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. Ryan Art, who have been working with ‘Vox and Ure reissues of late 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
I am looking forward to reading about this. I like the album but not enought to splurge on the SDE.
Received the recent Tears for Fears one, tried to shoot an email as I know you aren’t going to write about it but the email seems to have died in transit.
Tim – You are correct. I’ve not seen any email. Did you use the site form or direct? I ask because two people have told me [via direct email] that they have had issues commenting on the site which may be down to WordPress issues. I would like to know if this is somehow related. I knew “The Hurting” same out in a box in 2013, but I never ran across it. That’s the only TFF album I’d go that deep on. I saw that it was reissued this spring and currently see it’s now selling for insane money on Discogs… what th…?!!
It was direct, from my addy book in my email. I just shrugged and thought, oh damn, musta put my foot in my mouth. Again.
Anyhow…..that thar TFF set is very good. I was telling myself, you’re spending too much money on things that aren’t going to be worth it….and like you said, the out of print ones sell for crazy money. Angel on one shoulder, devil on another.
I am very happy that I got this. Funny thing, it won’t play in my only remaining cd player, this beautiful Sony device that’s about 30 years old and keeps ticking. I literally think that the disks are too thick for it! My only complaint with this set…..the font size on the type is like a 4. Jeez all of us New Romantics are now OLDE Romantics and our eyesight has gone to hell. Work with us!
I’m with you on the print size!
Although I prefer CDs to vinyl I decided to purchase both the CD boxset and the 4 LP Clear Vinyl set. Both nicely designed. Working through the CD box at the present and really enjoying what I’ve heard so far. I’ve always dreamed of the day we would get a deep dive into the ‘Vienna’ album. Here’s hoping ‘Rage In Eden’ gets the same treatment.
By the way Monk I’m enjoying your comments on the Steve Hoffman forum looking at all of Ultravox’s tracks. I regularly pop on the site for a read although I’ve never joined. A bit late in the day to contribute to that. It will be interesting when you get to ‘U-Vox’!
I don’t know if you’ll find his comments interesting on ‘u-vox’, because he hates it.
Someday i will get both the vinyl, and cd versions.
Yes negative1ne I know Monk and many others hate U-Vox. It will be interesting to see just how much it gets slagged off on Steve Hoffman. I’m enjoying your comments on there too.
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You might find my comments interesting (or crazy), because not only do I like that album. I like most of the songs on it, and have all the singles, and releases that went with it. I was impressed with most of it at the time. Designwise, it was cool too, with the blinders on the covers, and the slit-screen effect on the singles. But as we know, design doesn’t mean much if the music isn’t liked.
negative1ne – I enjoy that we like a lot of the same things, only from completely different perspectives. For example, I have “Saturnine, Martial + Lunatic” by TFF [their B-side collection] and recall enjoying it! [apart from “Empire Building!”] And I’m enough of a poster boy for the collector’s sickness that I have the UK LP and all singles [including some Japanese] from the “U-Vox” period! In the 90s I had enough money to even buy all the Ultravox records I hated. Those days are gone now, though!
AndyB – I used to think that “U-VOX” was their worst but that all changed in 2012.
negative1ne – That’s true. But I think it’s marginally better than “Brilliant.” What I actually like are the “Fake Ultravox” albums that Billy put out in the 90s. “Revelation” was fair and I actually really enjoyed “Ingenuity.”
AndyB – Well, a lot of the commentary is cut and pasted from the Vox Rock GPA from here but I tend to flesh things out a bit to account got the years since then. Then there are the B-sides. Without the pre-written stuff I couldn’t keep up at the Hoffman forums. I tend to limit my involvement since I do have a job! But this was Ultravox!
Mr. Monk, thanks for all the insights. Heres another review;
The superdeluxedition unboxing:
negative1ne – I’ll check that out when I’m done digging through “Vienna” as I don’t want to see other reviews until I’m done with mine.
You are not missing anything. Actually, its just, an unboxing for those that want to see all the contents. Not a review.
The box is great, but…. and it’s a big but (fnar fnar)., apart from CD1, all the other CDs test as MP3.
I was banned from an Ultravox Facebook page for saying this.
But hey ho …. It’s a good set otherwise.
Another thing .. the streaming version of the original album, had, as most of us know, the single edits for Vienna and All Stood Still, most fixed Vienna but not All Stood Still.
Funnily enough though … the version of Vienna they replaced the edit with is from a different master.
It’s all gone tits up.
Blob – Welcome to the comments! I saw your hypothesis and I thought I’d look into it. I ripped CD files to the hard drive which were all from “Sleepwalk” across the five discs for consistency’s sake. I opened it up for spectrograhic analysis and the story seems to be different to what you are claiming.
Ironically, the disc you cite as being the only one in the set not from MP3 shows that file data tops out at 14-16KHz. Possibly indicating limiting or a 192 kbps MP3 source.
The Wilson 2.0 has peaks that go from 20-22KHz.
The rarities disc had the early version of “Sleepwalk” which was full frequency data.
But I checked the live video soundtrack to “Sleepwalk” and it was dead from 14KHz upward. Perhaps MP3, but perhaps from whatever compromised source that the audio was recorded to when filming the shows.
The cassette rehearsals were obviously recorded on a sub-professional rig! Warren’s cassette deck. Probably normal bias tapes at the 12-14HKz top end, but the tape hiss has lots of high frequency noise filling out the spectrum here. This was never going to sound better.
“Sleepwalk” from the “St Albans” album should in fact be the same as the track from the video we just saw from disc 3, but here the frequency range was much fuller. Possibly indicating that the audio on disc 3 might have been taken from the source that was mastered for the live video and therein lies the key to its lack of top end. On disc 5 the same recordings were mastered for CD and show signal to the full top end.
So there are some aberrations here that might indicate MP3 sources, most strongly on disc one, but there is more than one way to interpret the spectral analysis. Here’s a handy page that shows the breakdowns by MP3 bitrate even.
The streaming version of this does not concern me, but I’ve heard of the problems elsewhere.
I cant post my own spectrum pictures here, all taken with Spek 0.8.2 but each disc apart from the original album have a cut off at 20 – 21 kHz. I will however print the TLH audio checker log.
auCDtect: CD records authenticity detector, version 0.8.2
Copyright (c) 2004 Oleg Berngardt. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2004 Alexander Djourik. All rights reserved.
Detect mode (0..40 with 0 = most accurate): 8 (default)
Ultravox – Vienna (CHRB 1296) (Disc 1).wav: track looks like CDDA with probability 100%.
Ultravox – Vienna (CHRB 1296) (Disc 2).wav: track looks like MPEG with probability 85%.
Ultravox – Vienna (CHRB 1296) (Disc 3).wav: track looks like MPEG with probability 95%.
Ultravox – Vienna (CHRB 1296) (Disc 4).wav: track looks like MPEG with probability 95%.
Ultravox – Vienna (CHRB 1296) (Disc 5).wav: track looks like MPEG with probability 99%.
Blob – I can’t run Spek [though I tried]. The Macintosh client has not been updated in seven years, so it’s incompatible with the current Macintosh OS. I made my spectrum captures in Audition 2020. My results seems to be the obverse from yours. Hmmmm. I wish I could run Spek but being open source it moves slowly for the Macintosh platform. I do have an old iMac at home I might plug in and try. But I’m very busy now with a project and I devoted 90 minutes last night to checking into this. If anyone else reading this can weigh in it would be helpful.
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