[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