Ultravox’s “Rage In Eden” Boxed Set Is Two Of A Perfect Pair [part 8]

ultravox 1981 © trevor key
Ultravox go Hollywood ©1981 Trevor Key

[…continued from last post]


Fans of “Rage In Eden” have been waiting a while for this box and it’s proved to be quite interesting. I can remember in 2008 when the 2xCD edition came out, following a few years of fan inquiries about a “big deluxe box,” the band were quoted as saying “there’s nothing left to use,” but that was 2008, when Steven Wilson 5.1/2.0 remixes were a glint in a marketing major’s eye. Ultravox themselves may have had quaint ideas about what was “boxed set ready” material as the subsequent rehearsal cassette material was surely on the low[est] rung of fidelity, yet now we have it on the silver disc! Of course, the pandemic played havoc with the neat and tidy 40th anniversary release of the set in 2021, but a year late [and two masters short] it did finally arrive. Better late, than never. So let’s review the contents.

  • Original 1981 album – No home should be without one.
  • Steven Wilson 2.0 album/B-sides/work-in-progress mixes – A more than valid revision of the classic album campaign and then some with fresh new ears.
  • Single tracks/rehearsal jams/early mixes – The rest of the original album campaign plus peeks under the hood at the developmental aspects of the recording.
  • Vintage live concert – Probably the biggest draw for my ears.
  • 5.1 remix/high-resolution masters of 1981/2022 campaigns – It astonishes me to have this music in such quality but DVD listening is not really my thing.
  • Bonus paper goods: 1981 Tour Book replica.

It’s funny, but there seems to be a significant chunk of people who really enjoy the new mixes. The scuttlebutt on Steve Hoffman Forum was that the comments had a surprising number punters on record as preferring the Wilson mix. Going into this Wilson remix phase of their two best Ure era albums, I thought that I was of the “Conny Said It. I Believe it. That Settles It” ilk.

conrad plank
the late, great Conny Plank

Hearing about these remixes for “Vienna” and RIE, I was of the initial impression that how could anything Conny Plank did be bettered? His was a singular [and brilliant] vision for music, right? And the dramatic shift from Plank, who used light and shadow like an artist in sculpting sound to George Martin, who removed all of the ambiguity from Ultravox to a debilitating degree on “Quartet” seemed to be on far opposite ends of the production spectrum. George Martin overlit the music and removed the mystery that Ultravox had relied upon. How could Steven Wilson move in the opposite direction from Plank and do anything but diminish the music? 

Apparently, I underestimated Wilson. Because he’s increased the detail and clarity without flattening the music into banality. His process I would liken to expert painting restoration where buildup of dirt and age was carefully removed to reveal more detail. Maybe Plank used dominant midrange frequencies to smooth over bleeding edge production gambits using tech not designed to work together. That’s why we loved his work! He was using novel approaches to sound processing that might have had a footprint of sound artifacts which he EQ’d out of the picture. Even so, Conny used an automated board back in his day. One of the earliest examples. But automated boards were a kludgy intermediate step until the Digital Audio Workstation became the thing.

With Wilson operating in a DAW, he has much more flexibility and control in the remix. I think his goal is to replicate the mix as closely as he can. And the slight differences and different judgements he brought to the work gave it a patina of novelty without being too jarring. And he managed bring his editorial thinking to bear on what I thought was the weak track on the album. In that respect, he has crucially transformed “Stranger Within” from the nadir of “Rage In Eden;” placed in what I’d deemed to be an almost flawless album, to one of its zeniths. It takes an alchemist of sound to add two and a half minutes back into a seven and a half minute track that seemed too long initially, and make the ten minute version fly by.

Steven Wilson…Mister Classic Album Remix

As soon as Wilson was mooted for remix duties on the Ultravox canon, the hot-button issue amongst fans was what he’d eventually make from the thin, anemic production of the next album in this series. “Quartet” suffered from a shift to first generation digital gear as well as George Martin and Geoff Emerick’s penchant for polite, immaculately recorded music. The net effect was to render the 1982 Ultravox album bloodless and sterile in comparison to what had come earlier.

In comparison, Conny Plank had the much better reputation for his trailblazing recording conceits and a production style that allowed Ultravox to reap the full benefit from his coloring outside of the production outlines. But until I heard Steven Wilson mix this material, I never would have found fault with any of Plank’s production and engineering gambits. He delivered a rich, baroque sound where the next album in the series was emaciated in comparison. It never would have occurred to me that much of the detail of the music had been flattened down to the midrange bands in doing that. But now it does.

So the big question I have now is this: what will Steve Wilson bring to the table when he’s remixing the most problematic imperial period Ultravox album for my ears? I don’t think that I need greater clarity applied to music that already sounds thin and clinical. None of the Wilson remixes of Post-Punk canon I have sound blurrier than the original mixes, but I suppose there could always be a first time. Join us in a year or two when the ultrabox of “Quartet” is in our hands.

In the meantime, this deluxe box has been an appropriately in-depth explosion of what is many fans’ favorite Ultravox album. It certainly did represent a heady broth of highly melodramatic sturm und drang; legitimately written and recorded on German soil over an intense three month period. It represented a go-for-broke gamble that paid off well for the band, in spite of its psychic costs. There were only two singles; neither of which were top 5 but the album seemed to cap off the year that the New Romantic movement peaked and began its ebb. Making of it and its imminent sister album, Visage’s “The Anvil,” the headstones to the club movement. They both represented a place where high musicianship met high anxiety and tortured angst, ironically, on the dance floor.

It’s official: With ten copies, this is the album I have the most copies of in my Record Cell. One caveat: I own two identical Spanish 1981 LP pressings + poster since if you see another one, you buy it, right? As you can see, there’s no Japanese copy with obi so never say never…


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
This entry was posted in 5.1, Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, DVD, Live Music, New Romantic, Record Review, Remastering, Scots Rock, The Great B-Sides and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Ultravox’s “Rage In Eden” Boxed Set Is Two Of A Perfect Pair [part 8]

  1. Tim says:

    I dodged a bullet on some possible car work that I had squirreled some money away for and snagged both of the box sets for under $100 combined.
    Have only made my way through the Vienna set.
    Generally these are the kind of box sets I like, heavy on musical content, light on frou-frou. Text is generally readable by cranky old codger failing eyes. Things are good.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Andy B says:

    Monk, an excellent and fair summary of the set. Steven Wilson certainly did bring a his mixing skills to the party. His mixes shed new light on the recordings. I too was particularly impressed with ‘Stranger Within’. If he does work on the ‘Quartet’ box I will be intrigued to hear how he works his mix magic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • negative1ne says:

      I’ve been looking forward to quartet and lament, much more than these first two albums. so i will be keen on how those turn out. To me, those are the peak period. This era was ok, but vienna was much better.



      • postpunkmonk says:

        negative1ne – “Lament” was such a hodgepodge of material that didn’t really fit together for me at all. It’s the odd one out with some new wrinkles to their sound. Not all of them good. I disrespected the Celtic leanings on side two severely.

        Liked by 1 person

        • negative1ne says:

          hi mr monk,

          i’m well aware of your inclinations to these other albums. so that means that you really don’t have anything to look forward to from the next series. for me, there is a ton of material to collate, and see what else they can find. which is why i’m so interested.

          i have a lot more bias. because lament was my entry point into ultravox, so i will always look on it highly, and quartet next, since i worked backwards to vienna. the speedbump was rage in eden, but rebounded greatly with vienna.
          then ended on u-vox after that, took a break and then picked up again with brilliant.

          your history is much longer, so i can see why the evolution of the band isn’t to everyones liking.

          i came in about 4 years later to pretty much every group like : the cure, abc, depeche mode, duran duran, new order, tears for fears, thompson twins, etc. i did not jump on the bandwagon during the mid to late 80’s, but on the imperial phase from 1981-1983. so i will always favor some of the more critical albums over the commercial ones.


          Liked by 1 person

          • postpunkmonk says:

            negative1ne – Actually, the revisit I’m most anticipating in this whole campaign is the Wilson mix of “Quartet.” The songs were strong enough, but I thought the production wasn’t. Over time īt began to grate on my ears.

            Where I may have to bow out is on the “Lament” box. The band seemed to be running out of gas. I can imagine myself skipping any “Lament” SDLX box. And there should be an international registry of anyone who would buy a SDLX box of “U-Vox!” I was stunned that they reissued it in 2000 in the EMI Gold and 2xCD Definitive Edition series in 2009. If ever an album needed to quietly go out of print that is it!

            It amuses me how we like the same bands in sometimes radically different ways!


            • Tim says:

              I’m with -1 on the love for Lament.
              I was a bit late to the UVOX game, too, and aside from casually seeing them on MTV for albums the curve for me was Quartet > Rage in Eden > Lament > Vienna.
              I think on all four of these they are quite able at the sound they are going for and solidly like all four albums….but Lament really has a special place for me. WIll this re-issue series make it that far? Time will tell.

              I do know that I wish that the same tender loving care and Wilsonization would be applied to the Eurythmics catalog, I’d buy them all but would be really keen for Sweet Dreams and Savage.

              Liked by 2 people

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