[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries will be based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests coming in, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun! If you wish to make a request, you may do so either in the comments section of this post, on Twitter, or on the Facebook Fanpage. Don't be shy - tell me what band you want to see featured!]
Cover of UltravoxFellow Phillies fan, radio buff and music junkie Ken Mueller, author of the Inkling Media blog which I have recommended in the past and continue to recommend for those of you with an interest in Social Media Marketing done the right way, offered a list of several first-string New Wave bands in his request. It was tough to pick one on any other basis than the one I went with: whichever band he listed first, which just so happens to be one of the earliest of the "New Romantic" style bands as well as a band who, in their native UK, were regularly found in the upper reaches of the charts during the first half of the 1980s despite seeing very little commercial success here in the US.
The New Romantics shared a love the artier glitter bands of the 1970s and a strong desire to look and sound like either Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry or Thin White Duke-era David Bowie. Ultravox! wore those same influences on their sleeves when they evolved from a mid-'70s combo called Tiger Lily in 1976, but also proudly carried forth the banner of the German krautrock bands such as Faust, Kraftwerk, and Neu! (from whom they borrowed the exclamation point which was originally part of the band's name).
In their earliest material (1977's self-titled debut and Ha!-Ha!-Ha!), Ultravox! found an uneasy balance between the Punk aesthetic ("Satday [sic] Night In The City Of The Dead") and New Wave themes of disconnection and alienation ("I Want To Be A Machine"). Ha!-Ha!-Ha! also contained the first step toward what would be come the more traditional Ultravox sound, the heavily atmospheric "Hiroshima Mon Amour." People started to notice.
By the release of 1978's Systems of Romance, the band dropped the "!" and traded out their guitarist for a new model, and moved further down the electronic path they had begun to travel with "Hiroshima Mon Amour." Synthesizers were moving to the forefront, but they still didn't have the formula quite perfected. Disappointing sales caused their label to drop them, all three LPs went out of print, and John Foxx walked away hoping to find success as a solo artist.
Enter Midge Ure, fresh from his stint in The Rich Kids, and at the time working with Ultravox co-founder Billy Currie and scenester Steve Strange in the studio-project band Visage. With Ure taking over the frontman role and bringing with him enough pop sensibility to deliver the goods and a large enough and demanding enough presence to lead the band in that poppier direction, Ultravox reappeared in 1980 with the stunning Vienna. Boasting it's title track, "Passing Strangers," and "Sleepwalk" among its tracks, Vienna's highly polished orchestral sound found that winning formula that Foxx's version of the band never could. The album scampered up the UK charts to reach #3; the singles all charted well, with "Vienna" turning out to be the band's biggest-selling single ever, just missing the #1 spot.
Three more albums in this new style followed quickly: Rage In Eden, Quartet, and Lament spawned more UK chart-toppers such as "Reap The Wild Wind" and "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes," but their UK success just did not translate in America. (In fact, the biggest success Midge Ure would see here was in co-writing Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" with Bob Geldof.)
1986's U-Vox LP was a huge, bland disappointment, despite it's obvious grab for US airplay. Now it was Ure's turn to jump ship in favor of a solo career, but this time there would be no replacement. The band officially called it quits in 1987. Billy Currie attempted to revive the Ultravox name in 1992 with no other original members; that project failed miserably. The classic Midge Ure-era lineup reformed in 2008 and continues to perform.
To fill Mr. Mueller's request, I offer two Ultravox clips: the first, a performance of the still-stunning "Hiroshima Mon Amor" with John Foxx fronting the band; second, a personal favorite of mine from the Midge Ure-era, "Passing Strangers." Thank you, Ken, for your request!