Ultravox – BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert | 1992 – 2
By the mid 90s, the exploitation of the Ultravox back catalogue had resulted in another “best of,” this time salted with Midge Ure solo tracks, this in addition to a pair of B-side and rarity collections called, not surprisingly, “Rare.” Volumes one and two. But the first evidence of the interest to exploit the Ultravox name six years after they stopped being a going concern was this strange little disc.
Usually BBC concerts that were broadcast stayed down to a half an hour in length, judging from the transcription discs in my Record Cell. This one is 38 minutes long. Weird. The concert was recorded on January 14th, 1981 at Paris Theatre and captures the band at the end of their “Vienna” tour at the point they were just riding high in the charts with the titular hit single. So all of this program is basically the “Vienna” album [minus “Western Promise” and “Private Lives”] in a different order of play. What I wouldn’t have given for any professional recordings of pre-Ure material they performed [only] on this tour like “Hiroshima Mon Amour” or “Slow Motion” but alas, it remains unheard by me.
Highlights here are an especially vigorous “All Stood Still” that cuts like the knife it was with no quarter asked or given. The performance of “Mr. X” here attains its closest approximation of the Kraftwerk vibe that is its soul and inspiration. Billy Currie’s keyboards actually sound like those used on the “Man Machine” album. “Passing Strangers” still has the guitar solo/coda that it had on the version of “Monument” that would not be released for another 17 years, so that means that its first airing was here, albeit in a less polished, more tentative form. By their 1983 tour Ure had locked it down to perfection.
The main flaw this recording has is that the vocals are cutting out at the boards at various times to small degrees. For example, Warren Cann is completely inaudible for the first couplet for “Mr. X.” But the hunger is here since the band were just making their first inroads to the charts at this time. Having heard this in my car for the first time today, I was struck by how some of the backing vocals sounded… female. This suggests that they might have had Eddie + Sunshine as their opening act/backing vocalists for this tour. The main complaint against this is that this is basically “Vienna” live with no other material offered.
Ultravox – Revelation | 1993 – 2
A year after the last album surfaced, Ultravox fandom received head-spinning news. Against all odds, Billy Currie had revived the Ultravox name in a partnership with singer/guitarist Tony Fenelle! Currie had released two solo albums, and had started [and abandoned] the group Humania during this time, and no one was more shocked than I than when a new single “Vienna 92” surfaced on Germany’s hi-NRG ZYX records!
The A-side was an ill-advised cover of the definitive Ultravox single that gained nothing in the hands of Fenelle. Worse was the extended “Goodnight Vienna” remix which had all of the hallmarks of dire 90s dance music afflicting it. I would have avoided further taint if not for the B-side, a sterling track called, somewhat self-referentially, “Systems Of Love.” Fenelle was a supremely slick vocalist; not my cup of tea at all, but the playing and arrangement on this tune was spot on the closest thing to [really] classic Ultravox I’d heard since 1981. Currie’s solo in the middle eight is good enough to make grown Ultravox fans weep. He’d not sounded that good in a decade. Okay, Currie. You got my attention. Now what were you going to do with it?
The following year the full album with the reasonably “correct” sounding title of “Revelation” appeared on Germany’s DSB records, the label that prior to the unification, was the old East German state label! A new single surfaced called “I Am Alive.” It trafficked in familiar Midge Ure post 1983-pre 1986 territory, not without a certain panache. The extended version featured lots of orchestral strings [real] for full-on classical flourishes that came off way better than the last time Ultravox had tried this sort of thing on “UVOX.” Worryingly, the singles B-side was also the superb “Systems Of Love” in the exact same incarnation as on the earlier single.
When the album surfaced, it contained “I Am Alive” and “Systems Of Love” but not the “Vienna 92” track, wisely. The material was undoubtedly stronger than the ill-starred “UVOX” album. Currie actually contributed to material that definitely shared in the Ultravox DNA here, unlike the last album with the Ultravox moniker. Quite frankly, in the cosmic scheme of things, this is more of a legitimate Ultravox album to my ears than “UVOX.” And if Fenelle was a certainly more glib and facile a vocalist than either Foxx or Ure were, at least the songwriting, lyrics, and production were a cut above what I’d heard on the last ‘Vox outing. There’s nothing cringe-worthy here, even if all of it fails to reach the heights of “Systems Of Love.”
Perhaps the only real mistake Currie made here [apart from teaming with Fenelle, which lasted about as long as it took to write, record and press this CD] was in resurrecting the Ultravox brand in such a cavalier fashion. His previous attempt at a band [the excellent Humania] may have ended in failure, but in not having the naming rights locked down [yet] from the ex-members, calling it something other than Ultravox made sense. Here it just invited comparisons, and depending on how far back one glanced, that could be either a good or a bad thing. Still scarred from “UVOX,” I chose the former stance.
Next: …Son of Frankenvox!