We at the Fuzz have nothing against reunion tours. After all, it’s not easy to pay off your mortgage and get your kids through college, on just the royalties of a handful 30 year old albums. However, when the reunion tour is followed by a reunion album because ‘the chemistry is still there’ we tend to get suspicious. Not that Midge Ure or his fellow U-voxes have uttered such falsity or that their 12th album is a proper multi-decade come back like we’ve seen from fellow synthies OMD. For their 11th album, Ultravox have, unlike to OMD, chosen to recreate the sound of their heydays as accurately as possible. It explains everything that’s right and wrong with it.
Three albums have been released under the name Ultravox since the group disbanded in 1986. Revelation (1993), Ingenuity (1996) and System of Love (2003) were nothing more or less than side projects for founding member keyboardplayer/violist Billy Currie, who has also released his fair share of solo albums. Brilliant is the first album since the eighties in, what Wikipedia calls, the ‘classic’ line up, apart from Currie consisting of Warren Cann on drums, electronic percussion, Chris Cross on bass and keyboards and of course Midge Ure on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards.
Brilliant starts quite overwhelming with the bombastic opening duo Live and Flow. Both songs showcase virtually every aspect of U-voxes typical sound signature: a souring enhanced guitar that doesn’t sound like a guitar, a dramatic grand piano, a rather moronic Italo disco baseline and Midge Ure’s singing giving the whole thing a larger-than-life glow. Thirty years ago I thought U-vox were fantastically over the top and I still do. In their most successful period Ultravox had departed from being a pure Synthpop band, not only because Ure introduced guitars, but also because the arrangements of their songs wasn’t synthpop; no disjuncted counter melodies or instrumental choruses. Like A Flock of Seagulls and the Buggles, they were more influenced by Roxy Music than by Kraftwerk. To me Ultravox always sounded rather old school, nowadays I would call it authentic. Young bands like Mirrors go through great lengths to create the sound that U-vox have dusted off and re-wrapped, seemingly without much effort.
Even though it’s instrumentations and arrangements are consistently solid, the album soon quiets down to a sleep inducing level. Halfway through the album we have to conclude that Midge Ure’s voice has through the years lost it’s clarity and that his hoarse maturity doesn’t really fit the band’s pretentious idiom. The reflective ballad Remembering is a fine exception. Sadly it’s followed by the world-scale naivety of Hello. Towards the end, the album recovers with a string of songs which of course do not reach the level of Vienna (1980), Rage of Eden (1981) or Lament (1984), but could well have been on lesser albums like Quartet (1982) or U-Vox (1986). Still, quite an accomplishment that prevents Brilliant from being a sensational redundancy.