WHEN reunited 1980s synth rockers Ultravox last took a bow on a Sheffield stage something in the smiles said they would be back.
Okay, so Midge Ure’s men had already done a comeback tour but with the full original line-up in action it was always likely they wouldn’t stay content with simply serving up a greatest hits package.
So at the start of the summer they released Brilliant, their first new material in three decades and fresh fodder for a tour that returns them to Sheffield City Hall on October 4.
“Brilliant is a bitter sweet comment on pop culture,” says Live Aid legend Midge of the lead track. “It’s about the other side of fame and success, a song about the bright young things that ignore the consequences of fame with the ensuing burn-out rate…
“In a way it should be Brilliant with a question mark.”
Key players in the synth rock revolution of the ’80s alongside the likes of Flock Of Seagulls and Visage, reviving the magic so many years and fads later was always likely to prove difficult.
The new album certainly contains drama, passion and innovation, but it was maybe always going to struggle to muster classics in the calibre of Vienna or All Stood Still, songs so perfectly of their time.
Either way, in a 2012 soundtracked by landfill RnB and an endless stream of flimsy pop fodder, Ultravox remain something different.
“You only have to look back to the ’80s and Ultravox were an oddity even then,” admits Midge. “When everyone else was doing poppy stuff on synthesizers, we did Vienna. We didn’t fit into any music camp, we straddled them.
“At times we were an out-and-out rock band if you came to see us live, but we were making that noise with synthesizers as well as guitars. Vienna still sounds unique 30 years on and if you make things that sound unique it becomes timeless.”
So, in a sense, there was no pressure on Ultravox to deliver something ground-breaking. But with the original minds in situ there was every chance they could draw lightning again.
“There are ways of trying stuff to see if there’s a spark, something worth pursuing, without committing yourself,” says Midge.
“These days you write on a computer and email ideas to other members who add and subtract from them and send them on. We talked about it a lot.
“The last Ultravox album we recorded without Warren Cann (the drummer left ahead of U-Vox) ...it was a mish-mash, a mistake.
“There were some very good individual tracks but the whole thing didn’t gel as an album and it sounded like a band falling apart. And that’s not a great way to leave people.
“A band is about give and take. Even though you think you’re 100 per cent right sometimes you’ve got to knuckle down and let someone else have a say and put on their direction, just like any relationship.
“Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s dreadful.”
New album Brilliant sounds like a band effort, for sure, and in some senses is like a record that was locked away rather than made recently.
Of course, there’s always the risk the old ethos of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ won’t extend to new songs. Yet, while little on Brilliant screams essential, this was an album Ultravox – Billy Currie and Chris Cross complete the line-up – had to make if they were to remain a viable unit.
“We said it would be nice to come back and do something to redress the balance a bit. It’s something we probably all individually felt for a long time but never needed to say.
“I think there’s a direct link between what we did 30 years ago and Brilliant because it is us. But if we’d tried to sit there and emulate what we did 30 years ago it wouldn’t have worked.
“Luckily for us, if we sit down and do something together, it sounds like Ultravox.
“We don’t try and make it sound like that, it’s just what comes out.
“We’ve got a very weird and strange outlook on music and this album has Ultravox’s DNA running right through it. That DNA has a lot to do with Billy’s classical music upbringing, the way he structures chords and melodies, the way certain notes touch and provoke emotions and my pop sensibilities and melodies. Once you throw those things together it’s instantly Ultravox.”
Some of the proof will be in the playing, of course, and in the epic rock of Flow and pulsing electronics elsewhere, the autumn shows may make the penny drop.
“There are so many equally strong emotions to write about as well as love,” Midge says of the inspirations behind the album, “which I hope we have used to good effect.
“My favourite song on the album is the final one, Contact. It reflects how technology has taken over our lives and how we only communicate through that technology. That’s modern contact.”
As is a live show, no matter how much technology or genres have fluctuated, there’s no substitute for getting people in a room.
“We’re cherry picking what will work in the context of a set,” adds Midge. “There’ll be a good element of the Brilliant album played live and we’re really looking forward to taking these songs out on the road.
“It’s always such an important part for us, the presentation of the live show, building the environment to play the music in.
“We want to make our take on it as individual and memorable as possible, so when you walk out of the venue and you put the record on in six months time it takes you right back to the moment when you saw it live on stage.”
EMERGED from the new wave and electro scenes of the late 1970s.
Massive hits included Hymn, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, The Voice, Reap The Wild Wind, Love’s Great Adventure and We Came To Dance.
With four top 10 studio albums and a triple platinum greatest hits collection released, the classic line-up played their last concert in 1985 at Live Aid.
All four reunited in 2009 for the sold-out Return To Eden tour.