Ultravox – Future Picture – ‘Live’ | 1995 – 1.5
The release of this album in 1995, brings to a close the “Billy Currie’s Ultravox” trilogy. This album was unique in that it was the only of the three to surface in the UK first. The first two studio albums were German releases initially. Almost as surprising was the fact that this marked the first release of a full album, marked “Ultravox” with live music on it. The Foxx and Ure lineups of the band each managed only an EP of live material each [“Live Retro”/”Monument: The Soundtrack”] but this is a full 15 track program.
According to Currie’s liner notes, this “Ingenuity” lineup of the band was recorded in Italy during 1993, possibly prior to the recording, but certainly the release, of the “Ingenuity” album. One suspects that a promoter made an offer they couldn’t refuse, but I’m shocked that Currie would set foot in Italy again following the last tour he undertook there with the Ure lineup. [See: Midge Ure: If I Was bio for details]
The album is a hit or miss affair on a number of levels, and my first theory why has to do with the naming of the album. Notice that “live” is in “quotes.” To my ears, this sounds like a top notch rehearsal live recording with audience ambience and between song patter crudely added from some actual Italian show dates recorded on an Emerson boombox with a condenser mic onto a normal bias tape… that had been left on a dashboard on some pickup truck in Tulsa, Oklahoma on a particularly dry, hot and dusty summer.
In other words, this “concert recording” is a mess; it sounds like it was edited with a trowel. This even takes the cake for unprofessional live album editing away from Ian Hunter’s “Welcome To The Club.” And that has some of the crudest splices I’ve ever heard on a professional recording. Where the albums differ most greatly is with the quality of the performances recorded therein. Whereas Ian Hunter’s album is a joyous, almost definitive picture of Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson in performance, this album a more perfunctory affair. Currie and his Ultravox Mk IV band plug away on a program that includes six out of the ten tracks on their fine “Ingenuity” album, in addition to a brace of classic Ultravox material.
Surprisingly, they even manage to play a cut from “Systems Of Romance,” the sublime “Slow Motion.” The live arrangement has been altered and extended for added interest, but with Sam Blue singing, and Vinny Burns on guitar, the effect ends up being ultimately no more than a nice cover, in spite of one of the song’s writers still doing the heavy lifting here. The live material from “Ingenuity” holds no surprises. It was good on disc, it sounds much the same here. Again, I can’t say if this was recorded before or after committing the tracks to tape in the studio, but the arrangements are identical.
Alternatively, the large amount of Ultravox Mk II material, is played as if a really competent cover band [but not an Ultravox ‘tribute’ band] were having a crack at it with Currie sitting in for a laugh. It’s here where this enterprise hits the skids, ultimately. And finally, the finger points to Currie at the temerity of forming two bands after Ultravox Mk II split up that perhaps should not have been called “Ultravox” but instead should have been called something else, in all honesty. While its true that he was huge swaths of Ultravox’ artistic DNA, he is only one man after all!
Not surprisingly, the one Ure era song that really succeeds here is “One Small Day,” one of the Mark II band’s least typical songs. In this band’s hands it sounds less out of place than it did on “Lament” and I’m of the opinion that it never sounded better, actually. It’s the one bullseye to be found here. This was the band that it was made for, really.
In closing this is a missable selection, that absolutely doesn’t gel due to the wildly disparate sound of the performance versus everything else. I can’t stress enough that it could very well be a rehearsal studio recording poorly edited with an actual live tape, as I said, recorded on a boombox and very crudely mixed together to simulate a live album. The EQ on the audience ambience is insanely tinny whereas the performances sound great. But the hand at the boards was startlingly incompetent. For instance, the new song “Ideals” ends with audience cheering that segues in to the next song, “Vienna.” At a certain point, the cheering for the previous song ends abruptly as the distinctive “Vienna” percussive intro manifests itself. You know and I know, that even when Billy Currie’s Ultravox® lay into “Vienna” you won’t be able to get people to crank down the enthusiasm, much less stop on a dime! This one is for die-hards only.
Hell freezes over… oops – wrong band!