Rock GPA: Ultravox – Return To Eden [part 12]

Ultravox – Return To Eden | 2010 – 3.5

Following the ignominious end of Ultravox Mk II in 1988 after the disastrous “UVOX” album and tour,  it was not seen as a given that the four members would ever work together again. After all, Warren Cann had been drummed out of the group by Ure with the complicit approval of Cross and Currie. Nevertheless, in Ure’s autobiography, “If I Was,” published in 2004, he expressed strong contrition over his handling of the issues that led to Cann’s sacking with no little amount of regret for the whole event. When the band resurfaced in 2009 at the behest of their manager, who suggested that the market was ripe for a burying of the hatchet, the idea was to do a retro tour, no doubt adding luster to the manager’s bottom line. Ure probably had to eat a king-sized stuffed crow in the presence of Cann, who had no contact with him in the intervening years.

But in 2009 they mounted the “Return To Eden” tour in the UK which looked like a success on its terms. The show at The Roundhouse was recorded for posterity and released as a deluxe CD/DVD package that was lots of fun for those fans not in the UK who didn’t attend but might have been interested. The set was the first full length Ultravox Mk II live album ever released, and when I say full-length, I mean just that. The whole concert is spread over two CDs. The program is heavily tilted in favor of the “Vienna” and “Rage In Eden” albums, which can’t be a bad thing, where Ultravox Mk II are concerned!

The show began with “Astradyne” and I was impressed to hear that the show had been recorded and mixed “warts and all” since keyboardist Billy Currie obviously lost the plot by the point of his piano solo and rescued the fluffed solo by repeating a bar to fill the measure! He may cringe now, but as I say, the blunt honesty of the record of performance I found to be endearing. Apart from Currie’s gaffe, the playing of all concerned was just fine. This was what most remember as Ultravox.

The biggest change that the band evidences, apart from the obvious reliance on soft synths, was that Ure’s vocals had gained immensely in power and control as compared to his youthful years. True, he lost some of his high end with age – that’s going to happen, but the manner in which he compensated made his singing better than ever, in my opinion. It’s not known whether he had professional training or it may have simply been the college of life experience; whatever the case, his vocals pretty much erased the memories of any previous live recordings that you may have heard.

One curious programming decision was made on disc one that had me scratching my head. “I Remember [Death In The Afternoon]” immediately precedes the song “Rage In Eden!” Anyone familiar with the album would never think to have the running order reversed like that, particularly since on record, the songs are linked by an elaborate segue, which should certainly be possible in this modern digital age. For whatever the reason, the end result is jarring, but if they were looking to shake up audience expectations, it worked.

A highlight of disc two is the always bracing “All Stood Still.” This is, after 32 years, creeping into the pole position of my favorite song from “Vienna.” The tune’s visceral, gutwrenching impact has never sounded as vehement as it does here, where it sounds like it could abrade concrete. The interplay between Ure’s guitar and Currie’s synths is simply full-on and Ure’s vocals blow the song wide open. He sounds like he really means it!

Following that track with the minimal “Your Name [Has Slipped My Mind Again]” represents almost too much of a whiplash of pacing and tempo, but when the percussive heartbeat of the latter resolves itself into the distinctive intro to “Vienna” all is forgiven. This is brilliant sequencing, arrangement and pacing.

That their biggest hit arrives at the 70% mark of the concert means that the rest of their best selling singles follow in rapid succession: “Reap The Wild Wind,” “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” and the kitschy “Hymn” close the show but there’s still the encore. “Sleepwalk” was wisely withheld to add velocity to the close of the show. This track was their “Judas Priest On Synths” Chrysalis debut single from 1980 and the pacing adds zest to the program’s close, but not as much as the real finale.

They close with their classic live arrangement of “The Voice” where Ure, Currie, and Cross join Cann on a drum movement coda to the number following Currie’s solo on the song’s outro. It’s the same thing they did on the “Quartet” tour and if they hadn’t resurrected that on these shows, there might have been rioting by the normally staid ‘Vox fans in attendance. By the show’s end, Ure’s voice is starting to get a little ragged, but the show did sound great. This band knows how to cook on their style of high-tech, rock music with a great blend of atmosphere and aggression by turns. That they had not played together for over twice as long as they had [apart from Ure – who joined in 1980] makes their achievement somewhat considerable. The end result is the definitive live Ultravox album with an added bonus of Ure’s best vocals ever. The DVD was icing on the cake, especially since it is the only way to hear Ultravox in 5.1 surround sound.

But the devil in the details would be any new music the group attempted going forward. In 2009, this was not a given, but when considering the success of these 2009 shows, in addition to the 2010 European tour the band undertook, it didn’t take a clairvoyant to see where this was heading. There would be a new Ultravox album at some point and when it was announced in Januray of 2011, it was all but a fait accompli. I took this news with gravity. It’s one thing to reunite and play the oldies. Even this well. Still, it’s quite another when you have a apparition like “UVOX” lingering on this mortal coil, repelling all with its stench. Whatever the band attempted, it would be the final brick in their lasting legacy, and should not be undertaken lightly.

Finally: …They dared to call it ‘Brilliant”

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
This entry was posted in Core Collection, New Romantic, Rock GPA and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Rock GPA: Ultravox – Return To Eden [part 12]

  1. chas_m says:

    Somehow I was only dimly aware of this record and assumed it to be a repackaging. Thanks for the heads up, PPM!

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      chas_m – Yeah, the cover is lazy and deceptive. Good luck in getting the 3 disc edition! Within months, it was de-bundled and sold as a 2xCD and a separate PAL DVD. You may find it on the aftermarket!

      Like

  2. Echorich says:

    I’ve only recently purchased Return to Eden. Partly because of my normal aversion to live albums, but also because it was a bit of an extravagance.
    But I do own it now as it is really wonderful. The last half of the second cd is amazing! Sleepwalk is stunning and The Voice is magical. Lament is strong as a live track and does show off Ure’s matured vocals. One Small Day is still a Midge moment, especially with his audience participation, but I’m sure if I was in The Roundhouse that night I would have been caught up in things as well.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Did you, by chance, get the edition with the DVD added as well? The early edition came with the bundled DVD which was later sold seperately. Best of all was that the DVD was NTSC, region free and when separated, I think it was a PAL edition. Sweet! The bonus documentary on the reunion was interesting, too. You were party to all of Ure’s trepidations, including those regarding Warren Cann.

      Speaking of whom, I just came across my late 90s correspondence with Mr. Cann. It transpired that while reading the Ultravox forum at the time, that he wanted a copy of “The Collection” on video to watch with his wife. Since I had the JPN LDs of that and “Monument,” naturally I volunteered since he would get the best quality! He was happy to get good copies and if you know him, was most loquacious, offering up lots of anecdotal information, particularly in regard to the band’s relationship with Chrysalis USA! He also had a bevy of stories to tell about each of the videos. I should try to see if that email address is still valid! My only regret? I only had email at work and I printed his responses, but not my queries. Oh well.

      Like

      • Vlad says:

        I realise that I’m years late and maybe it’s not at all appropriate to ask – but is it possible to get a copy of Warren’s answers from you somehow? I’d love to know about the band’s relationship with the US Chrysalis – the mechanics of their failure to break the North-American market are of my particular interest and I try to get as much info as possible. You can, of course, say no, I’ll understand. But I must say, Warren’s interviews are most interesting and informative (unlike Billy’s, who doesn’t feel the need to say much, or Midge’s, where we don’t get much specifics and whose answers are generally rather formal and elliptic). Pity they are so rare – and his great conversation with Jonas Warstad doesn’t get past “Vienna”…

        Liked by 1 person

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Vlad – Better late than never. I’ll have to find which Ultravox record [there are over a hundred] that printout is residing in, then I’ll send you a copy. I suspect it is my Yugoslavian pressing of “Vienna.”

          Yes, Warren’s interview with Jonas Warstad is an all-time best! I have given up waiting for the almighty entry that no doubt exists for “Rage In Eden.” I was bored by Midge Ure’s autobio, as it delt with much that had nothing to do with music. If Warren would ever get the idea to write one, it would be all I could hope for, I suspect.

          Like

          • Vlad says:

            It’s really kind of you, I’ll be really grateful! By the way, is this Yugoslavian pressing any different from the others – in sound of packaging?

            I wasn’t so much bored with Midge’s memoir (I’m hungry for even a little bit of the Vox info :o) as it puzzled me. It’s written rather coldly and detachedly, even bitterly at times, with almost no affection shown for his Ultravox colleagues – his descriptions of them are more ironic than anything else. He spends more pages (and feelings) on Phil Lynott or that horrible Blob Geldof than on people with whom he worked for years and made the best music of his life! It’s sad to know they weren’t that close personally… And even music that he says he’s so passionate of is less well-covered than his alcohol addiction. There are good moments, of course, but overall it’s a book of conflicting impressions.

            As for Warren, it actually stikes me for find a musician not only this knowing or eloquent but this intellectual. He must’ve been a noted author or critic, his interviews and articles are a joy to read – so much depth and insight! I think it’s no wonder Midge didn’t warm to him perhaps being intimidated by his presence and knowledge (and maybe stature too :o) I agree, it’ll be a great shame if Warren won’t leave a book on Ultravox (and his life in general) behind him.

            Like

            • postpunkmonk says:

              Vlad – You make a striking point which may have been at the root of the issues with Warren, deep beneath the musical differences. I say you’re right. I think he was very intimidated by Warren. Warren is highly intelligent and seems to have had a good education. If not, he’s enough of a autodidact to compete with Bowie on that score. He’s 6’4″ tall. He speaks in an impressive baritone. He can hold forth on a wide variety of subjects with apparent ease. Midge is 5’3″ and left school at 15 to be a pop star in Slik. I’ve maintained that he was ill educated and as a consequence, was in over his head when it came to songwriting at the level of his predecessor in Ultravox. I find his mature work [post ’83] to be very tiresome in the themes he drags out time and time again. Naive hand wringing about how the world is an awful place and how he’s not much better. Songs he wrote from ’80-’83 may have been shallow, but at least they had appealing surfaces.

              As for the Yugoslavian pressing of “Vienna”…

              Like

              • Vlad says:

                So I’m not the only one on the subject of Midge’s lyrical prowess – good:o) It always confused (and at times depressed) me why after 1984 his songs became so narrow in themes and increasingly insular (exactly what you said, actually). Almost makes one wonder if he’s really the same man who did “Rage in Eden” lyrics! But you’re right, he simply isn’t educated enough – even saying on various occasions that while at school nothing interested him apart from drawing and music! And his fave book was Errol Flynn memoirs… He couldn’t be up to the task for long.

                It’s a shame Warren didn’t have a chance to write for the band more – he did a good job on “Vienna”, after all, and it’d widen the band’s lyrical canon considerably, I’m sure. “Paths & Angles” is as good as anything on “Quartet” or “Lament” – which says a lot.

                Like

                • postpunkmonk says:

                  Vlad – I personally consider “Paths + Angles” superior to anything on “Quartet” and “Lament.” Possibly even “Rage In Eden!”

                  Like

                  • postpunkmonk says:

                    Vlad – By the way, on mobile, your last reply is set one character at a time, vertically!

                    L
                    i
                    k
                    e

                    t
                    h
                    i
                    s

                    And my response [the one above this] is missing entirely! Congratulations on making this comment thread that long!

                    Like

  3. zoo says:

    Listened to this on Spotify. You’re right about “All Stood Still” being a scorcher. Midge’s guitar sounds razor-sharp. And “Sleepwalk” is downright vicious. They added some extra “oomph” to the beats between the words “sleep – walk” that really make the song heavier than the recorded version. He has some trouble with the high notes, but that’s to be expected. Overall, this is a very satisfying live album.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – “Return To Eden” is a great live album, but the 4 track EP they released last year is also worthy. “Moments From Eden” has four cuts they added to their set for the 2010 European tour and it’s equally good stuff. more here: http://wp.me/p11uWm-BR

      And the packaging for this release was, hands down, the best of 2011

      Like

  4. Vlad says:

    Concerning the thread – that’s what happens when I’m given a chance to discuss something to do with Ultravox :o))) I sometimes wonder what it is that makes me so interested in them, even the tiniest detail of their history (and anything related to it)… No other band has touched me as deep. I hope you’ll exuse my obsession, I rarely “meet” (not to mention meet) people remotely interested in Ultravox and generally that thing they call “New Wave” so any chance to exchange some thoughts is great for me :o)

    By the way, I don’t know if you use YouTube, but here’s a funny (and rather revealing) tribute to Warren, and I really hope he maybe will have some sort of recognition sometime soon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTg9pQJrwz0

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Vlad – No, I don’t let Google products use me, but if anyone else wants to see, that’s their choice. So what’s your story? How did you come to be an Ultravox fan? I think I’ve told my tale enough times on this site. When did you first hear them and how? I award you bonus points for not being a Midge Ure zombie. I was one of those for too many years, but I got better. Midge deserves respect for his many achievements; it’s just they have been thin on the ground for me for the last 30 years, in all honesty.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.