Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 3]

The Euro 1st pressing CD

[continued from last post]

The second side of the album began with a breezy instrumental called “Antilles.”  The melodically simple song made certain to vary the instrumental attack between the “verses” and the “chorus” structure with a variety of instrumental leads on the verse and guitar leading in the chorus, but the tracks overstayed its welcome by about one of its four minutes, by my reckoning. A little editing would have made this one just right. As it stood, listening to it makes me eager for the next song a little too much.

Fortunately, the next song was among the best on offer here. It was after I finally bought the third single from “The Gift” that I could entertain the notion of buying a copy of the CD. “Wastelands” was credited to Ure/Mitchell but the truth was more nuanced. When writing this album with Danny Mitchell of Messengers, Ure proposed that they “Lennon/McCartney” the credits. Split everything 50/50 no matter who did what. But the song had been written five years earlier by Mitchell alone, when fronting the band Modern Man, whose “Concrete Scheme” album had been produced by Ure in 1980.

To his credit, Ure transformed the thin sounding cut which had a Buggles feel to it with rhythm box percussion and heavily filtered vocals. On “The Gift” it was the powerhouse single after two fairly light pop tracks filtering out first. The melodrama was laid on thickly throughout. This one had the familiar Ultravox heft to it. The instrumentation was reliant on sampled strings; achieving an Ennio Morricone vibe with the sampled cellos that were nicely underscored by the pizzicato highlight on top. Ure finally unleashed the vocal kraken here, as well.

Another instrumental, “Edo,” followed. Named after the pre-modern name for Tokyo, I thought for decades that the famous DX7 koto was at play here, but the shocking truth was that Ure played a real koto on it, according to the comment left by Gareth on day one of this thread. Color me shocked. The fact that this had never been a favorite album of mine meant that I had never listened very carefully [i.e. with headphones] to it. So I never heard the sound of the fingers on the strings that Ure discussed in that informative SoundOnSound article. Until yesterday. In the end, he might as well have used the DX7. The instrumental was a lightweight ethnic piece. B-side caliber stuff.

I can’t say that at all about the tremendous instrumental that came next! It’s not an exaggeration to say that “The Chieftain” was the one that slayed us all at 50 paces when we first heard the album. Maybe Ure had taken inspiration from his pal Rusty Egan’s 12″ single remix of 1981’s “Burundi Black,” but this was on a completely different level! Ure had sampled his garage door and used that sample to be triggered by his drum machines, which multiplexed the sound into a roaring wall of percussion. This alone provided pulse-quickening techno-tribal thrills, but the killing stroke was delivered by having Level 42’s Mark King solo on bass over this urgent foundation. His fastidiously nimble playing gave his bass line the vibe of a random wave synth since he was laying down so many notes with a boundlessly creative tone coloration. When I hear the instruments drop away in the coda, leaving just the bass and the brittle metallic synth loop prominent, I sometimes forget to breathe. Ladies and gentlemen, this one was a monster.

Then, having climaxed, the album went for a lighter touch with “She Cried.” It was another breezy vocal track that would have slotted in very nicely with “When The Winds Blow” and “Antilles” to make an EP that was very coherent; unlike the very eclectic album they came from. Only Ure’s overdriven wordless expression vocals on the middle eight were a rough patch here. This was otherwise Ure successfully “going pop” without pandering. Then, to add some gravity back to the album for its closure, a brief instrumental reprise of “The Gift” wrapped up the classic album.

Next: …Further Listening

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18 Responses to Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 3]

  1. djjedredy says:

    Er, do you mean “Wastelands” instead of “The Gift” ? which featured Mark Brzezicki on drums and was performed with much gusto by Mick Ronson on the subsequent tour, months before his death.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      djjedredy – Whoops, I danced around that one, never naming the single I wrote about for two paragraphs! That’s the perils of first draft blogging in my 40 min lunch window. Since corrected. Thanks! According to Midge Ure’s book, Ronson was sacked during rehearsals. He was playing badly [Ure suspected chemicals] and ejected before the tour got underway; with Zal Cleminson of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band in Ronson’s place. And for the record, Ronson died nearly eight years later, when Midge was flogging the “Pure” album.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tim says:

    I’m generally OK with this album, I never had a viscerally negative reaction to it and most of it I quite like, including the really poppy stuff.
    A lot of the comments on this album split between technology, musical family tress and personal taste of the album.
    The thing with this album is that it was released when the new wave fully transformed into the status quo and the vast majority of these acts released incredible commercial works that moved away from the New Romantic roots and entered squarely into the mainstream. In short, the New Wave was co-opted and between being co-opted and general creative bankruptcy, drugs, bands dissolving, etc. it was the end of the New Wave.

    Name a band that was commercially active and charting in the early 80’s that put out there best work in 1985-1986. Prosecution rests.

    There is a missing link in this transformation that telegraphed the direction that Ure was going and it isn’t the gawdaful Band Aid single. Between Lament and The Gift was Love’s Great Adventure. If you hate the ”If I Was” video then you probably loathe the faux Raiders of the Lost Ark video for LGA complete with menacing person of color who has to be thwarted by the plucky guitar hero in order to save the blonde (white) damsel in distress. Both visually and sonically the direction the Ure was heading in was made clear with that song which was an add on to a hits collection and, at the time, sure looked to me like Ultravox was done and not on a high note.

    Liked by 2 people

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – What about Icehouse? 1986 – “Measure For Measure.” Boom! Yummy! Cabaret Voltaire! The almighty “The Covenant, The Sword, And The Arm of the Lord!” dropping [along with “Drinking Gasoline”] in 1985! There’s also The Cramps’ “A Date With Elvis.” Bill Nelson’s “Getting The Holy Ghost Across” was another high point of ’85. Yello’s “Stella” was their suave apex. As far as I’m concerned, Gary Numan had his second wind in ’85-’86 with “The Fury” and “Strange Charm!” Two of his five desert island albums for me. The mid 80s brought “Oil + Gold” and “Big Night Music” from Shriekback. Amazing work! The first two Sylvian solo albums were on a high plane. Hah! I run circles ’round you logically! Wow that was fun exercise! I’ve been so down on this era myself that only when you dared me did I reflect and see the equally substantial good of that period.

      While I [gasp] enjoyed “Love’s Great Adventure,” the racist “Great White Hope” video [blame at the feet of only Ure himself] is unwatchable. If you’ve read Ure’s book he cited a survey done on Ultravox that took them to task for their dour, unsmiling image, so that little project was specifically designed to attack that notion. For what it’s worth. Which in my book, wasn’t much. I did dig the song, though!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tim says:

        I waz refering to Hot 100 type acts. Your Thompson Twins, Duran Durans, um, Ultravox, etc.
        You left out Prefab Sprout, Steve McQueen.

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      • negative1ne says:

        Dead or alive – Youthquake
        Scritti Politti – Cupid and Psyche 85
        Clan of xymox – clan of xymox
        arcadia – so red the rose
        go west – go west
        the power station – power station
        a-ha – hunting high and low

        not their best, but still good or great

        new order – low-life
        tears for fears – songs from the big chair
        The Cure – head on the door
        ABC – how to be a … zillionaire
        level 42 – world machine
        howard jones – dream into action
        dire straits – brothers in arms

        later
        -1

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          negative1ne – Good picks, I’d say that any band active since 81-82 [as per Tim’s original comment] qualify. Scritti, New Order, ABC, TFF, The Cure, and Level 42 were all strong showings. The Cure, L42, + ABC are among my personal faves in ’85. Technically, the Arcadia and Power Station also qualify if you see them as continuations of DD and Robert Palmer. Dire Straits weren’t New Wave, {see: The Cars] though some thought that since they debuted from England in 1978. EVERYTHING from England was Punk Ruck, right? I think they were wrong. DS is mainstream rock, though Knopfler is certainly talented in that style. I was just enjoying his great guitar on Phil Lynnott’s song “King’s Call” last weekend. Mainstream rock, but it sounded super.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Tim says:

            I think that TFF crossed over into stadium rock with the second one, I wouldn’t call it at all New Wave/New Romantic/Post Punk at all, which is what I am getting at. It’s a great album and they went from the outsiders to the status quo quite ably. I don’t think A-Ha ever fit in any of these boxes, they make consistently good pop records (East of the Sun, West of the Moon is their peak for me). Surprised to not see Depeche Mode show up on anyone’s radar. Their mid 80s work is verrrrry spotty and they don’t really turn it around until Violator which is the same hat trick TFF did, they pulled off a great stadium rawk album.
            Like Mr Monk said a comment or two upstream, it’s easy to be hard on this period. When you think 80’s your mind in all likelihood is defaulting to 80-83, that’s when all the good stuff was made.

            Like

            • postpunkmonk says:

              Tim – Actually, I’ve always been very fond of “Some Great Reward” and “Music For the Masses” has “Strangelove,” my go-to DM song. “Something To Do” is the perv Ultravox song I wanted but never got.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Tim says:

                I agree with you about those two songs, I think the parent albums (and Black Celebration) are very uneven albums. Really good tracks surrounded by not so good ones, much more fillah than thrillah. Now A Broken Frame or Construction Time Again? Solid albums.

                Liked by 1 person

          • negative1ne says:

            i have been arguing with people for several pages worth of discussions about how ‘the cars’ are not new wave on other forums. I totally agree that dire straits isn’t either. but ‘money for nothing’ is about as new wavy [or wavey] as they will ever get. the ground breaking CGI animation in the video, Sting singing ‘i want my MTV’, its all very meta.

            i think it’s too meta, even for me. at first i hated it, but then when i got it, it made sense.
            i still need to pick up the 10 inch single for it [i collect those]. it’s been remixed and remodelled and mashed into other versions by deep dish. ‘walk of life’ was pop,
            and ‘brothers in arm’s was more rock. but as far as we know, there were many
            groups trying to cash in on new wave sounds and looks, and pretty much every
            rock group tried to do it too, most weren’t very successful though.

            later
            -1

            Like

    • JT says:

      “Name a band that was commercially active and charting in the early 80’s that put out [their] best work in 1985-1986. ”

      Your point is taken, and I basically agree. But for the sake of argument:

      The The (Infected and then Mind Bomb).

      Shriekback (Oil and Gold and then Big Night Music).

      Like

      • postpunkmonk says:

        JT – Kudos for “Infected!” I can’t think of everything, though I did hit upon Shriekback. I get so negative about the Mid-80s Malaise [as I call it], but the reality is a bit more nuanced. I used to put “The Gift” in that negative zone, but time has been kinder to it than I would have thought. I’d go as far as grouping in Visage’s “Beat Boy” in with it. In the latter two it’s more a case of 1-2 howlingly bad tracks dragging down a decent, if not stellar album. And I’ll take “If I Was” over “Casualty” any day.

        Like

      • I’ve tried to like The The, but I jus can’t. But totally with you for Shriekback.

        Like

  3. zoo says:

    “Name a band that was commercially active and charting in the early 80’s that put out there best work in 1985-1986. Prosecution rests.”

    You all forgot Simple Minds…JOKING!!!!!

    Like

  4. djjedredy says:

    Oops butting in on a Lively Debate. This was the clip that confused me about Ronson….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UQ8qm9jiks (it was one of my first gigs)

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      djjedredy – In Midge’s autobio, he decried the slide guitar that Ronson was intent on playing in his band, but I think it did work well on the arrangement of “Fade To Grey” captured here. Ronson was filling the space that synths had occupied in the original. I would have liked to have heard it with no synthesizers in it [gasp!], rather than the cheesy Eastern figure that Daniel Mitchell favored.

      Like

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