Wednesday, July 8, 2015


The rhythm was calling for Ultravox with the wasted whispers and stylish sleepwalk of this mystic and soulful astradyne advance.  The group had begun as Tiger Lily in 1974 and built a reputation as a live act before getting a deal with Island Records and changing their name to Ultravox! in 1976.  They released two albums in 1977 (Ultravox!  and Ha!-Ha!-Ha!) and a third in 1978 (Systems of Romance) before the departure of  John Foxx (to release his solo album 'Metamatic') and Robin Simon.   

At this point Midge Ure was brought into the group.  He had been in the group Visage with Billie Curie:   "I was [in both bands simultaneously for a period]. I think there was a moment where the Vienna album and the Visage album… Although the Visage album had started maybe a year prior to the Ultravox album, because I hadn’t joined Ultravox when I started the Visage album. It was through working on Visage that I ended up joining Ultravox. But the Visage album took so long to make because we were borrowing studio time, and the musicians were all over the place because they were all touring in their own bands, so to try and get the thing completed took a long time. But the Ultravox album and the Visage album and the Ultravox single “Sleepwalk,” I think it might’ve been, all charted the same day! It was ludicrous! It was madness! But, yes, Visage came first, and through Visage and working with Billy Currie, the keyboard player of Ultravox, I ended up joining Ultravox. And then it was time to move on. Ultravox was my band, and…that was it. That was my serious band. Visage was fun and a learning curve, but Ultravox’s style was a very different thing."

The band co-produced the sessions for 'Vienna' at  RAK Studios in London with  Warren Cann on drums, electronic percussion, backing vocals, and lead vocals on "Mr. X";  Chris Cross on bass, synthesizers, and backing vocals;  Billy Currie on piano, synthesizers (ARP Odyssey), viola, and violin;   and  Midge Ure on guitars, synthesizers, and lead vocals (except on "Mr. X").  The mixing was done at Conny Plank's Studio near Cologne, Germany.   

Ure says:   "I think [Conny Plank] was probably a little bit weary, because I think up until that point John Foxx was very much hands on the rudder, as it were, with Ultravox. I think he kind of dominated the situation. According to the rest of the guys, he was a very dominant figure in the band, and I think maybe the idea of a new version of Ultravox – a four-piece, all of a sudden, with this other guy insisting that they work with Conny – I think Conny maybe somewhere in the back of his mind was thinking, “This is just a last-ditch attempt from this band to try and do something.” Because who knew it was going to be the success that it was? But I think once we sat down and talked about music and we played a couple of the things that we’d been working on, any fears that he may have had that this was a half-hearted attempt at doing something interesting were completely gone. We recorded the entire Vienna album in three weeks. It was just wham, bam. We had it all there, we’d rehearsed it all, we’d routined it all, we played most of the stuff live, so we knew exactly what it was that we wanted, and we managed to achieve it very, very quickly...I think it does hold up. I think you can date anything, you know, especially electronics. You can date electronics very, very easily. You can tell a drum sound and say, “Oh, that’s a CR78,” or, “That’s a Linn Drum,” or whatever, and it does become very dated. It grows old, and as you say, it becomes a product of its time. But there’s something quite magical about what we did, because it wasn’t just all electronics. It was a combination of electronics. If you listen to the track “Vienna,” of course you think, “Oh, yeah, there’s the drum machine. The big heartbeat drum machine and the synthesized bass… Yeah, it’s all electronics.” But then comes the piano, and then comes the viola… [Laughs.]...It’s a really odd combination of instrumentations that makes that track, yet people still insist that there are no guitars on the Vienna album. If you listen to it again now, though, there’s guitar all over it! That’s what I am: I’m a guitarist! So there’s guitar everything, but people chose not to hear it. What they saw on television were these kind of stoic, po-faced, thin young men looking very dark and moody behind a bank of synthesizers, and that’s what they heard. It’s quite interesting. So the odd time when I hear “Vienna” on the radio now, it still stands up. Even though the sound may be dated, we didn’t just press a button on a machine that everyone else could press. We created those sounds. There was a whole different ballgame. We made those sounds from scratch...Even prior to “Vienna” the song happening, when the Vienna album came out, there was a marked difference, I think, in the dynamic within the band. The band became a band, which was really quite interesting. There wasn’t a leader, there wasn’t a dominant character, there were four individuals pulling together and making a sound that only those four individuals...So once we came out with “Sleepwalk,” I think was the first single, people got it. They got it. They got it for what it was. Because it wasn’t the same as the previous Ultravox. Something had changed, and they could hear that something, whatever it was, and they kind of accepted it. And, of course, once “Vienna” the song came out, we crossed over into an entirely different audience, and they didn’t know the previous Ultravox. They just knew… Ultravox to them was the band that they’d heard on the radio that day."

'Vienna' became their breakthough success, going to number one hundred and sixty-four in the US, eighty in Canada, twenty-two in Germany, eighteen in Norway, six in Sweden, four in Australia, three in the UK, and number two in the Netherlands and New Zealand.  In the UK, it was certified platinum and remains their best selling album. 

The title track went to number fourteen in Germany; eleven in Australia; eight in Austria;  seven in Sweden;  two in New Zealand and the UK; and number one in Belgium, Ireland, and the Netherlands.  
Ure: "I lied to the papers about [the subject] at the time: the Secessionists and Gustav Klimt, whatever. I didn't know about any of that stuff. I wrote a song about a holiday romance, but in this very dark, ominous surrounding."
Cross: "Conny spoke about how everything was a big fa├žade; how the music was becoming increasingly pompous to the extent that endings were getting longer than the piece of music itself. But trying to make something over-pompous so that it's obvious to the listener is pretty difficult to do."
Currie:: "We were all being very arty, discussing the composer Max Reger, and Midge walked up and said in his Glaswegian accent, 'This means nothing to me,' and turned away. When we came in he'd put down this operatic-type chorus using that very phrase."

Ultravox - Vienna by cladstrife

Walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a window pane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you until

The feeling has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

The music is weaving
Haunting notes, pizzicato strings
The rhythm is calling
Alone in the night as the daylight brings
A cool empty silence
The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky
It fades to the distance

The image has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

This means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna


"Passing Strangers"


full album:

All songs written and composed by Warren Cann, Chris Cross, Billy Currie, and Midge Ure.

00:00 "Astradyne"
07:08 "New Europeans"
11:11 "Private Lives"
15:19 "Passing Strangers"
19:10 "Sleepwalk"
22:21 "Mr. X"
28:55 "Western Promise"
34:14 "Vienna"
39:08 "All Stood Still"


43:31 "Waiting"
47:22 "Passionate Reply"

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