Review: Ultravox – Brilliant

We’ve come to approach “reunion” or “comeback” albums with a great deal of trepidation. So many times we’ve built ourselves into a frenzy of expectation waiting for new albums from re-assembled lineups from great days of yore (and yore was such an awesome time. Loves us some yore…) only to be disappointed when the release fell flat. The big exception was the tremendous return from Blancmange last year, an album that was one of our picks for the top ten of the year, and well deserved, that.

So what made the Blancmange effort work so successfully? It was a perfect bland of two qualities: remembering and bringing forward the sound that made them special back in the day and a necessary updating of their sound for this day and time. Other reunions leaned too far to the extreme in one direction or another and suffered for it. So where does this one fall?

Ultravox are a funny beast vis-a-vis Softsynth. They were an extremely important band in our musical evolution and Vienna is among our top ten albums of all time. Few bands had as distinct and of-its-time sound as they had. It was upon listening to their back catalogue in anticipation of this release that we remembered Midge Ure was for a long while, this blogger’s favourite male vocalist. And yet, we can’t say that we were pining for a new album from the band. They simply weren’t on the radar. This even though the entirely of Lament remains on active rotation on the Softsynth iPod playlist, nearly 30 years after its release (and by the way, just typing that – holy shit we feel old…). It just felt like they closed their final chapter and had uniformly, conclusively moved on (we’re overlooking the series of unfortunate events that were the “Billy Currie and various hired hands” compendium of album dreck released after the other 80’s-era members left the fold).

So with minimal fuss and a dearth of baited-breath-anticipation, the newest from the band landed in our laps, and at first listen – quite literally – a large stupid smile spread across the large stupid face of your humble blogger and it didn’t fade until the album had exhausted itself, spent after its eleven tracks had run their course. It’s a cracking, marvelous effort that picks up right where they left off (or more precisely, picks up from where they left off, pretending the above-mentioned sadness as well as the ill-conceived U-Vox never happened). They have truly achieved the magic combination – it sounds like no one else, yet it feels fresh and relevant in 2012. There are so many songs that sound like companion pieces to their early 80s work (“Change”, “Live”, “Flow”) yet they don’t feel remotely dated (then there are songs like the stand-out “Rise” that sound nothing but of their era). Hard to pull off but they do it.

Midge Ure is in fine voice; he hasn’t missed a beat and age has taken no toil in this regard unless this is a case of extremely well-disguised autotune. The Billy Currie patented synth sounds and electronic piano are present and accounted for. The so-very-large choral wall of sound is here in all its drama. And the song writing so incredibly self-assured. Hats off to the lads for pulling this out of whatever orifice it came from, because it’s a delightful surprise that stands up crazy-well in an era that is so different from the one in which they came of age. One can only hope this is no one-off and that they continue to make music because if they keep this up, at this level, they have so much more to give us. Brilliant? Who knows, but utterly delightful without a doubt.

Watch: Brilliant (need a real video folks!)

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8 Responses to “Review: Ultravox – Brilliant”

  1. Very high praise from our humble blogger! I’ll have to give this a listen!
    Has OHB heard anything about something new from Michigan?

  2. softsynth Says:

    Dear god it’s hard to get intel on Michigan beyond occasional (very occasional) web site posts saying they’re still alive. No moribund band I’m more keen to see new product from…

  3. Well, I am in complete agreement… have been a voxxie since I was a wee lad (yes, feel old as well after 3 decades passing!). But Ultravox was THE synth group with intelligence (Rage in Eden as my all time fave). I too hope the lads continue on their musical mastery, and prove that good music can still be written. This is not only a wonderful comeback year (new Johnny Hates Jazz upcoming), it is hopefully a continuation of a music legacy that never should have gone on hiatus. 3 cheers for the ‘vox return!!!

  4. Bought it… Loved and played it non stop since I got it. Ultravox at their magnificent best

  5. Oh dear. Color me the odd one out. This album was like a belch in the face from an unshaven stranger. It actually incensed me to hear it and it has managed to finally sever 32 years of collecting and fandom for me, which is quite a statement indeed! I will not be buying any future Ultravox releases. Wow. It sounds very odd to be saying that, but the singing, production, and songwriting is the very worst I’ve heard from this band – in any of its formations. Three decent songs [“Live,” “Flow,” and “Lie] would have made for a good EP, but the crimes against my ears on the rest of the material manage to shake me to the core.

    The worst thing about this is Midge Ure’s singing. He adopted a strained, emaciated vocal style for a good third of these songs that I had never heard from him before. This was especially galling after how robust his vocals were on their recent live recordings. Sure, he lost some top end, but the Midge Ure of 2009 had realms more power and presence that the callow gent on all of my old Ultravox live recordings. I had every expectation that on a new album, no matter what else happened, that I would have been treated t some powerful Midge Ure vocals and I couldn’t have been more wrong!

  6. Carlos alen Jr Says:

    Brilliant are ULTRAVOX.

  7. […] If I’m honest, a new album from Ultravox was not something that got me as excited as some of my musical contemporaries. Sure I’d quite liked them back in the 80s (the 1980s), I bought some of their records, loved all the  singles but was never a huge fan. But the more I’ve listened to Brilliant to more I’ve liked it, and that’s kinda taken me by surprise. All history aside, this is a really good album. And much like OMD did with last year’s History Of Modern, Ultravox have made what’s akin to a “Best Of” album but with all-new songs. Each track has a familiar Ultravox feel to it, but each sounds fresh and new at the same time. Songs like “Rise” and “Live” show that Ultravox can still write a killer pop song, and while it’s no “Vienna,” “One” is one of a few good ballads that round off the album. For an in-depth review, check out this one on Softsynth. […]

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