This summer word spread that the fourth album by Ultravox; the one that made their fortune after years of being out of step with the commercial zeitgeist in their first incarnation with John Foxx leading the band, was reaching us in a six disc box which included the album reconfigured in 5.1 surround by Steven Wilson. I have a few SDLX boxes of cherished albums, but this album was one that I encountered in real time for an impact that was catalytic in my formation of musical taste. I loved synthesizers, but I also loved Rock Music. Here was the band that stood at the forefront of both things and had few peers at excelling on both ends of the sometimes mutually exclusive spectrum. After “Vienna” hit the stores in the summer of 1980, there was no shortage of bands dabbling in synthesizers. I maintain that many were already influenced by the previous Ultravox album, which was nothing less than a blueprint for the future development of rock. But many of them had nothing to do with rock music as they were content to plow the synthpop furrow.
The box was pre-ordered for a change and arrived a week ago. I’ve finally gotten a chance to examine the contents and did my first bit of headphone listening [rare in my world] and am here to report on my findings. The packaging is sturdy and attractive. Rian Hughes, who designed the actually mind-boggling “Moments From Eden” CD/10″ from the band’s 2nd live tour of Europe in 2011 did the honors here. Hewing closely to the style already established for the album campaign.
The packaging was designed to be similar for the CD or LP packages of the title. Thankfully, This was not one of those “kitchen sink” boxes that made the fans buy both formats at once for max profit. The 4x LP on clear wax was separate from the CD/DVD package. Each version came in a 12′ x 12″ sturdy slipcase folio with room inside for two gatefold sleeves that held vinyl or CDs. In the case of CDs, the first gatefold featured the classic “Vienna” cover art and held the large 12″ x 12″ booklet of liner notes as well as an A4 sized envelope with facsimile contact sheets of photographer Brian Griffin’s proof sheets of the photos of the band members from his photo shoot.
The other side of the gate fold folio held the liner notes booklet. The booklet was 20 pages and had input from all of the band members, save for Chris [Allen] Cross, who was unavailable. As a therapist, he may have had other things on his plate this year! Midge Ure wrote the introduction page and in it he recognizes how much that Ultravox were, for all of their synthesizers, a rock band. This was certainly true. The booklet had comments from the band about the recording of many of the songs and I managed to get some new insights even after 40 years of fandom. For example, did you know that the false ending to “Private Lives” with a screeching fake ending was cribbed from a Steppenwolf record? Thus spake Billy Currie!
The booklet also has full credits for the project, along with photos of the archival tape boxes and mixing notes from the album sessions showing the allotment of instrumentation to the channels. Photos from the Ure and Cross archives figured heavily here. The band were all heavily into photography, though Ure can’t remember ever seeing Currie with a camera in the notes.
The second gatefold folio had an alternate image to the original cover shot and opened to have a photo grid of the cover shot blown up to a matrix that was randomly in negative form, with six slots to accept the covers of the six discs that had been printed to make them blend into the photo image. Not what I was expecting from seeing the covers of the LP box with variations of the “Vienna” cover for each of the albums.
It’s interesting seeing the “Vienna” cover as a full sized gatefold piece after so many years having only the simple LP sleeve on the racks. The design made common use of the gatefold sleeves and hard slipcase no matter what the format; an efficient design. But this sort of precious keepsake packaging is not really compatible with my lifestyle. I can see myself making a fat 6xCD box for the discs on my racks with the packaging remaining on the racks where the 12″ vinyl lives. I’ve done that for things like the “English Electric” album by OMD and it makes the discs more easily at hand for me. But it is another thing to compulsively design; as if I don’t already have too many things that need my attention.
Next: …Remastering Roulette