Ultravox’s Vienna: Foxx was out and Ure was in

26th August 2016



Label: Chrysalis

Year: 1980

This was more than a new album, it was a changing of a guard and a re-writing of a manifesto in terms of a band’s musical style and direction. When John Foxx left Ultravox and Midge Ure replaced him to launch this LP, it sent shock-waves through the group’s fanbase. Foxx’s dominant presence had always infused the band and its musical output. Ure would later do the same but with vastly different results from a distinctly modified agenda. In effect, therefore, the two bands were almost related cousins of contrasting dissident parents. The contrast would be as stark as the difference between Gabriel/Collins-era Genesis, for example.

I never did manage to see the Ultravox lead by John Foxx. I do remember, at school, being affected by him and the band image he forged. The stark sleeve art adorning numerous, obscure Foxx-lead Ultravox import vinyl 12” singles priced in music papers at very silly money indeed told me everything I needed to know. This was new wave but with a distinct, cutting edge. Foxx filled the band with an experimental air, a hint of danger, a refined intellectualism and even an ‘otherness’ that was akin to Bowie.

When Midge Ure’s incarnation of the band was due to appear in my home town of Liverpool (the Liverpool Empire, actually) I was overjoyed. Commercial station, Radio City DJ, Phil Easton, noted for his heavy metal output but sometimes wont to play off-genre music too was playing the future single, Vienna, many months before it ever hit the charts and a friend of mine later had this very album on rotation as soon as it was released, so myself and two friends were audibly prepared for the concert which was, it has to be said, a wonderful experience.

With Ure as the front man, what the band lacked in terms of its ‘bleak future’ image, its cutting edge and stark, twisted fashions, they made up with a more beat-heavy, technological sound, a visit to Synth City it seemed, which was of great interest to kids from urban centres who had just discovered Kraftwerk. The Ure-invested, approachable presentation also made the band more affable to many new fans. Some might say ‘safe’ or acceptably fashionable. Some fans saw the Ure era as a complete sell-out, of course. Ure and his music was honest but, said some, rather cautious. Others pointed a more caustic finger and called it ‘bland pop’ that was now corporately acceptable (the band owed a lot of money to their record label upon Ure’s arrival, they needed big sales and lots of cash…and quick). Gone was the anarchic need for revolution to be replaced with a change in emphasis. Ultravox left the punk-soiled ethic of decay and renewal but became more attractive to future new wave fans of a type. These new fans were probably less interested in social change and more interested in the type of synths and ‘new’ electronic sounds that the band were using.

Nevertheless, before Ure took Ultravox too far into corporate nirvana, he retained a sense of the minimal with this first LP outing of the new style band. You could see that, visually, in the Liverpool concert that I attended. Ure sat in the middle of an empty stage, in a simple, skeletal wooden chair. A naked light bulb, hanging from a wire, swung backwards and forwards over his head as he sang Vienna. It had quite an effect on the audience. Very ‘arty’ we thought.

But, of course, this album is more than the hit single, Vienna. It is Ure’s most hardcore, new wave release. Just look at the four band members (including Chris Cross, Billy Currie and Warren Cann) on the back cover of this LP to see a visual representation of that from their clothes and [cough] make-up.

The LP itself began, bravely, with the instrumental, Astradyne, delaying critical judgement by possibly unhappy, Foxx-biased, Ultravox fans. The second track, New Europeans, sounded very Foxx-like, it had to be said, as did the song itself, as Ure finally appeared, hitting the ground running.

Ure really came into his own with the high tempo tracks Sleepwalk and All Stood Still. They effectively used his intense, constricted vocal style while the song Vienna, a magnum opus of a track by anyone’s standards, stood tall from this top notch album, as the band’s masterpiece, winning a host of friends.

In terms of the mastering for this reissue? It has been completed well by Vinyl180 (www.vinyl180.com). It successfully conveys that relatively dry feeling that a synth-based band tends to exude while the loudness levels are nicely low, allowing you to pump up the amp volume to grab as much detail as possible and there’s plenty on offer here.

The band’s most complete and balanced release.