The miracle of hindsight is that its 20-20. There are a few significant artists that looking back, it’s hard to believe that I ever cared about. Some artists have their ups and downs yet manage to keep me engaged and ultimately caring. Simple Minds. OMD. Even Duran Duran, to a point. Others, seemingly cross a line and never manage to make me care again.
In 1980 I first encountered Midge Ure when fronting Ultravox Mk II on the “Passing Strangers” video. That band hit my consciousness like an atom bomb and were an almost never repeated phenomenon in my experience. Overnight I had to buy all the previous Ultravox albums, the Visage records, and anything that Midge Ure chanced to work on in a rare casual moment. He had the occasional solo single. He produced records for other people. He recorded the occasional left field side project. All of it was of great interest to me but like the frog who is sitting in the pot, unaware that the water is gradually reaching a boil, I was late in coming to conclusions that I should have arrived at much earlier.
At first, it was all good. Ultravox finally sold records by 1981 when the UK market finally caught up to their euro-syth rock aesthetic. From 1981-1982 was truly this man’s peak. All of the Ultravox singles were hot stuff for sure. The band had successfully mined the foundations that the earlier John Foxx-led version of the band originated well enough. The band could all play and arrange like fiends, and if they didn’t have anything to really say, one could still manage to get lost in the accomplished music. There were also one-offs like the Phil Lynott “Yellow Pearl” single that is Midge Ure in all but name and voice; he wrote and produced the record and probably played half of the instruments on it. Sure, it’s a rip of La Düsseldorf’s “Menschen” but… it’s a hell of a great ripoff of La D’s centerpiece of their “Individuellos” album! It can be argued that it’s a perfect refinement of same and I’ll still give it the time of day, knowing now its blatant derivation.
1982 brought the first Midge Ure solo single and it was his great synth cover of Tom Rush’s “No Regrets.” It’s another great single but once again, there is a precedent being followed closely by Ure. His arrangement, though synth laden, follows closely on the Walker Brothers 1975 UK hit version, though I was not aware at the time. Still, this was a record that sounded fantastic and I have no problem listening to it today. But after 1983, in retrospect, something happened to Midge Ure.
Had I been paying attention, I might have pegged the seismic shift to when Ure shaved off the spiv moustache and pointy sideburns. One really can map his musical glory days to his facial hair styling! But it’s not that facile, really. Hindsight and accumulated wisdom gives me the lens to view Midge Ure with more accurately in 2013 than I was capable of doing 30 years earlier, when I was still a fairly enthusiastic cheerleader for his work. What I see now is that Ure was a great craftsman, but not an artist. He really has nothing to say that interests me, artistically. Moreover, he is derivative as the day is long.
He was known to be enthralled with “Systems Of Romance” and admitted such in his autobio. So when the opportunity came to connect with Billy Currie in Visage, he rode that bronc until he busted it but good. Fronting Ultravox was a dream gig for the young Ure, already with a storied CV backing him up by that point. But Ure was no John Foxx. Foxx was 29 [!] by the time Ultravox released their first single. He had graduated from University and had begun forming his worldview, which has informed his art to this day.
Ure, on the other hand, dropped out of school at 15 to front the teenbop rock band Slik. He scrambled from that point on for toeholds in the industry with increasing success, due to his technical skills, which are nothing to sneeze at. But when dropped into a recording studio, what did he really have to say? Not much, by the look of things. But as long as he was skillfully pastiching La Düsseldorf, Scott Walker, and even John Foxx, I didn’t care. I was young and callow at that time and lapped it all up dutifully.
<FLASH FORWARD 33 YEARS> Where it became a problem is when I accrued enough breadth of knowledge to see all of Ure’s derivative gambits for exactly what they were; smoke and mirrors by someone frantically hoping that his audience would not notice. By 1984, the jig was up. The market had moved to blue-eyed soul by then and Ure’s Krautrock cops held little sway in the fickle UK marketplace. It was at that point that things really headed south for Ure!
His first serious solo single in 1985 was simply ghastly. I was appalled when I bought the single for “If I Was” and played it to the accompaniment of my own very slack jaw. It was so bad, that I most certainly did not run out and snap up his solo album, “The Gift.” I waited until the third single from same managed to move away from the sappy pop that typified the first two singles from that disc. If I hadn’t been so strongly conditioned by years of collecting, it would have ended there. But I kept up with Ure throughout his seriously diminishing solo career, which was mostly filled with anguished songs of what a miserable, unworthy cuss he was and how it was all just a big mess.
And these trite sentiments were increasingly paired with music which no longer drew from Ultravox, Scott Walker, and Krautrock. What he delivered sounded much closer to Phil Collins, truth be told. By his third album solo album, the indigestible faux-Celtic sap that was “Pure,” I stopped collecting all of his singles. I then waited years to buy his next two solo albums at a cheap used price before I eventually gave up all together. When Ultravox reformed back in 2009 my gut feared the worst. Oh sure, the live album sounded terrific! Ure, in fact, was singing better than ever! The live concert 2xCD+DVD is truly the finest Ultravox live album out there, Billy Currie’s bum notes not withstanding! But I really didn’t want to hear them in the studio ever again. But my vote was overruled, and look where that got us.
After hearing last year’s “Brilliant” album, I finally made the effort to cut the cord that bound me to Midge Ure for several decades longer than I should have allowed it to. If I knew then what I know now, I would have stopped buying anything with his name on it post-1984. The good stuff peaked in 1982, to be brutally honest. He’s not a bad guy. I’d share a dinner table with him. His work for Band Aid is very admirable. His confrontation of his alcoholism shows he’s moving forward as an individual. More power to him, but I can see now that the combination of his craftsmanship and my naiveté combined to make of him an artist in my head when that was just not the case. I’m no longer that callow fan, and he’s no longer even the spiv who knew which licks to lift.
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