Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 1]

Midge Ure at his mid-80s pomp – the poster that came with the 1st UK LP of “The Gift”

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?


Chrysalis ‎| UK | 2xCD | 2010 | CHRX 1058

Midge Ure: The Gift DLX RM UK 2xCD [2010]

Disc 1

  1. If I Was
  2. When The Winds Blow
  3. Living In The Past
  4. That Certain Smile
  5. The Gift
  6. Antilles
  7. Wastelands
  8. Edo
  9. The Chieftain
  10. She Cried
  11. The Gift (Reprise)

Disc 2

  1. No Regrets
  2. Mood Music
  3. If I Was (Extended Mix)
  4. Piano
  5. The Man Who Sold The World
  6. That Certain Smile (Extended Mix)
  7. The Gift (Instrumental)
  8. Fade To Grey (Recorded Live In Rehearsals, 27 Sep 1985)
  9. Wastelands (Extended Mix)
  10. When The Winds Blow (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
  11. After A Fashion (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
  12. The Chieftain / The Dancer (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
  13. Call Of The Wild (Extended Mix)
  14. That Certain Smile (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
  15. 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

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17 Responses to Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 1]

  1. Richard Anvil says:

    And of course the great third single, Wastelands wasn’t written by Ure at all. It was written by Danny Mitchell for the aforementioned Modern Man album, but when recorded for The Gift Mr. Ure magically got a co-writing credit. I don’t want to preempt your next exciting instalment but in context The Gift wasn’t bad at all. It was no where near as good as the Ultravox albums preceding it but it was 100% better than the Ultravox album that followed (with Midge firmly in the driving seat) and is the best solo album he’s ever released. I’m pretty sure the reason why If I Was got to number 1 in the UK was because Midge was now famous for writing, recording and producing the Band Aid single the previous Christmas, so people bought it because of that, not because it was a good song. I also assume that getting to number 1 gave him the clout to take complete control of Ultravox, it sound, direction and ultimate demise.
    I’ve always found that Midge plus others equals amazing (Ultravox, Visage, with Mick Karn) but by himself it’s always been pretty mediocre. I also think it is one of the problems with successful bands, because one guy stands in the front and sings at least 50% of the public (including the accountants and label managers) wrongly assume he/she is the one who wrote it and has all the talent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim says:

      Fantastic take on this album, sir. excellent writing and I agree 100% with your comment.

      Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Richard Anvil – You said a mouthful. I completely agree with the notion that Ure is best used as part of a mix. He’s got a lot to contribute, but to pin the whole enchilada on him is short sighted. He’s very talented, but he’s not Prince or Todd Rundgren. The last time I saw him, I suggested after the show that he do an album with his old friend, Glenn Gregory. Damn, but that notion could really rock. He should be playing, singing, and arranging in a collective situation. As you’ll see, I have a nuanced appreciation of this album that sits close to your own. Speaking of Glenn Gregory, Echorich is sitting in the O2 Shepherd’s Bush seeing H17 right now! Wish I was there! And not only for his excellent company.

      Liked by 1 person

    • JT says:

      “…Midge plus others equals amazing (Ultravox, Visage, with Mick Karn)”

      And Rich Kids!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. negative1ne says:

    hi mr monk,

    thanks for highlighting one of my alltime favorite
    albums from one of my favorite artists.

    in 1985 i was able to get the US album, and i played
    it several times. i was a huge ultravox fan, and they
    were coming off the masterpiece that was ‘lament’.

    so i didn’t know what was going to happen with them,
    and this album preceded the ill fated ‘pink’ album u-vox.
    but thats another story.

    i actually knew who midge ure was, so i was happy to see the album.
    i knew about band-aid, but to me that was just an average single,
    and i didn’t really follow all the fame and other things surrounding
    it. this album was more exciting to me.

    since i lived in the US, it was hard to get imports, and i would
    see them occasionally at sound warehouse buried in the 12 inch
    section, and sometimes at other stores (i hadn’t found out about
    the import stores in town yet)… but luckily i found the 12 inch
    of ‘that certain smile’ first, followed by ‘wastelands’, and
    ‘call of the wild’, a non album single. i never did find the
    ‘if i was’ single until a few years later.

    i also managed to find a few 7 inch singles imported of course.
    some of the 12 inches were clear vinyl, and the rest were just
    plain. i didn’t know about the other special editions with posters
    and gatefolds, picture discs, etc, until much later.

    i grabbed everything i could from him, and loved it all.
    i would play this album constantly, and looking through
    all the credits, was amazed at all the amazing guests on it.
    ————————————————————–
    mark brzezicki – drums on certain songs, i was a huge big
    country fan, so this was amazing for me

    mark king – i wasn’t a huge level 42 fan, but i liked his style,
    and now i like the band a lot more

    glenn gregory – did backing vocals on antilles, love his voice.

    i always liked the gaelic backing vocals on lament, and it
    was great to hear them again.

    the gift (disc 1)
    ================================================================

    1 If I Was – epic synths, and heartfelt lyrics make
    this one of my favorite solo tracks, it did have a
    latter ultravox feel to it. i didn’t have MTV, and
    i never saw the video of it until decades later. so
    whatever it was had no impact on me good or bad.
    (same with other ultravox videos, although i saw dancing
    with tears in my eyes at a friends once). when i heard
    how well it did for him, i was very impressed and glad
    that he was getting some recognition for his own work.

    2 When The Winds Blow – i like the rhythms, and instrumentation,
    and the lyrics and chorus are sublime. i always felt this
    should have been a single. it’s very polished, and catchy,
    i always hoped there was an extended version or instrumental
    but there wasn’t.

    3 Living In The Past – a slower take on the original song,
    still with mark king on bass, its a great take on it. interesting
    if it is self referential, or just a warning about the his
    future or the bands.

    4 That Certain Smile – another mellow ballad, but still
    a great single, with great drums, and and an interesting
    tune and keyboards on it. i like the dramatic interlude
    in it, which is totally ultravox sounding, with the
    soaring guitars.

    5 The Gift – very cool ultravox sounding tune, with strange
    sounds, and keyboards, with vocal effects. very dramatic,
    and orchestral. excellent.

    6 Antilles – a driving, and beautiful piece of instrumental
    music, unlike the experimental type, this one is more straightforward rock,
    with great guitarwork, drums, and finally the ultravox synth sound
    overlaid on top

    7 Wastelands – a brilliant rock track, with wistful lyrics,
    and soaring drums, along with masterful rhythms. i could really
    relate to him talking about the boy listening to and being a
    fan of music. ‘he knows them all, hangs on every little tale
    they tell’. the whole song comes together in an epic finish.

    8 Edo – a rather slow, strange sounding tribal instrumental,
    that to me, serves as a segue to the next track. i like it,
    but it could have been developed more. there are some nice
    sounding strings and keyboard chords on it. along with a
    rather haunting main tune throughout.

    9 The Chieftain – awesome drums on this, another powerful
    instrumental, not quite big countryish, because of the guitar
    work, and the synths on it playing a big part. i really enjoy
    this upbeat track, and it has a nice melody that fits well.
    i wonder if midge had lyrics for it or not, or whether he
    decided it didn’t need them.

    10 She Cried – what sounds like a follow up to ‘that certain smile’,
    very smooth and upbeat track, beautiful lyrics and melodies throughout.
    and song that could have been from the ‘ultravox’ playbook of latter
    tracks. i like the chorus, and the way the song goes from melody
    back and forth, with the great keyboard fills throughout. maybe
    this one could have been a single too. soo many to choose from.

    11 The Gift (Reprise) – a very short callback to the original
    gift song, which closes out the album.

    ——————
    i played the ‘if i was single’ constantly at that time too,
    and i didn’t even know about the extended version, which is
    excellent too. i thought the extended versions of ‘that certain
    smile’ was ok, but the extended version of ‘wastelands’ is amazing
    and brilliant. ‘call of the wild’ wasn’t on the album, but to
    me is one of midge ures highlights of all times, if it is the
    pinnacle of his music, and stands up there with the best
    ultravox songs in my opinion, especially the extended mix,
    the single version is just as awesome also. maybe it’s better
    that he didn’t do as well in the US, because i’m not sure
    how his singles would have been noticed or fit in with
    any format.

    to me, this album is a masterpiece, and the highlight of his
    solo career. he’s had other hits on other albums, but nothing
    as cohesive as this, and the creativity and the effort put
    into this was amazing to me.

    later
    -1

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      negative1ne – Wow! Thanks for the in depth review from your perspective. I agree with many of your points, as we’ll see next week. I used to think that Orlando, Florida was the sticks, but getting Ultravox and Midge Ure solo singles on import was definitely possible. I rarely saw the clear vinyl in town though. Most of what I have [almost a full run of ‘Vox 7″ers, and all of the Chrysalis Ure 7″ers, but none of the 12″ers] I got mail order in the 80s-90s. I remember seeing an ad for a record dealer in Trouser Press that listed “The Bloodied Sword.” It was listed as a Midge Ure solo album, and I immediately called up the best store in town and they had copies, so my friend Tom and I immediately rushed over and bought them. An interesting record, though far from a Ure solo album, as you may know.

      Like

  3. Gareth says:

    I hate to be a synth pedant but I think “If I Was” is mainly Emulator II and PPG Wave not Yamaha. There is DX7 on the rest of “The GIft” but not much to my ears – http://www.muzines.co.uk/articles/midge-ure/1198

    Liked by 1 person

    • negative1ne says:

      Awesome interview. Thanks for sharing.

      later
      -1

      Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gareth – Welcome to the comments! We give the red carpet treatment to synth pedants here! Do your worst. Thanks for sharing that in-depth Sound-On-Sound article. They are great for that. I liked that article. I would have sworn on a stack of John Foxx albums that the koto on “Edo” was the DX7 voice! Color me completely wrong.

      I remember hearing about the solo album as it took form over long months. At first, Ure was going to do his own “Pinups” with his favorite covers, but that never fully gelled. Sure, sure. He recorded “No Regrets,” “The Man Who Sold The World” and those filtered out earlier, and the album had “Living In The Past” on it. Then I recall hearing of the “Low” scenario, where side one would be vocal with side two being instrumental. The finished product incorporates both ideas without going full tilt in either direction, though it came closer to that ideal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gareth says:

        I cite that article, not only as a knee jerk defence of “If I Was” (the UK 12″ lies buried in the collection somewhere), but also as a closet DX7 lover (a DX7S with dead battery also lies somewhere in the house).

        Agree that a “Low” scenario would probably be preferable to me now; but as a 13 year old I wasn’t ready for that.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jordan says:

    I look forward to reading your complete post on The Gift DLX Monk. If I Was is as bland as could be but somehow I find it an uplifting song. I think it may have been written with the idea of making Midge mainstream. I also purchased the Gift and associated singles at the time.

    Negative1ne, very comprehensive review. Lament is far from my favourite Ultravox album but it’s solid.

    Gareth, what an enjoyable read.Thank you for the link.

    When I think of the run Midge had from Rich Kids, Thin Lizzy, Visage, Ultravox, Producer and so on. It is incredible. What a talent. And then after The Gift, it all came apart and was never the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim says:

      I shuddered when I saw the tracklist on a later Ure solo lp and a song was called ”Under A Spielberg Sky.”

      Like

      • negative1ne says:

        That’s actually a pretty solid song. I have kept up with Midge Ure with every single solo album, every side project, and every live album, club release, and import you can think of.
        Along with the cd-singles, promos, 12 inches, and live tracks.
        The only album I don’t care for is the last one. [And although I think the
        orchestral covers is half decent, I mean the one before that].

        He’s got a legacy of solo career that other artists could only dream of having.
        I doubt Mr. Monk will ever touch his other works, but its way more expansive and
        varied than everything Ultravox Mk2 ever did, and I don’t say that too lightly.
        later
        -1

        Like

  5. zoo says:

    I have this album on vinyl. I haven’t listened in years but will give it a spin soon to better contribute to the discussion. I don’t remember much other than thinking “If I Was” is kinda boring and the Tull cover being interesting but inconsequential.

    As for that video, I wish I could un-see it. I shouldn’t have clicked the link, but I guess you (sorta) warned us!

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – You have my deepest sympathies! As you note, I did warn you! Yeah, the sight of Ure in that clip make me want to do the Monty Python Fish Slapping Dance®. Funny enough, the 1985 year-end issue of Smash Hits had Ure’s pick for best and worst video of the year and he picked his self-directed “If I Was” as both. Parse that as you will.

      Like

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