Ultravox – Vienna (40th Anniversary): Album Review

A classic if ever there were one. The 40th Anniversary version of Vienna by Ultravox with all the trimmings goes under the microscope. It’s a trip down Memory Lane.

Release Date: 9th October 2020

Label: Chrysalis

Formats: DL / CD / Vinyl

Let’s get the admin out of the way. This is not just any CD/vinyl combo. Six CDs and a DVD or a four-disc clear vinyl option that include the original 1980 analogue master, a new stereo mix by Steven Wilson (who will no doubt be waxing lyrical when we get to the 1980 portion of his The Album Years podcast) and rarities (singles, B-sides and cassette recordings of live rehearsals) and contributions from band members. There’s also a recording of the 1980 St Albans gig.

Grand memories for, as they say, I was there so excuse any rose-tinted nostalgic references. Such as the fact that I thought I saw this tour but it was actually the Rage In Eden tour in ’81 when I went to Ultravox at the Manchester Apollo. Incidentally, one punter thought I was sat in his seat. We had the same ticket and seat number but somehow he’d been allowed in with his ticket that was for the following night’s gig…

Meanwhile, Ultravox had hit my radar after an appearance on Top Of The Pops in the Summer of 1980. I’m sure, but don’t quote me, that they were introduced as a band with a new singer. And how could we fail to be impressed with Midge’s razor-sharp ‘tache and sidies and fashion sense that would be hijacked by the new romantics. They were the new Europeans

Ultravox meant nothing to me (sorry…), but after one listen to Sleepwalk I was down to the local record store (Vibes in Bury for the record) bagging a copy of the single on clear vinyl to boot. Furthermore, on hearing the album, I was struck by what a great opening instrumental Astradyne was. A thundering bassline and very much on the button with the pauses for some knob-twiddling electronic and industrial atmospherics and that undulating squeal.

Then there was the mysterious Teutonic Mr X and its clipped vocal that provided the point in the Venn diagram where Foxx Ultravox overlapped with the new sound. Having dipped my toes, I became committed to the clear vinyl cause. All Stood Still, Passing Strangers and Vienna itself all still sitting (amongst a pile of subsequent releases) in the U’vox clear vinyl section of the collection. The floodgates opened and I was suddenly seeking music by Kraftwerk and the like.

How Wilson’s new mix differs or what it adds to what we already know and love is not the easiest thing to detect on a pre release stream. We do get his mixes too on a number of B-sides including Passionate Reply which is only a wink away from The Thin Wall in its busy rhythm.

How valued the cassette recordings of live rehearsals are, will depend on the passion for having the need to hear what might never have been intended to see the light of day. Yes, they probably sound just as the band sounded in whatever warehouse space they were working in. Not quite Joy Division raw, but a step down from the polished album production.

The live set (has a “Hello St Albans!” been edited out?) sees the new mixing with the old as we shift towards a new era. There are fizzing versions of Slow Motion and Quiet Men and Hiroshima Mon Amour fits more comfortably of the new lush sound. Naturally, plenty of Vienna gets a live airing although the occasional Casio clicks and pops betray the sound as ‘of an era’ as bands got to grip with the electronic options and boundaries.

We might sometimes question the value of rehashing an album as it reaches a milestone and forty years is some mark. Especially when it comes to the add ons that only a mother could love. Not the case here as Vienna might mean nothing to me/Midge (sorry – again…), but it means a lot to a lot of people which makes the repackage most worthwhile.

Listen to Sleepwalk here:

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