I have written extensively about my complex relationship to the art of Midge Ure. I have alluded to how his 1985 solo single, “If I Was” was perhaps the record second only to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” for the greatest level of disappointment that it engendered to the ears of an ardent fan. But we’ve never actually reviewed the album as such, and since I received the 2010 all-things-to-all-people DLX RM of it as a gift from a friend earlier this year, why not subject it to the Monastic critical gaze?
Midge Ure: The Gift DLX RM UK 2xCD 
- If I Was
- When The Winds Blow
- Living In The Past
- That Certain Smile
- The Gift
- The Chieftain
- She Cried
- The Gift (Reprise)
- No Regrets
- Mood Music
- If I Was (Extended Mix)
- The Man Who Sold The World
- That Certain Smile (Extended Mix)
- The Gift (Instrumental)
- Fade To Grey (Recorded Live In Rehearsals, 27 Sep 1985)
- Wastelands (Extended Mix)
- When The Winds Blow (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
- After A Fashion (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
- The Chieftain / The Dancer (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
- Call Of The Wild (Extended Mix)
- That Certain Smile (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
- The Gift (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
Let’s get right to the heart of the matter. “If I Was” was a record that, as soon as it dropped, my friends and I made a bee-line to the import section of our local emporium to duly purchase the 12″ single of it.The first play did not inspire. We had no idea of how middle-of-the-road it was going to be, since the video did not grace MTV until many months after the UK single was released,and there left us no way to hear it before buying. When presented with a Midge Ure solo single, complete with Saville/Key cover, our natural response was “yes, please!”
But this record disrupted that natural order. I cautiously bought each single that was issued from this album and only decided to buy the import CD that was sitting in the Peaches bins after hearing the third single and deeming it an adequate Midge Ure solo song. This happened at least six months after the album had been released. The problems I had with “If I Was” were manifold. The mid-80s sound of the digital synths gave it a lot to overcome. This was not an Ultravox sound, and no one would expect Ure, a guitarist first, to compete with Billy Currie on synths. But he did this far more capably in 1982 on his “No Regrets” single and I’ll put that down to the gear he was using.
The second issue, which I struggled with, was the song’s lyric. As written by Daniel Mitchell ex- Modern Man and then-currently of Messengers, the tune was pure sap. A re-write of the conceit of “If I Had A Hammer;” a folk song whose progressive sentiment was summarily dispatched here for something far more banal. I could not figure out how Mitchell, who Ure had produced a 1980 album by his band Modern Man for, as well as Messengers, who supported Ultravox in tour in 1983, could come up with something so cliche. I have a Messengers single [I’d have more but they’re hard to find] and it’s tremendous next to this cut.
The third issue was the crescendo he used as the instrumental hook leading into the chorus. It sounded like something lifted from a Liberace performance in its shamelessness. It was a synth hook that seemed to be made of fondant icing. Sugary sweet and goopy.
Then, once we saw it months later, there was the video.
Ure had usually self-directed his clips post-1981 [and he had pulled video director duty for artists as disparate as Visage, Bananarama, and Chas + Dave], but aside from the pin screen imagery, his appearance in this clip was pretty eye-rollingly bad. His miming gestures only added to the grandma-friendly vibe of the enterprise. The whole package [the song got to #1 in the UK, unlike any single by Ultravox] reeked of sell out and a willingness to compromise to the lowest common denominator instead of the crisp art-rock aesthetic I’d been used to from Ure until that point.
Next: …Things Improve