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ULTRAVOX ARE a hype. right? I keep hearing it, and anyway they reek of it. Just look at their contrived, intense-eyed, PVC punk image, and the amount of push that Island are giving them. H-Y-P-E.
Yet this album has had less advertising than the latest from, say, Status Quo, Supercharge or The Clash. And if you want contrived visuals – well, there’s a lot of bands getting Saviour Of The Universe media treatment (Jones. Strummer & Simenon this month) and who trade just as heavily as Ultravox on capturing the identikit Face Of ‘77 look.
Sure, I know, their music’s great – sorry, their attitude – all this Sound Of The Westwav and razor edge power chords lark. This may he so, but The Clash and The Pistols undoubtedly spend inordinate lengths of time in front of the mirror, and are just as deadly serious about how they look as this bunch of goons. Luckily for them, they carry it off a little more convincingly than Ultravox.
Where the hype label really catches Ultravox is in the fact that their first known gig came after the Island signing : a band out of nowhere playing support to The Hot Rods in their brand new clothes, with it brand new expensively packaged album. An arrogant “hello, love me” entrance with no live gig goodwill to act as a safety net.
In a way such a debut is requisite to the genre – for Ultravox fall into the old intellectual sardonic glam rock category, updated to take in such magic ingredients as Boredom (“Satday Night In The City Of The Dead”). Alienation (“I Want To Be A Machine”), The Street (“Wide Boys”) and New Wave (“Life At Rainbow’s End (For All The Tax Exiles On Main Street)”).
Their true heritage numbers Bowie, Steve Harley, Ian Hunter, “Sheer Heart Attack” Queen. Jobriath, and above all Roxy Music. Having lost Bryan’s Boys to Polydor, for Island to immediately come out with a commodity this similar to Roxy’s debut marketing gambit – dress sense, album packaging, previous history (lack of), line-up. vocal sound (on the single at least), even internal relationships (John Foxx being songwriter boss of the band) is almost beyond the bounds of credibility (in both senses of the word).
But if they’re good, who cares? Don’t be fooled by the opener, “Satdav Night In The City Of The Dead”, which sounds like Them – furious R&B intro’d by wailing harp – with high rise, dole queue cliches which don’t grate over-much because of the cut-up fever of Foxx’ delivery, and a gawky backbeat.
The R&B/punk connotations are misleading; for a start there’s really only one other fast number. Energy and anger have little to do with the romantically bored pose Ultravox strike.
Foxx puts on his Bryan Ferry voice for “Life At Rainbow’s End”, as Brian Eno gets his clanky production into stride – rhythm section mixed high and tbuddy, a very non-guitar hero sound for Stevie Shears, who’s always plinking towards the periphery with attractive grey tones and true minimalist economy, and a wide range of colourless sounds from keyboards /violin player Billy Currie.
Shears and Currie. and even Foxx. are sublimated to the mood at all limes – and the underlying mood of the record is the coldness of “I Want To Be A Machine”
Bui it’s not the coldness of a David Bowie, whose “Low” posture sends a chill up the susceptible spine because finally the calculating poser seems to be posing as something as cold-blooded as himself.
Ultravox arc just playing games – though Foxx’ imagery is so clichéd (as titles like “The Wild, The Beautiful And The Damned’ bear witness) that it’s possible to believe he’s actually kidding himself too.
But at least he’s acting diffident, which is far more bearable than some of the self-deceptive, self-righteous, empty vessel ranting and droning that’s going down these days.
He writes a good tune mind. Every song is memorable, and only “Lonely Hunter” is boring – and that’s saved by the intricate yet simple machinery riffs.
They really do carry off the machine sound well. The only objectionable instrumental foible is Shears’ penchant for flattening notes.
Oddity of the album is “My Sex”, a studiedly cold and beautiful track (incredibly pretentious on first hearing), playing on dehumanisation again.
I don’t believe Ultravox, and I don’t like them – but I like their album.
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