Top positive review
43 people found this helpful
on 7 January 2002
This was it. The album which established Ultravox
as a powerful musical force. Derided for years
by a music industry that never really comprehended
their worth or talent, this was the album which
at last brought the band - a quartet since the
departure in early 79 of former frontman John
Foxx and ace guitarist Robin Simon - to national
and international recognition. 1978 had seen
the last of their three influential but unbought
albums for Island, Systems of Romance, appear
with a blueprint for modern rock. It took a lot
Incidentally, Systems... is Midge Ure's favourite
album and he knew the songs intimately when he
was working with keyboard genius Billy Currie
in Visage, something which definately counted in
Midge Ure brought more than just Captain Kirk
sideburns to the band: he brought a shimmering
commercial sheen which blended with their risky,
edgy earlier sound.
The sequencing of the tracks on the album works
a treat: Astradyne, the album's instrumental
opener sets the tempo with Billy Currie's superb
violin well to the fore. No sooner has the track
concluded then we're straight into Ure's choppy,
strident guitar of New Europeans, the contrast
between the textures is awesome.
The band gigged this album extensively before
and after it was recorded in the spring of 1980
so they were as tight as a gnat's chuff when
the tapes rolled.
Private Lives is ushered in with Currie's classical piano flourishes and then all hell
breaks loose as their trademark duelling guitar
and ARP Odyssey vie with each other to pass you
Four singles were released from this album,
Sleepwalk and Passing Strangers not quite
getting the success they deserved. This all
changed with the title track...
Edited down to a four-minute version (without
the moody, swirling synths on the intro), it
was the track which brought them to the public.
It's a classic, what else can you say? Currie
relates that the hairs on the back of his neck
stood up the first time Ure sang it to the band.
The four tracks of the second side are written
to be a sequence: starting out with the stark beauty of Mr X with its precise drum programming
and shifting bass patterns and then on into Western Promise, a hymn to Ure's previous tour
of the far east as temporary lead guitarist in
Western Promise is an incredible track. A minimal
sequencer emerges from Mr X as it fades away and
a haunting melody rises up before Cann's drums
crash in. Apparently they recorded Warren Cann's
furious drumming in the foyer of RAK Studios in
London due to its reflective surfaces and managed
to get a decent take just before the neighbours'
complaints brought the old bill around!
Ure gives one of his finest vocal performances
before the track shudders to a halt and the
moody Moogs come in to lead us into Vienna itself.
The track is probably the album's emotional
highpoint; the textures working so well together
and Currie's violin in the break bringing a
different quality altogether. It deserved to be
number 1 but was eclipsed by a novelty record.
The album concludes with All Stood Still; a track
which sees several changes of the light and shade
they wanted to capture and yet the song has an
ongoing urgency that is irrepressable.
Simply exquisite and one of the landmark albums
of the last twenty-five years.
So buy it!