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 a beating... 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 his favour! 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 their energy. 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 Thin Lizzy. 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! Al Ferrier
I found about Ultravox from reading an interview with Gary Numan who named them as an influence. After hearing Astradyne on a college radio I eventually bought Vienna in the summer of 1981. Even after hearing a little bit of the album I still expected the rest of the album to be robotic like Numans but it was far from it. I found it lush and Midge Ure's voice full of emotion to go along with the moody electronics. But the album also rocks out with more guitar driven songs like New Europeans, Passing Strangers and Private Lives. Even some of the synth only songs rock out, which none of Ultravox's contemporaries did with as much ferocity. Listen to Sleepwalk and Western Promise. Most of the songs feature synth solos by Billy Currie playing an ARP Odyssey, which sounds something like a cross between a violin and a guitar. Currie also plays some amazing violin and viola on some songs, most notably Astradyne, Mr. X and the title track. And drummer Warren Cann takes electronic percussion to a whole new level on this album. The title track Vienna is one of the best songs ever recorded in my opinion. A beauitful blend of electronic and classical instrumentation. I do believe it was a hit all over the world except the US of course. Ultravox were just too European for mainstream American ears at that time. Pity...for mainstream America that is. The only place you'd hear Ultravox at that time was on college radio, so mainstream America missed out on some amazing music. This re-release has some b-sides to singles included all of which are good songs...Passionate Reply and Waiting are standouts to me. Herr X is an interesting version of Mr X with the vocals in German. Also included is the breakthrough video Vienna which was probably the first video to look like a mini movie. Watch for the tarantula on the sleeping guys face. With all the extras I think you get a lot for your money with this cd. This is a must have for any electronic music fan. Buy it and enjoy the great band Ultravox was.
I've wanted this album for 32 years and only just got 'round to getting it. I move in and out of obsessions with different musical genres and over the past couple of years one that keeps resurfacing is german 70's electronica. Ultravox are often derided by my peers, and if one only took into consideration the later works such as "great adventure" and "if i was..." (not that bad, actually), it is possible to see why they are regarded as a bit naff. However, this album contains some real gems, and by revisiting it i understood why i was so passionate about it at the time. Prior to this, most contemporary music seemed, to a ten year old, to be a load of shouting and angry noise; this contains truly beautiful sounds. It is testament to the seriousness and dedication of the group that they were able to produce such stunning sound with such crude equipment (by today's standards, anyway) in an attempt to emulate and build on the work of their german forebearers. The solo in "sleepwalk" is sublime. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how such an important group languishes in such obscurity with the younger generation of my acquaintance, whereas they are thoroughly familiar with such lesser talents as spandau ballet and duran duran?!
I will admit to being biased as I grew up with the early 80s New Romantic music. I never subscribed to the theory that the synths did all the work. For me, you needed the song first, and these guys were always using the newest kit that needed an awful lot of work to produce anything worth listening to. This album, above many others, captures the spirit of the time. It was not as pop orientated as many of its peers, it drew upon the mystery that was Europe in those early EU and communist ere days, and it bundled all that into a collection of songs that were full of edgy lyrics and sweeping synth fed rhythms. I was hooked when I first heard it and it has not dated. To me, that proves that behind the image, was real talent and songwriting. Oh, and that video. I can still remember the impact that Vienna had on my classmates. A black and white masterpiece, so high class, so atmospheric, these guys really knew how to do style. This remastered version has really brightened up the album, which had always had its fair share of hiss and gremlins. Of course, synth pop was about precision and so the result has not taken anything away and has just allowed the music to be so much more transparent and forward. A fitting tribute to an old favourite.