Ultravox’s “Rage In Eden” Boxed Set Is Two Of A Perfect Pair [part 2]

Disc 1 – the classic 1981 album

[…continued from last post]

1981 ALBUM

The classic 1981 album was perhaps the acme of Ure-era Ultravox. Chest-deep in angst-ridden melodrama and European angst. We’ve waxed eloquent about the album itself during the Ultravox Rock G.P.A. so those thoughts were already out there for consumption. What I will consider adding to my impressions now, following two months and dozens of plays of this material from all of the angles now provided in this boxed set, was the observation of how…Russian this all sounded. Billy’s strings seemed to be ripped straight from Old Country, and wow, there were a lot of them…everywhere! And I can just imagine the Cossacks dancing to tracks like “Accent On Youth.” But it was on the second disc that things started to really spread out.

Disc 2 – Steven Wilson 2.0 remix


When Steven Wilson makes a 5.1 remix of an album from the master tapes, an intermediate step is the creation of a new 2.0 mix in the process. These new mixes are reasonably faithful to the original release, yet still differ in detail from the original mix of what he’s working on. I wonder how much of this is his aesthetic sensibilities versus the commercial notion of giving fans another reason to buy a beloved album again? But if it’s a necessary step, why not have a chance to hear an old favorite with new ears?

To get a handle on the differences in the mixing techniques of Conny Plank versus Steven Wilson, I had to rip tracks, edit the dead air or otherwise edit their beginnings so they started at the exact same place on the song, and tossed them into a multitrack DAW. Garage Band in my case…what else? There were [sssh!] slight timing differences but this is more common than not if one does this sort of analysis. As professional engineer JT has informed us over the years.

Hit the play button…turn off one track, turn on the other…back up playhead…lather…rinse…repeat

I’ll admit that I entered into the ultrabox era of “Vienna” and now “Rage In Eden” dubious of their notions of Steven Wilson giving a new mix to what was established, and unimpeachable material as produced by Conny Plank. A titan of music. Wilson’s work on “Vienna” was interesting. He played it pretty safe on the album, and didn’t alienate me, but got looser with the B-side material to the point where I preferred his mix of “Waiting.” So…not bad at all with my biases stacked against him. How would album two of the Midge Ure era fare in comparison?

Right off the top the Wilson 2.0 mix was throwing curve balls due to the sad fact that the multitrack masters to lead off track “The Voice” and one of my favorite tracks by the band, “I Remember [Death In The Afternoon],” were missing. This meant that he could not make a stereo remix to take to surround sound afterward. So the album began with “We Stand Alone.” Itself, a huge shift in vibe and 40+ years of expectation. The Plank mix was wetter, with more reverb. The EQ was adjusted to boost midrange frequencies on the instruments while the vocal was made more strident with boosted upper frequencies. Guitars were more intrinsic in the mix to recede from the front of the soundstage. And the higher frequencies of the synthesizers were EQ’d to brighten them considerably.

Wilson, on the other hand favored a drier sound. With less compression overall than Plank used. The instruments were better separated for clarity with the guitar really popping in this new mix. Vocal frequencies were roundly EQ’d to be more pleasing to the ear. They were less dull and midrange. The higher frequencies in the mix were less strident. And the drums revealed more detail and sounded less “mushy.”

So far the effect was not unlike how paintings are restored to remove the patina of years and built-up grime to show their surfaces in a new light. There was also the fact that we were not hearing a 40+ year old 2-track mixdown of the album, but a fresh one made from the multitrack master. That counts for something given the tapeless future we inhabit.

For the title track I noted the following characteristics of the Plank mix. The trend of heavy compression was still happening. The bass synthesizer was very prominent in the mix and again, the trend was for a heavy midrange sound to almost everything. It seemed like Plank was using a Harmonizer on the vocals; there were artifacts in the vocal mix that suggested this. As well as possible distortion under the backing vocals in the chorus as a consequence of whatever effects unit he was running them through. In comparison, Wilson gave the bass drum a sharper attack in the mix and increased the dynamic range of the vocals to make them sound more appealing.

A dramatic shift here was that half of my favorite segue in all of music was missing. The transition between the title track and “I Remember [Death In the Afternoon]” was always a thrill-packed event for my ears. Hearing the first song transition from a wide stereo soundstage to the single, 3″ speaker of a shortwave radio with station drift before the heavy click of a switch, followed by the throbbing synth bass of “I Remember [Death In the Afternoon]” with the drums faded up over a few bars is always a moment where I stop what I am doing and pay full attention for the magical segue. Even after a thousand playbacks and half a lifetime. How could I cope with that missing?

As it happened, the substitution of the bass sequencer riff that gave “The Thin Wall” its unique percussive attack were as close as possible to the sort of sonic footprint that the original segue had with the pulsating bass synth of “I Remember [Death In The Afternoon],” and yet the dashing of expectation worked to provide delight this time instead of letdown. Surely, the best possible outcome?

“The Thin Wall” really befitted as the violin crescendos in the intro sounded watery and muted on the ’81 mix. And the sequencer riff had watery reverb effects applied to them. Unlike the vocals, which were drier than normal, perhaps as a compensatory measure. Still, the midrange frequencies were dominant, and what higher frequencies there were on the guitar tended towards stridency. While the strings sounded sludgy, and buried in the mix. The unique, serrated rhythm track sounded compressed on the Plank mix.

In comparison, Wilson’s take on the iconic song revealed greater detail in the strings, and here he added a little reverb to the vocals. The elements of the track were separated and now allowed greater investigation of detail. Drums were fuller and richer, and the cheeky devil managed to insert a rhythmic fillip in the intro by adding an unexpected extra beat on one bar!

One of the main features of the Wilson 2.0 remix of the album was knowing ahead of time that a full length, unedited, nearly 10 minute version of “The Stranger Within” would be used on this disc; perhaps as a compensatory measure for not having two songs from the album. Yet I had always felt my attention wandering throughout the 7:28 of its 1981 length. How would I fare with a 9:56 versions of a song that I already thought had overstayed its welcome? The listening would prove to be surprising.

At around the five minute mark the track veered off onto a different stretch of road for a few minutes of percussive violin ganks that had been excised from the master tape the first time, undoubtedly as a means of taming the album’s running time down to manageable LP length. I have to say that Billy Currie was expertly applying these aggressive details to keep my interest engaged throughout the lengthy solo on the track. Then the conservative application of dub technique actually imbued the track with a greater sense of dread and mystery than it had ever had in the first place.

Such that the two or so minutes edited out were to be considered the payoff for the track being long to begin with. By removing this section, the more straightforward intro/outro sections where Billy wasn’t adding dissonance may have been easy to edit together, but the net effect was to make the track both duller and shorter! And here’s the best thing of all about this 9:56 mix, the corny malefic laughter which was always a setback of taste for this song had been duly excised by Wilson. Bracing for its appearance and not hearing it was the gift I had been waiting 41 years for. Thank you, Mr. Wilson.

Next: …Besides The Point

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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25 Responses to Ultravox’s “Rage In Eden” Boxed Set Is Two Of A Perfect Pair [part 2]

  1. Todd Lewis says:

    Yes! love your detailed comparison of the original Conny Plank mixes and the new Steven Wilson mixes on the new Ultravox album boxed sets. Very insightful and I love your detail.

    You never know with the remasters. Some are hands down superior because of the enhanced sound quality. Others are a step in the wrong direction. And others bring new elements of the recording to the surface that you couldn’t hear before. I was startled with the Tears for Fears remasters a few years back to suddenly be able to hear synth parts that were unmistakably Korg M1 sounds in the mix that had not been audible in the original releases.

    I’m a big fan of Steven Wilson’s music (Porcupine Tree, solo albums, work with Steve Jansen, Mick Karn, and Richard Barbieri from Japan, No Man, ect.). It’s interesting how he’s become the go to guy for remastered mixes for so many important bands.

    Liked by 1 person

    • alonewithstrangers says:

      This isn’t a remaster though: it is a completely new mix and the difference is huge. The actual mastering was done by Phil at Alchemy At Air.

      What is nice is that when reviewing the mixes you get to hear them pre-mastering: during the reviews the mixing is purposely kept distinct from the mastering side of things so the reviewers have the opportunity to understand how a flat mix will sound.


      • postpunkmonk says:

        alonewithstrangers – Ah, so the mixing was done with flat transfers. That makes sense. Otherwise a mix might never finish.


        • alonewithstrangers says:

          It would never be right. Always mix from a flat transfer or you carry the baggage of the previous versions for better or for worse.


          • postpunkmonk says:

            alonewithstrangers – When I master from vinyl, I always do a flat transfer. I think that my job there is duplicating as accurately as possible, the sound on the record. If I want to change the EQ, that’s what playback controls are for.


            • alonewithstrangers says:

              Agree but let’s not get mixed up re what is mixing, what is restoration & what is mastering and what is simply dicking around with EQ.


  2. Richard Anvil says:

    Rage In Eden is by far my favourite Ultravox album (and the band’s as well from most of the comments I’ve read about it by Midge, Billy, Chris and Warren) so I was absolutely gutted that the multitrack masters for The Voice (my favourite Ultravox single) and I Remember (my favourite album track) weren’t found so that Steven Wilsons mix of the album is incomplete (a major irritant to a compulsive completist like me) so its like watching a film with the beginning and the middle edited out as RIE really is an ‘album’, not just a random group of tracks, which needs to be listened to as a whole. I have to admit I’m surprised that a single which didn’t go very high in the charts and an album track goes missing while mega hit Vienna has everything intact! What is good is that Steve Wilson does do a mix of the I Remember work in progress mix, which is pretty amazing, but why not The Voice work in Progress mix or even The Voice single version? I may have to try and do my own re-engineered mix of The Voice just to fill the gap while I dream that the tapes turn up and they get added to the Quartet box set. Anyway rant over, I’ll go and dribble in the corner of the room for a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Richard Anvil says:

      Actually I’ve wiped the rapid foam from my mouth, created a cleaned version of The Voice [Work In Progress] and added it to the start of my RIE Steven Wilson mix playlist and it works really well. Given its an instrumental it actually plays like a RIE Astradyne. I’m happy now :)

      Liked by 2 people

    • alonewithstrangers says:

      The missing multis – even if found – would not be added to any Quartet box that may come.

      In fact, don’t hold your breath at all: two years of searching across global archives didn’t result in a win so the chances are pretty slim.


  3. Andy B says:

    Monk, I’m with you on ‘Stranger Within’. Although I always enjoyed this track it did out stay it’s welcome for me on the original album. However the addition of the extra section really kept my interest. It could have continued for a longer time as far as I am concerned. I’m really glad this longer version was added. It doesn’t compensate for the missing tracks but it’s a worthwhile addition and an unexpected bonus.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tim says:

    Could it have anything to do with run times for side 1/side2 of vinyl?
    Am actually trying not to read these posts because I really want this box and can’t afford it.


  5. alonewithstrangers says:

    There’s a couple of surprising things about the review and the comments. Actually, it’s more to do with what isn’t said.

    First up, Conny’s mixing and mastering were usually pretty dense and compressed, leaning towards more muted and narrow representations of the music. It’s difficult to find a disc of his where the original production & mastering could be considered ‘bright’. That is not to day that he was a poor producer at all, it’s just his style compared to a normal ‘pop’ style during those times.

    Secondly, during the mixing process, whilst the intention with any of the SW mixes is to keep them true to the original without too many wild changes (it’s a mix, not a remix), special attention is paid to making sure that each player gets their fair share. Typically, Chris’s bass guitar contributions were set quite low in the mix on the original albums. These remixes have generally increased the gain of Chris’ lines relative to the rest of the tracks with more mid-range & attack in the compression, demonstrating what a gutsy player he could be. I am a little surprised that no one has mentioned this to date but, maybe go back and listen to the SW mixes with the knowledge that this has been done: the SW mix ‘brightness’ referred to is probably at least partly due to Chris’ increased presence.

    Lastly, what about the ‘Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again) (Work In Progress Steven Wilson Stereo Mix)’ track on CD 2? Going through the various masters for inclusion, this was the alternative option that most resonated with me. Whether it is the ship’s bell sounds or the way Midge’s voice cracks later in the song. This was a revelation. Yes, the full length ‘Stranger Within’ is the diva in the pack and understandably so but this is the hidden gem. SW rose to the occasion both tracks.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      alonewithtrangers, I have mentioned in the “Vienna” box review that the big winner was Chris Cross and his bass playing. A victim to EQ that Plank favored. We covered the “Your Name [Has Slipped My Mind Again]} work-in-progress mix just minutes ago!


  6. Gavin says:

    RIE is by far my fave Ultravox album and in my top 5 of all time.
    I just received the double CD Record Store Day SW mix and it is absolutely incredible to hear.
    Like yourself PPM,I am very familiar with the album so hearing it anew with so many delightful musical surprises and enhancements is quite something.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – I know! I finally got to spin the instrumental version the other day for the first time and found myself marveling at the details revealed without the vocals to distract. More soon!


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