Ultravox: Vienna [Steven Wilson Remix + Instrumental] – UK – 2xCD 
Disc One: “Vienna” [Steven Wilson Remix]
- New Europeans
- Private Lives
- Passing Strangers
- Mr. X
- Western Promise
- All Stood Still
Disc Two: “Vienna” [Steven Wilson Instrumental Remix]
- New Europeans [inst.]
- Private Lives [inst.]
- Passing Strangers [inst.]
- Sleepwalk [inst.]
- Mr. X [inst.]
- Western promise [inst.]
- Vienna [inst.]
- All Stood Still [inst.]
Some would say that after last year’s ultrabox of “Vienna” that the decision to uncouple the Steven Wilson stereo remix of the album [created to let him make a surround mix of the album] and sell it as a Record Store Day edition would be exploitative, but some wise person thought to include an instrumental disc of Wilson’s [modest] remix version. It’s out there and not terribly expensive on the CD format, so I was on it. I wondered how the experience of the album would be without Midge Ure belting it out on top of the music. The short form? It’s still a great synth rock album!
If anything, the absence of vocals draws even more attention to the outrageous musicianship that the band had at their disposal at this stage of the game. And one gets to appreciate the details of arrangement that got swept away in the vocal power of Ure sweeping through it. Ure’s guitar in “New Europeans” now more than ever seems like a stand-in for the tone that Robin Simon had brought to “Quiet Men” on the previous album.
The Moog bass lines in “Private Lives” now get much more prominence and that track’s Achilles heel; its sketchy lyrical content [they were just learning] is now absent from the playing field, making their playing stronger. I had never really noticed the complexity with the melody in the middle eight, for example.
“Passing Strangers” was another instance where Chris Cross’ bass [guitar] this time, really got some spotlight for once. Cross was usually the odd one out with three extroverts like Ure, Cann, and Currie competing for oxygen in the band! This disc allows him the room to breathe for once.
My favorite track, “Western Promise” also got some transformation without vocals. Of course the long buildup was unchanged, but where the electric “Hai!” was once the start of the vocals, I could now [finally] hear a tight descending fill by Cann leading into the first verse. And not having vocals, made the crazed synth-like flute that I loved so much really pop in the mix. Allowing me to absorb all of the previously obscured detail. I have still heard nothing like it in the intervening 41 years.
The big splash of “Vienna” probably owed a lot of its commercial success to Midge Ure’s powerful vocal. Without it, the star of the show is clearly Warren Cann’s distinctive drumbeat. The piano in the chorus is surprisingly clean and simple, with Currie clearly waiting for his solo in the middle eight to shine.
The pulsating “All Stood Still” also had enormous detail to drink in without the lead and especially backing vocals to demand attention. There was a pause at the end of the first chorus on Currie’s distorted lead that was utterly new. The bell-like synth tones in the middle eight were also new to these ears. But the biggest difference was how the infamous cold ending played out minus the massed vocals stopping on a dime. The lead synth got a short pan from channel to channel as it’s envelope faded out one beat behind the music.
This is still a sharp listen and it’s surely grist for the mill of hardcore Foxx-fans who bemoan Ure’s presence in the band. Though I’m not one of them. Even so, it’s interesting to hear details that normally get glossed over by the presence of the vocals. And in the end, we’ve now got a six disc BSOG edition of “Vienna” and how can that be anything but a good thing? Especially with the fact that it was not just on 2xLP clear vinyl but also the beleaguered silver disc that is the apple of my eye. And having it released both in the UK and America just pushed all of my happy buttons for a change.