it was working for Bono. But this is ultimately, the sound of Ultravox being stretched to the near breaking point. If saner heads had prevailed, they might have called it quits after “Quartet” but that’s with the benefit of nearly 30 years of hindsight. Truthfully, this album contains their #3 single and it sold respectfully well in a rapidly changing commercial environment. At the time, it seemed like the band had nimbly negotiated changing tastes and technologies to wind up ahead of the wave of musical fashion, but when the band reconvened for their next album, seismic shifts in the band’s makeup and working relationships would have a devastating effect on their music.

Next: The horror… the horror…

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10 Responses to Rock GPA: Ultravox – Monument: The Soundtrack | Lament [part 7]

  1. Echorich says:

    Lament is tough. There are things I like…Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, A Friend I Call Desire, Lament, but Pop is exactly what this was…Ultravox’s approximation of pop. Dancing…got good radio play in NYC and LA and thus the album sold well for the US. But Lament reveals a certain undistinguished, maybe desperate attempt to stay commercially relavant.
    Ure really takes the lead here and it shows. Guitars and lyrics that are his and not Ultravox’s. His vocals are way upfront where they were well blended into the sound before.
    I’m sure hindsight makes me much more critical of Lament than I was at the time and I know I played the hell out of the album when it came out.
    Lament just isn’t the album I think to go back to when I need to hear Ultravox.
    Oh and I so WANT to “answer that”! But I know you’ll be getting to that momentarily.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Actually, a point you bring up brings an anecdote to mind. Back in 1980, Orlando’s New Wave paper, Dogfood, contained an interview with Ultravox where Warren Cann said that one of the things that brought things to a head between Foxx and the band was his insistence on writing all of the lyrics. On “Vienna,” they had that luxury for the first time. They we kids in a candy store! Just that once. On all subsequent records, according to his autobiography, Midge Ure made sure that he was the sole lyricist in the band! When he ran out of vague New Romantic sentiment to mine for lyrical content, that’s when the car hit the wall. Meet the new boss.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – As with so many acts, we are party to the “boiling frog syndrome” when the car is crashing and we’re not even aware of it within the context of the times. Like you, I eagerly consumed “Quartet” and “Lament” within the context of the contemporary now. It’s only with the luxury of hindsight that one can determine when and where it came off the rails. “If I Was” was the cosmic 2″x 4″ to the forehead regarding Midge Ure! If you didn’t know that something was terribly wrong before, you certainly became aware of that afterward. The same happened with so many UK acts in the mid-80s. OMD’s “Crush,” bought with enthusiasm at the time, is another cry for help.

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  2. zoo says:

    I thoroughly enjoy this album. It’s not their greatest, but I can appreciate that the music was becoming increasingly complex. “Heart of the Country” is a great example of this…great instrumental section, with some nice Currie violin/viola (I never can tell) that builds in intensity. “Man of Two Worlds,” even with its annoying female vox, features some very nice slap bass, and I just love the bit when the guitar comes in near the end, really knocks up the intensity. “Lament,” meanwhile, is the best song Depeche Mode never wrote, with better vocals. If you can get past the lyrics on this album, Midge is in great vocal form throughout. On it’s own, I’d rate this album higher than 2.5. Against the first two Ure-Vox albums, though, I can understand your 2.5.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – Very perceptive point there regarding “Lament” and Depeche Mode. “Construction Time Again” would be a good home for that track. Or maybe “Some Great Reward.” Speaking of which, “Something To Do” is definitely Depeche Mode’s Ultravox track! That motorik rhythm fairly reeked of ‘Vox from the get go to me.

      And like you, I can’t determine the difference between violin or viola either.

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  3. Tim says:

    I’m with Zoo here, this one is the Ultravox album I keep coming back to. There are things about RIE that I really enjoy but Lament is just a damned guilty pleasure for me. An earlier album may really nail the sound of the early 80’s but for me this album really nails the feel of the mid-80’s and compared to how a lot of their peers were faring at the time (7 and the Coked-Up Tiger comes to mind) this album gets it just right in a lot of ways.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – The mid-80s were not a favorite time for me musically, so perhaps that’s why I rate “Lament” lower than you and zoo do. Most acts I had been following for 5-7 years were coming off the rails big time by that period. I also didn’t like the musical tropes and techniques that were proliferating at the time. See this posting for more data:

      http://wp.me/p11uWm-VW

      Re: “7 and The Coked Up Tiger” – I laughed out loud. I have been referring to Andy Taylor as Andy “coke-face” Taylor ever since hearing an acquaintance call him that in, yes, 1983. If the shoe fits…

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  4. Tim says:

    I agree with you about how a lot of bands that we all liked were coming off of the rails in the mid-80’s. At the time for me it was with each new release….disappointment! I would say around 1985 I figured that the new wave was done. Now, if you think that the mid-80’s were bad, nothing was preparing me for how awful the late 80’s were going to be (or the early 90’s).

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – You said a mouthful! The early 90’s were a particular bad time for me in that everything sounded so bad, that I stopped being current and became the Post-Punk Monk – unearthing those undiscovered tributaries and obscurities of New Wave that I may have missed earlier or ignored due to the bright, shiny things occupying my attention [OMD, Japan, John Foxx, Simple Minds, etc.] at the time.

      The ground zero for this sea change was the release in 1990 of “Popera,” by The Associates. I had read the name of the band in various press back in the day, but never managed to hear or see any of their records. I saw a promo of that CD in the used bin of Park Avenue Discs and auditioned it in their CD player. The track “White Car In Germany” sounded like it held a lot of promise, so I played it first. Did it ever! The Associates became a full on obsession right then and there. It was at that point I realized that in the face of contemporary indifference, there may have been things that I might have missed the first time that would wipe the floor with me now, particularly in comparison to the moribund [and rapidly degenerating] music scene of the early 90s.

      Grunge seemed to be a return to sludge like heavy metal, yet it was considered “punk!” I was outraged. The nerve! Techno was just the soundtrack to a drug experience, to me. And I didn’t take drugs, so I just couldn’t see it. There was an insectiod quality to it that I could not relate to, in spite of being a huge booster of sounds like those of Kraftwerk or early John Foxx. Those records had a humanity to them that the techno material seemed to willfully lack. And it wasn’t musical enough for me. Too repetitive, but then again, it was the functional soundtrack to a trance like state, not a pop song. And I liked pop songs.

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