Album Reviews

Ultravox – Brilliant

on May 31, 2012, 7:57am
ultravox - brilliant D-
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In a recent interview with the Spanish magazine Metropoli, former Ultravox singer John Foxx had this to say about nostalgia: “It’s an illness. It’s a kind of death. Why should anyone attempt to imitate themselves as a young man – often a foolish young man? You have to be blind, vain, and terribly insecure to do this. There is absolutely no point in looking backwards when there is still so much to investigate.” While he wasn’t being asked about the band he founded, it’s pretty clear that Foxx would think that the idea of Ultravox reuniting with his replacement (Midge Ure) is faintly ridiculous for a number of reasons – and it’s not hard to disagree with that assessment.

The Foxx-era Ultravox was a futuristic and aggressive synth-pop act, indebted to both krautrock experimentalism and the punk rock movement. It did not meet with much success, but it’s generally regarded as one of the more innovative acts of the early New Wave movement. After Foxx left the band, Ultravox became one of the most popular and successful bands of New Wave’s commercial era and made a string of records that, while certainly not all that groundbreaking, nonetheless captured the epic melodrama that so defined the sound of the early ’80s. It was, basically, the European pop version of Van Halen vs. Van Hagar, but if David Lee Roth was more into the Velvet Underground than Black Oak Arkansas.

This “reunion” album brings vocalist/guitarist Midge Ure (a.k.a. Sammy Hagar) back together with the “classic” lineup of Chris Cross (bass), Billy Currie (synthesizers), and Warren Cann (drums), and revisits the unapologetically huge synth-rock sound that the band was so successful with between 1980 and 1986. Within the first minute of Brilliant, the skyscraping anthemry, the pulsing synth lines, and the gorgeous textures of “Live Again” immediately evoke the band’s Vienna/Rage in Eden era, during which legendary krautrock producer Conny Plank helped Ultravox connect the experimentalism of their early years with their mainstream ambitions. Contained within that song is pretty much any reason one would have to pay attention to an Ultravox album in 2012.

Unfortunately, after that, Brilliant quickly loses the plot. Before the album even hits the halfway mark, the band seems to have completely run out of steam and focus, unable to decide if stadium-sized fluff like “Flow” or synth-heavy dirges like “The Change” are the right way to go. By the time the album reaches the witheringly dull second half, half-baked, late-’80s leftovers like “Satellite” and bloodless midtempo numbers like “This One” very nearly suck all the remaining life out of Brilliant. Of course, this is where the band slips in the most interesting song on the whole album: “Fall” is part musical theater solo number, part twisted synth-pop, and all epic drama. It’s almost uncomfortable to listen to, but unlike the discomfort caused by the rest of Brilliant, it actually makes you want to hear more where it came from.

Essential tracks: “Live Again”, “Fall”

34 comments

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tkvraccnnuxwv
January 3, 2013 at 6:32 am

Premise 1. Bands aren’t supposed to reform
+
Premise 2. Ultravox were big in the 80s and therefore just like Van Halen
= FAILED REVIEW

Megan McClure
November 28, 2012 at 10:47 pm

The reviewer is spot on. Brilliant. The haters are just frustrated because the truth hurts. To describe THIS Ultravox lineup as “classic” is poor comedy.

Kerry
November 16, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Crap review from a crap reviewer who made his mind up before he listened. My review of him? – Sh*t sandwich.

Tory Z Starbuck
November 16, 2012 at 1:01 am

While John Foxx was a founding member, VERY creative lyricist and great vocalist, not to mention a good performer, you cannot dis the fact that Midge brought a different version of avant garde to the band. Midge has a unique guitar style, he is a great pianist/synthesist and he has that OTHER type of new wave/Bowie voice. Foxx could do the Bryan Ferry/David Bowie thing in his way and Midge did his in a 100 per cent pitch perfect smooth and loudly emotional way. The guitars in Foxx Ultravox! were always more rock and roll oriented while the Ure Ultravox had more effected, experimental guitar, non-linear time signatures and a spacier sound. You cannot really compare the bands. They should have just changed the band name so that superficial yuppie type people would not be so offended.

Megan McClure
November 28, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Comparing Ure to the genius of John Foxx is just silly. Midge may have captained the most popular phase of Ultravox, but that’s like saying “5150” was more popular than “1984” – so what, it’s still crap.

GGG
October 8, 2012 at 12:12 pm

The Brilliant album is certainly dividing the music world into two halves. Love or hate. But it is indeed easier to hate than to love.
In fact, there is nothing new in this album. But the soundscape is so classic Ultravox that it deserves applaudings and full respect. How can a band be apart for almost 30 years and then come back into the studio ant get the job done so solidly and professionally?
Amazing work…
Ok, if you do not enjoy rock/pop with classic influences so be it. No loss then. But if you enjoy such music you should never miss this album. Never. Some passages are darn chilling and strike your CNS. Just like in the old days. This is a hymn to the true classic Ultravox sound.
Remember one thing, this kind of music is not on production anywhere else on this planet.
Ultravox is the only band in this world that is able to produce this kind of music in these times of 2012. And they do it brilliantly. Unbelievable.
There was a time when there were a few more bands were into this niche. Some came close to the Ultravox sound such as Simple minds, Visage, Gary Numan, John Foxx and Dramatis.
But today Ultravox is back with their own distinct sound and you may either hate it or love it. But don´t demand that they should change sound because times have changed.
That is ridiculous.
A true classic does not need to change.
A true classic is timeless.
And this album and future classic must be listened to in full format.
Since this is not a sampled production.
It is produced by professional musicians and real instruments.

Edgar Allan Slothman
August 7, 2012 at 8:50 am

Glad to hear everyone disagrees with this review. The Van Halen/Hagar references are so off and proof this reviewer is not that close to the music or history of this band.

Gaa
August 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Best album I’ve had the pleasure go buying for a number of years, always on!

ddsaasd
July 14, 2012 at 9:26 am

Best Album of 2012!!!!!!!

JOHN MANNION
July 6, 2012 at 9:52 am

28 Years in the making – every track is great . the review by jason ferguson is rubbish

Edu Couchez
June 23, 2012 at 3:28 pm

He, he… really did this man listened to the same record that I’ve been loving these past weeks? Well, although the title of the songs he talk about are the same, maybe he’s talking about some cheap version of a chinese “Ultravox” band… who knows, nowadays they are the new Japaneses of technology.

ultrafoxes
June 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm

@8101af190a74130e273c859164e78e44:disqus You’re not right my friend. ‘Stupid’ is what you are; I’m sorry.

Take care

Alex777
June 10, 2012 at 8:07 am

This is one of the stupidest reviews i ever read.You need to call your mom and find out why she dropped you on your head when you were a baby. you are entitled to have a bad taste in music, but the Sammy Hagar remark reveals your ignorance. To those considering buying this cd, do so.It’s as good as any Album anyone has ever done. With the Exception of maybe “Quartet” by Ultravox and “The hurting” by tears for Fears. There are  6 standout songs and another 4 solid album tracks with only one song that i would call a skip.definitely a 5 star cd.

Alloqui Strix
June 8, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Did anyone pick up on the Sammy Hagar comment?  “…AKA…” – when was this, before he was “James” or is there some ironic comparison that I’ve missed?  If you are going to write a review (and any opinion is worth noting and should be appreciated) then at least make sure you get your information from somewhere other than a bloke in a pub please!

As for the new album, there is a tip to older Ultravox stuff and clearly a tip of gratitude towards Kraftwerk – who Midge mentions very positively in a recent BBC6 interview. 

I will admit a few of the songs are a little different vocally from that normally coming from Mr Ure which caught me off guard to start with, but I think out of 12 songs (and this in itself is an unusual number for an Ultravox album, I would say at least 8 of them are definately as catchy as some of the Quartet or Lament songs.  This being said Rage in Eden still remains my favorite album, but this is definately worth listenning to even if you’re not an Ultravox fan – it’s beginning to annoy my wife through all the play it’s currently getting, so I’m clearly enjoying this new stuff.

See you at the concerts (I have my tickets already…and my wife’s coming too!).

Scifimafia
June 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Poor review , I think its a very good album myself . 

Massimo
June 7, 2012 at 10:21 am

I disagree at all. In this album you can find the paths of the Ultravox past, with an overall exellence of sound. “Live” is a killer and other songs made a tribute to the various ages of the band (“Rise” appears to be from the “Systems of Romance” era…), but they sound fresh. It’s impossible to re-do “Vienna” or “Rage in Eden”, but I didn’t expect that kind of high level from the guys. Critics and press never smiled to the band and today appears to be the same. Another reason to like this “Brilliant” album.

Post-Punk Monk
June 5, 2012 at 9:08 pm

It seems like 100% of the fans making comments everywhere are really drinking the Kool-Aid. I am an unmitigated Ultravox fan. I own hundreds of their releases. Considering how poor their last album in this lineup [minus Cann] was, I am shocked that they let this one out. The live recordings from their 2009/2010 tours were great. Midge Ure lost some high end but gained power as a vocalist over the years. I thought that if they could get it together, they still had the performance chops that made them so formidable in their day. I was shocked as this album started out with two decent songs that would have been at home on “Quartet;” not their best album, but good enough to have bothered when all is said and done. But what comes after them makes me scratch my head. Midge Ure’s vocals and the choices made with vocal production are terminally wrong-headed as he sings like a gnome in the next room on a speaker phone in a thin, emaciated vocal style that I’ve never heard from him before. As it continues, I was flabbergasted at what I was hearing. The melodies all sound like they originated with Billy Currie and sound like his solo material, but they are all that these songs have going for them after the first two tracks. The last track is shockingly bad. My big decision now is this: is this an improvement on the “UVOX” album or not? The non-canonical Ultravox lineups with only Billy Currie from the early 90s stand up as being far better than this, once the first two songs whiz by. Ultravox’s legacy is damaged by this album to my ears and this is a low water mark for “current work by old favorites.” It would have made a killer single, though! I was so amazed at the bad performance decisions that I failed to notice that not only is the album weak, but the mastering is severely brickwalled – it literally sounds terrible as the lower frequencies all sound redlined. The drums sound horrifying, adding insult to injury.

Lionkingdom
June 10, 2012 at 8:24 am

I commend you for your intelligent review but could not  disagree more. i love every Album with Midge Ure with the exception of U-Vox which was mediocre at best. i wasn’t expecting this album to be great but it’s mesmerizing.Not every song of course, but there are 6 standouts and 4 solid album tracks.Only the song “Fall” is a skip. but considering that this cd has 12 songs i’m looking at “Fall” and “Remembering” (which is slightly better than a filler), as B sides. I actually listened to this release in it’s entirety followed by some ultravox classics and not only did the production is better, but there was no drop off in quality in the music.This is a classic Ultravox Album. I’ts my second favorite ultravox release.Second only to quartet which is my all time favorite album along with ‘The Hurting” by Tears For Fears. Now Ultravox has 5 excellent Albums. 

Synthoholica
June 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Thanks for crystalising my own disappointment with the vocal situation: Midge Ure’s voice   was one of the most powerful among his peers of the first ‘synthpop’ era and that’s what I was really looking forward to with this album. (Not ‘nostalgia’ btw just something distinctive that’s been away for ages). That whingy singing is such a waste of a great Ultravox asset.

Dave Parker
June 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Disagree completely. This is not retro, at least not in my memory-bank. I gave up on Ultravox after Vienna, being a much bigger fan of the darker John Foxx material. This, however, is so much better than the early Ure albums – no more thin-sounding synths, or tinny drum machine sounds. This CD is full-sounding, full of hooks and choruses, and enough instrumental creativity to make those early albums look ridiculous. If you want a ton of keyboards and harmonies, wisely referencing the 80’s with a big 2012 sound, this is your album.

Majaelisabeth
June 4, 2012 at 10:14 am

This must be the most negative review I´ve read concerning Brilliant. Sorry but it does not ruin my joy by listening to this fantastic album. And I disagree about the nostalgia – this is still Ultravox but now in 2012 – fresh, modern but with the essentials – guitars and classical synthesizer melodies. I love it and I cannot wait to experience it all in Copenhagen on 15 Oct. 2012

Planet Klibignaitis
June 4, 2012 at 3:22 am

A pretty mean review. Why is a new album by Ultravox any more of a ‘nostalgic illness’ than a new album by John Foxx? I’m sure Foxx wouldn’t view a new album by his ex-bandmates as anything of the sort – you are putting words in his mouth.
I am a big fan of both Foxx, and the Ure-fronted Ultravox. This review would seem to imply you can’t be a fan of both.

Troels Torp Øhlenschlæger
July 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Dont know what happened in the 80s, when a lot of bands kind of lost the new wave plot in eagerness to stay with the times. Simple Minds with once upon a time, Bowie with lets dance, Roxy with Avalon if not earlier, Tears for fears with “sowing the seeds”, Echo, The Sound ,Stranglers, Psychedelic Furs; The Jam ,The Clash split up hell even Lou Reed (Mistrial) was on a bend . Only The Cure and U2 and New Order and “the Japans” just about held it together and thats probably why they are so big still. But I agree with the above about the meanness. Personally I welcome new albums by inactive 80s bands – including ofcourse Ultravox. Always different opinions on directions band takes and i am so sick of the foxx – ure schisma. Give them both the credit they deserve. Quartet was a bold statement, for the pompous. Fair enough. I respect that album. One fine day was ggod but “Dancing with tears in my eyes” was pretty bad though..a song about nostalgia as it happens. But thats my opinion. That doesnt mean its sick nostalgia to play that style of music – and brilliant picks up the ultravox sound pretty neatly, no mistake

Dve23
June 2, 2012 at 7:55 am

Judge the album for what it is now, not the past. It’s great full of contrast and variety. Its a welcome change from boy band drivel.

Tricky
May 31, 2012 at 6:41 pm

I really like “Brilliant”! Not because it is navel gazing in any way but because it is fresh, uplifting and varied whilst remaining Ultravox at its core. It’s revealing that you have decided what John Foxx thinks about Ultravox getting back together when he said nothing of the sort.

“Brilliant” grows on me every time I listen to it and I am discovering new elements each time. For me I can’t make a solid judgement on on album until I have had it a few months but one thing is for sure “Brilliant” is a welcome return of an influential and popular band with a record that lifts the bar above much of the homogenized tat that’s out there right now.

Just because Ultravox started in the 70’s doesn’t mean they have lost any of their creativity, far from it they are simply on classic form.

Daniel
May 31, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Essential tracks: Live, Flow, Brilliant, Rise, Lie, Satellite and Change
This CD is fantastic – music has nothing to do with age – it just the fact that Ultravox still sound like Ultravox – timeless music never dies. It´s Brilliant and a masterpiece in times with nothing new and innovative in the current music charts.

Alex777
June 10, 2012 at 8:38 am

Wow.Couldn’t agree with you more. (Except for “Rise” which i give an 8+) but the other 6 you mentioned are standouts. Even my 15 year old daughter raves about some of the songs. She loves the 80’s. Live is almost as great as hymn which most would agree is a masterpiece. “Satellite” should be the 3rd single after “Live” which should have been 1st.”Change” and “lie” are my 2 favorite tracks though. I get chills listening to these two songs and the solo in flow.Brilliant album in every aspect. If an Lp version is released.I hope they would leave out the song “Fall” which is a filler in my opinion. I can think of 4 Ultravox b sides better than the song “Fall” with “building being the best B side i ever heard. By anybody.

Rahm
June 16, 2012 at 3:02 am

Daniel – you’re a genius. I totally sympathize with every word you wrote, including the essential tracks

Edu Couchez
June 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Yes… they demonstrated that there is still room for talent using modern technolgy. In fact, Currie’s piano is nothing more than a sampled one, but are his fingers, no a computer, who create such beautifull chords and glissandos.

Xk 220
May 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm

The above article is absolute dribble in my opinion. Brilliant ticks all the right boxes for me and has the perfect title.

John Goodlass
May 31, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Its actually one of the best albums I have heard in a long time;   100% Ultravox – it does what it says on the cover – “Its Brilliant”

Route 64
June 7, 2012 at 3:39 am

I agree 100% with you. This is a Brilliant album! The more you hear it the more you like it.If you didn’t like Ultravox in the 80’s maybe you wont like this album but if you liked Ultravox in the Vienna/Rage in eden/Quartet and so on I couldn’t immagine anyone not liking this. I recommand this album to all Ultravox fans. Even my children, 17 and 12 are enjoying this album!

alex777
June 10, 2012 at 8:50 am

You nailed it. I got a 15 year old daughter who is enjoying this cd as much as i do. I have over 3000 cds.this one immediately jumps in my top 100 . The last cd i bought with so many standout songs was the Album Blackfield 2 by blackfield.I actually think this cd is better than “Rage in Eden and “Vienna” and i do own every Ultravox cd in every edition and give them all 5 stars with the exception of U-Vox of course, which i generously give 3 stars for 3 solid tracks. i don’t understand why all these John Foxx fans find the need to bash this Album. i don’t even think John Foxx is this bitter.He left the band to go solo. He had more success with his solo career than he ever would have had with Ultravox. They reached their peak with Foxx as the leader and it was moderate success.

MotorMouth
June 13, 2012 at 3:54 am

 I’m sorry but I find your comment quite disturbing. What sort of children are you raising that they would like their parent’s music?
I consider myself a massive Ultravox fan and I quite like this album, but…
… it is nowhere near their best. It has a few good songs but the production is far too slick. I’d say it is probably better than Lament and all the drivel that came after it but it never gets close to the brilliance of Quartet, Rage in Eden or Vienna, let alone the sublime Systems of Romance. BTW, what makes Systems of Romance so much better than any Midge Ure stuff is not so much John Foxx’s presence as it is the superb guitar of Robin Simon.

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