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68 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Systems of Romance - A Retrospective by welbourn TEKH
Whenever I begin to champion this album, I always commence with an apologetic disclaimer and this review will not diverge from that well-trodden path. It must be stated, that the original Ultravox line-up, fronted by John Foxx, bore no resemblance to the later, `Slick' - Viennese-rollers fronted by that chameleon of popular culture - Midge Ure.

When `Systems...
Published on 10 Aug 2006 by Terry Welbourn

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1 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The best of the three John Fox period albums.
I firts bought this album in around 1983 & I wish I could say that it changed my life, but I don't think it did. Of the three albums that Ultravox made with John Fox at the helm this is by far the most polished & well produced. But from this it does loose some of the raw edge of the first two albums. I only have the album on good old fashioned vinyle, & was...
Published on 22 Jan 2001 by ian.fordebates@itcarlow.ie


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68 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Systems of Romance - A Retrospective by welbourn TEKH, 10 Aug 2006
By 
Terry Welbourn "welbourn TEKH" (Lincoln, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Systems Of Romance (Audio CD)
Whenever I begin to champion this album, I always commence with an apologetic disclaimer and this review will not diverge from that well-trodden path. It must be stated, that the original Ultravox line-up, fronted by John Foxx, bore no resemblance to the later, `Slick' - Viennese-rollers fronted by that chameleon of popular culture - Midge Ure.

When `Systems of Romance' was released in the late summer of 1978, Ultravox had already released two previous albums. The first being; `Ultravox!' (1977) released at the height of punk. This Eno produced, Bowie influenced record saw the band slated for their unfashionable cyber-punk stance. The follow up `Ha! Ha! Ha!' released in the latter end of the same year was a harder, `punkier' affair, but the final track `Hiroshima mon Amour', revealed a new, romantic element to the band, out went the pseudo-goth lyrics, and in came European, mechanic sensibility.

I had loved the cover of `Ha! Ha! Ha!' the misaligned, 3D starkness of the band, reeked of un-Romanised punk imagery, but yet it contained a psychedelic aloofness that was despised by the music press. John Foxx had planted a seed in my head at the end of Ultravox's last album and I anticipated, what I hoped would be the greatest album ever recorded. My wish that this new album would follow the direction of `Hiroshima mon Amour', was fuelled by the fact that Stevie Shears, the `punk' guitarist had been replaced by a - `long-hair' Robin Simon. On the day of its release, I was not disappointed.

`Systems of Romance' was recorded by Conrad Plank at the legendary Krautrock producer's own studio near Cologne. At the time of recording (1978), no one was producing music like this for it was considered pretentious and unfashionable in the post-punk rock climate. `Systems of Romance' brought together Plank's Krautrock sensibility, a seasoned live-band, technology and a poet who had recently broken through into a pool of words and images that were fresh and meaningful.

`Systems of Romance' is a `stand-alone' album, for it is difficult to place it into any given category. Its influences are diverse and it emerged out of nowhere and led to nothing, in the fact that the band split shortly after its release. Foxx's first solo album `Metamatic' was intentionally cold and mechanical and like many of his later solo albums, lacked the passion created by a band. Foxx's muse was at its height on `Systems of Romance', A heightened awareness of his surroundings, was embroidered with Renaissance influences, creating a tapestry of beautiful words that shone and glimmered over the thick, rich sound created by his band. His words influenced many, no more so than Gary Numan, who, in my view, stole his whole act, commercialised it and made a million.

Foxx's greatest mistake was leaving the band, for together their union was the key to their success. Although he did have a post-Ultravox hit with the single `Underpass' his inability to move on, or to develop upon the enchanting lyrics he created for `Systems of Romance' was to be his greatest bugbear. It is sad that the band is remembered only for its post-Foxx releases. So, rid yourself of images of pointy sideburns, Carol Reid imagery from post-war Vienna and take another listen to this `Krautrock' masterpiece, that influenced many including, Japan and many of the `80's new romantic acts.

Slow Motion: The album begins with the single `Slow Motion' and the introduction of Robin Simon into the band reveals a guitarist, whose ability is multi-dimensional. As we are welcomed to John Foxx's blurred, moonlit world, we hear crazy freak-outs in the depth of the song, reminiscent of something off Amon Duul II's `Yeti'. Yet somehow, Plank has managed to merge the synths and the guitars to create a distinctive, rich wall of sound, unique to this album. The thin sound of previous albums is immediately dispensed with and this thick synthetic haze is underpinned by Warren Cann's solid metronomic drumming. Layered themes emerge and then disappear to form a rich, textured brew.

I Can't Stay Long: The riffy guitar rides over strange loops and a krautrock bass and the track reveals Foxx as a true poet. Lines like "In wintertime, overcoats close in, and the snow tastes of tin on the steps of any station. I need to glide, in the long green light of July afternoon...." Create for us a duel consciousness that creates for us a desire to experience the extremes of winter, but to experience them from the relative safety and security of a warm place. Again Cann's metronomic drumming adds to the security theme, but his flourish of symbols at the end, reminds us of the human behind his discipline.

Someone Else's Clothes: A backward cymbal leads us into this shimmering track. Foxx's unnerving, thin voice sound is accompanied by Simon's choppy guitar, but unlike Ultravox's previous guitarist Stevie Shears, Simon brings a multi-dimensional, looser sound to the band. Big bass notes accompany Cann's unrelenting beat. This European sound is brought closer to home with Foxx's quintessential Englishness. "Transfer me into the Saturday crowds, or merge me back into the factory towns..." is reminiscent of Priestley and the northern mill towns of yore.

Blue Light: The odd track out, in that the lyrics are not reproduced on the sleeve and the track is strangely out of place musically. It lacks the depth of quality and production of the other songs and is reminiscent of tracks off later Foxx solo albums. Here Chris Cross' tight bass playing dominates the subdued screaming guitar madness behind Foxx's words. The song ends in a metaphoric rumble and suggests to me that this was one on Foxx's later songs that crept onto the album, and suggested a mechanic direction that the rest of the band didn't wish to follow?

Some of Them: The greatest start to a track ever!? A choppy dysfunctional guitar creates the intro for a real rock out and reveals Ultravox as a tight unit. Guitars and synths fuse to create a tub-thumping track reminiscent of a `Ha! Ha! Ha!' outtake.

Quiet Men: Side Two starts with the second single from the album and is a stripped down track that burbles along to a Euro-beat, overlaid by Simon's abrasive guitar and Foxx's camp vocals. Billy Currie's eerie synth introduces layered themes that drift in and out of the track, often slowing down and speeding up creating a richness and longing.

Dislocation: A track built around strange metallic plucking, which hosts layered voices and bass synth. Foxx's nonchalant, droning voice describes a disconcerting world between sleep and consciousness, set against the background rumble of the universe.

Maximum Acceleration: One of the strongest tracks on the album begins as Foxx delivers the casual line "I thought you knew me by now". Embellished by Simon's shimmering, loose guitar that flows over a rock steady beat. Cann's occasional tom-tom flourishes, especially at the end create feeling of total exhilaration.

When You walk Through Me: From a rising synth, the songs bursts into life. Simon's pivotal guitar rises over Cann's fluid drumming which rises and then falls back into the tight disciplined performance, which has now become the trademark of this recording. The music drops away to a mechanic beat and over a fading synth, Foxx delivers his words as Chris Cross introduces a Krautrock bass line that leads us back into the song.

Just For A Moment: Just like ``Ha! Ha! Ha!', `Systems of Romance' closes with a track that takes the band into a different dimension. Here, unwittingly, Foxx delivers the final broadcast. His voice is thin and filled with longing, set against a heartbeat pulse and he wears the hat of the `outsider'. "We'll never leave here - ever, let's stay in here forever" he pleads as his voice, on the edge of distortion, calls from some distant womb like space. A discordant piano shatters the security of the track, breaking it into pieces, pieces that are quickly assembled as a church organ penetrates the gloom. As the organ floods the track, Foxx can be heard humming like a stranger in an old town square, somewhere in an old European city - maybe post-war Vienna?
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Foxx end, 28 April 2007
By 
D. J. H. Thorn "davethorn13" (Hull, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Systems Of Romance (Audio CD)
I remember this album being released. The publicity surrounding it, though not over-generous, suggested that there was a lot more to come from Foxx and co. Instead, Gary Numan stole their commercial thunder, admitting as much at the time, with his sci-fi fantasies, before Ultravox underwent a major personnel change and a more commercial approach. This album, it must be said, suffered from being a few years ahead of its time. In general, this band were always out of place, a bit like a group of sophisticated Germans plunged into Clash-era Hammersmith. 'Systems Of Romance' pulses at times with the same fire as much of contemporary new wave, but without the street-cred of the era. Meanwhile, David Bowie's higher-profile music was charting overlapping territory. Ultravox, wedged in a gap somewhere between the two, were shoved to the margins.

In truth, though this is a brave, innovative record for its era, it is not one of the greatest albums ever made when it comes to content. The tortured guitars, eerie keyboard backgrounds and Foxx's defiant delivery, coupled with some beautiful lyrics, can't hide some mediocre instrumental arrangements. 'Slow Motion' and 'Can't Stay Long' fill the senses, but the three tracks that follow are more like bad new wave.

The second half of the album is a different matter. Unusually, this is much stronger, varying between the hard-hitting industrial beat of 'Maximum Acceleration' and the eerie closing track, 'Just For A Moment'. In the year of Grease and The Boomtown Rats, Ultravox took risks and paid for them, but they delivered potent images of what was to come.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Forgotten Masterpiece, 21 Jun 2004
This review is from: Systems of Romance (Audio CD)
Sometimes one stumbles across a 'forgotten' album by accident, listens to it, and wonders why it didn't get the huge ground breaking success it truly deserved. 'Systems of Romance' is one such album.
In my quest for having a complete collection of Ultravox albums I also bought (when I could find them) back catalogue recordings on vinyl of their previous incarnation with John Foxx. That 'Systems of Romance' was the last album I found was a rather cruel twist of fate.
Ultravox mk1 were very much 'arty' and experimental, leaning more to bands like early Roxy Music, David Bowie and to a lesser extent The Velvet Underground. The first album - 'Ultravox!' was pure 'art rock' weirdness, whereas their second 'Ha! Ha! Ha!' succumbed more to the influence of the then current Punk/New Wave movement.
With 'Systems of Romance', their third and final album with John Foxx, they seemed to say to hell with everything and all that was around at the time. Locking themselves away in Germany with some primitive synths, electronic musical equipment, guitars, bass, drums and the guidance of the late lamented German producer Conny Plank they came up with a master piece.
The year was 1978. Punk was still spewing bile, Disco was big and only bands like Kraftwerk were allowed to make electronic music. Then along came this album....
From the opening strains of 'Slow Motion', Systems of Romance proves its significance. Fat synth lines cavort with drums, guitars and the 'extremely English' vocals of John Foxx. It sounded totally unique, and only when Gary Numan (a fan of this album) came along a year later with 'Are Friends Electric?' and 'Cars' did this electro crossover musical style become accepted.
Every track on this album is worthy of a listen. 'Quiet men' and 'Dislocation' are pure electronica, whereas 'Some of Them' is pure New Wave. Others fall somewhere between these two. The mix here is dancey, uplifting, surreal and at times very dark. That Ultravox can move so easily between different musical styles and instruments yet still retain their signature sound proves what a unique band they were.
The stand out tracks amongst a collection that is already superb can be picked simply because of the influence they had on the forthcoming New Romantic movement.
Slow Motion:
Rich with heavy, fat synths, neurotic guitars and a disjointed drum pattern. Foxx's vocals fly high above this to make a compelling, weird, yet strangely catchy song.
I Can't Stay Long:
Driving, rhythmic, lush synths and mournful guitar. A strangely moving song with some brilliant vocals and lyrics. Also quite surreal in places: 'I want to glide the long green light of a July afternoon, sliding down a vague conversation'. Lyrically beautiful.
Quiet Men:
Kraftwerk like, also similar to pre 'Dare' Human League. Strangely danceable, catchy and infectious. Must have influenced early Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and OMD.
Dislocation:
Bowie like vocals, eerie electro music, thunderous synth. Not the sort of song to listen to in the dark........
When You Walk Through Me:
Great Warren Cann drum pattern, Robin Simon's guitar also shining brightly. Strange rhythm, great vocals and unsettling lyrics.
Just For A Moment:
Haunting, eerie, creepy, downright disturbing electro track with beautiful short piano piece in the middle. Foxx's vocals have been 'treated' to make it sound even weirder. The sort of song that leaves you with a shiver down your spine.
John Foxx has a fantastic voice that is both emotional and powerful, as well as embodying 'English eccentricity'. His lyrics are artistic, at times moving, at others surreal; all the while painting a lush landscape of imagery that is both light and dark. A line from 'I can't stay long' sums up his lyrics perfectly - 'Everywhere seems to be, just a flicker, from a silent screen'.
Robin Simon's guitar style is unusual, moving and powerful without ever resorting to standard rock clichés. His playing on this album is revelatory, eccentric, pure genius. He later went solo, and also played in Howard Devoto's Magazine. He should have gone on to be a guitar great.
Billy Curry brought in keyboard skills, violin, viola, and classical music training. He fused 'pop' with his classical style and made it work, such as interjecting the short, beautiful piano piece into the disturbing 'Just for a moment'. On other songs he added lush synthesized strings, or fat, rumbling, quirky analogue synth sounds.
Chris Cross' bass playing is simplistic, yet rhythmical and at times unusual. It is also worth noting that the bass synthesizer lines were played by him. He creates a backbone to which the band can attach themselves to.
Warren Cann is like Chris in that his drum lines are simple yet unusual. Note as well in the fade out of 'When you walk through me' he used the same drum pattern again in the fade out to 'Reap the Wild Wind' a few years later! He also deserves recognition for the electronic drums and rhythms, using primitive programming and ingenuity. The 'drums' on 'Dislocation' are in actual fact a synthesizer being looped onto tape!
Overall this album is quite simply ahead of it's time. Had it been released in 1981 maybe it would have gone huge, but sadly it was just too advanced for 1978's listening ears. Comparisons with Midge Ure era Ultravox are unfair, though in all respects Systems of Romance set the blueprint that Ultravox mk2 would use to have greater success.
The quality of recording and mixing is excellent as well as unique, as can be expected with Conny Plank producing. Sadly it sounds as if Island simply dumped it onto CD without any re-mastering. One wonders how much better it could be with some modern technology bringing out the best of an already brilliant album.
Whatever, this is a must have for anyone interested in the early pioneers of electronic fusion. To listen to it one can hardly believe this was released in 1978, and the creativity, songwriting and musicianship shine through. A true gem.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificence without pretence..., 12 Mar 2005
By 
andy d (bedfordshire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Systems of Romance (Audio CD)
By the time Midge Ure was posing in his trench coat in the back streets of the Austrian capital for the video to "Vienna", Dennis Leigh aka John Foxx had moved on to break new ground with the most significant electronic album of the 80's; Metamatic.
However, it was John's work with Ultravox that proves the most interesing to reflect on, over 25 years later. It was also very influential; Numan, Phil Oakey and many others often cite "Systems" as a primary influence.
Here, the punk overtones of the two previous albums have gone, to be replaced by a lush semi-electronic sound, complex and troubling when married to Foxx's often half spoken lyrics. Two excellent singles were offered from the album, "quiet men" and "slow motion" , the later starts with the lines "no reply, I'm trying hard to somehow frame a reply..pictures I've got pictures and I run them in my head when I cant sleep at night.." John Foxx's electro-pop world was a much darker place than the pretenders to the new romatic throne (Visage, OMD etc etc) took us a couple of years later.
Despite this haunting imagery, there is a deliberate lack of emotion in the lyrics, and the effect is one of fantastic contrast. Stand out tracks (the two superb singles aside) are "I can't stay long" an upbeat almost rocking version of the abstract theme, and "just for a moment" the superb slow-burning final track...."we'll never leave here never...and when the streets are quiet, we'll walk out in the silence". Heavy stuff.
In short "systems of romance" stands out against the grandiose and overblown offerings of the early eighties and can be described as the record which turned new-wave into new-romantic.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 16 Feb 2005
This review is from: Systems of Romance (Audio CD)
Late in the spring of 1979, I heard Slow Motion on the radio one night. I was rivetted by it. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before. It took me a while to track down the album it came from but then I became hooked.
Reviewer Mr Horgan is dead wrong: Systems of Romance is easily one of the finest albums Ultravox ever released. It is totally different from Vienna. Foxx had and still has an incredible and unique voice.
By the way, this is the only album from Ultravox mark 2. Stevie Shears (later with Faith Global) was guitarist on the first two albums but was sacked as the other members knew that they needed a more competent, more interesting guitarist for the new material. Enter Robin Simon who later graced some of John Foxx's solo stuff (and even toured with him in 1983). His Les Paul work gives the overall sound a gritty, compellingly rhythmic sound; the solo on Slow Motion is just awesome. By the time the album was nearing completion, Foxx and the rest of the band were hardly speaking, such was the dislike they felt.
"Hush, can you feel the tress so far away...?"
Both Gary Numan and Midge Ure devoured this album. The album was lauded by Ultravox's faithful following but remained relatively unsuccessful, being just too different to the prevailing musical climate of 1978. The band toured it all over Europe before self-financing a tour of the US (their label Island - now ironically part of EMI, having dropped them by then) in the winter of 1978-9 and this line-up called it a day in San Francisco in the spring of 1979. Simon stayed in the US, the others stumbled back to penury in the UK and Foxx went solo.
I've seen both Ultravox mk 3 (with Ure) and John Foxx (solo) play Slow Motion and Quiet Men and they are still as fresh as they are on this album. Foxx played Just For A Moment on a tour a couple of years back and it was a perfect moment.
What else can I say about this album? Buy it!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You should buy this album, 22 April 2007
By 
Mr. I. Redman "Norman the Ant" (Plymouth Devon) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Systems Of Romance (Audio CD)
There are some albums that are universally acclaimed as works of greatness, others for some reason should be rated as such, but for whatever reason they are criminally overlooked, this is such an album.

I bought this on lp when it first came out, and keep getting drawn back to it nearly 30 years later, it has not aged, it still sounds great, and without this album the likes of Gary Numan would not have become what they did, this was the greatest album ever made that nobody mentions but is an essential in any collection, just buy and enjoy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Rock/Synth Album of the 70's., 29 Dec 2005
By 
Mark A. Carter (New York) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Systems of Romance (Audio CD)
This is my favorite John Foxx era Ultravox Album. I played this repeatedly for over a year back in 78/79'. Back then i was getting into those bands who were trying out the new synth sounds like 'Human League' & 'Devo' & who along with 'Ultravox' were among a select few bands taking punk into a whole new direction & a whole new feel without being New Wave & overly radio friendly. That would be left to Gary Numan i suppose. Long droning synth lines might sound passe & quaint nowadays with Trance/IDM using complex programming to give intricate soundscapes but sometimes less is more & in the hands of those who know what they're doing it can really bring out a powerful atmosphere in the music, just take 'Slow Motion's' opening drone which lifts to a Roxy Music like Chorus. John Foxx's lyrics are alway's interesting and imaginative & the whole album seems very introspective and perhaps even depressing to me. At least it would be if you go purely on the lyrics alone. But the music saves the songs from being too maudlin & is beautifully executed. For the most part the album is upbeat, save for 'Just for a Moment' & 'Dislocation'. Simple synth lines, quick sharp guitar licks (check out 'Blue Light') & Mr Foxx's distinctive voice. Everything on this record sounds crisp and sharp. Great car music for my money on those long trips. Remember that this was released in 1978 and what else back then was sounding anything like this rock/synth mix back then, not a whole lot. It's definitely up there in my top 10 favorite albums. Give it a listen why don't you and it may become one of yours too.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ultravox's artistic pinnacle, 20 July 2002
This review is from: Systems of Romance (Audio CD)
Time has not been kind to some of the styles and mannerisms embraced by Ultravox during their different incarnations. That's the risk that any group runs for being so experimental.
But on 'Systems of Romance' from 1978 they got the formula absolutely right. Everyone was at their most imaginative: Foxx's dead-pan vocals refreshingly free of transatlantic inflection, Currie's pioneering exploration of the synthesiser, Simon's avant-garde guitar work, Cross's wry disco basslines and Cann's off-the-wall drumming and programming. This determination to sound different is reflected in the album's lyrics, examining restlessness, detachment and anonymity.
Assisting in the birth of both Electronica and New Wave, it also re-interprets elements of Sixties pyschedelia and 20th Century European Classical Music. For all these reasons, 'Systems of Romance' achieved more than any other album of its time and offers plenty of lessons to today's experimentalists.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Before they turned to grey, 15 Feb 2006
By 
Pedro Conejo (Fuerteventura, Spain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Systems of Romance (Audio CD)
Back when this was first released I played it constantly. Inevitably I made friends listen to it, friends who unlike me, had never heard of or seen Ultravox! Friends, some of whom thought anything post-King Crimson was mindless drivel, others were still listening to Yes and thought they were pretty cool. I loved Systems, they all loved it too. The difference was, I wasn't shocked into liking it.
OK, I'd come to Ultravox! by going to lots of punk gigs and enduring some pretty dire stuff before taking note of the band that played Hiroshima Mon Amour. But we all ended up in the strange place that Systems of Romance took us to. It seemed like this was a band about to do something really amazing. Sadly, they fell away after this.
Still, Systems of Romance is a pretty good high water mark to leave for posterity. Very different from everything around at the time. Sufficiently avante-garde without alienating the audience through a lack of musicality. The overlap of haunting but enveloping music with 'difficult' lyrics was nigh on perfect.
As one of my friends at the time said after his first listening: "This band has broadened their horizons a little more than most".
Such a shame Ultravox! as such didn't continue. This album feels like that burst of mania just before a bad dose of flu. And so it proved to be.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Third, Last & Best, 3 May 2007
By 
M. Marshall - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Systems Of Romance (Audio CD)
After the hit 'n miss debut album and the punky, raucous second album, Ultravox finally defined their sound with Systems of Romance - and delivered the masterpiece of which we knew they were capable .

Systems will be remembered by most as the last Foxx album but it's also first time the band worked with German producer Conny Plank and in him Ultravox appear to have found a kindred spirit, someone who could help them create their remarkable blend of electronic, experimental and traditional instrumentation. It's surely no coincidence that Plank oversaw all of the band's best work (and U-Vox, but we'll quickly skip over that).

Despite the fact that this album was years ahead of its time, its sound was, and is still, very commercial, packed with hooks and riffs and all sorts of wierd and wonderful sounds. Any one track has more great ideas than any number of songs by their rivals (Kraftwerk aren't in the same league) and, in hindsight, it seems odd that this album achieved so little commercial success.

Systems of Romance is a truly masterful piece of work, one that would be bettered only by its immediate successor, and is light years away from the plinky-plonk sound that was typical of 70s/80s electronica. The fact that it was, and is, routinely ignored by the music press and those "in the know" whilst vastly inferior work is venerated, should give you some idea of just how good it is. Genius.
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