Ultravox - Brilliant (1 star)

Ultravox - Brilliant

Dull and pompous record from the no-longer-relevant Ure and co

Does the world really need another album, the first in 26 years, from the ‘classic’ Midge Ure-era Ultravox – a group of negligible lasting impact on music even at their mid-80s arena synth-pop zenith? The Trade Descriptions Act-violating Brilliant is another of those new old records for diehard fans to apologise for while quietly ignoring the fact that such a half-arsed exercise in nostalgia merely craps on their cherished memories.

It’s the sound of a band who either couldn’t make their music seem relevant or couldn’t be bothered to: a desolately uninteresting lunar landscape of portentous piano melodies and wheezy antiquated synth sounds, booming drums, bombastic guitars and Ure’s clenched vocals swathed in ridiculous echo, echo, echo, as if their dull pompousness requires repeating, repeating, repeating.

ultravox - brilliant HD QUALITY New Single from New Album NO DJ just music

Ultravox

Midge Ure's band, back together again and on the reunion trail in support of their new album Brilliant.

Elsewhere on the web

Comments

1. comment removed
User account closed.
2. comment removed
User account closed.
3. comment removed
User account closed.
4. comment removed
User account closed.
5. Kompani25 May 2012, 11:37am Report

Malcolm Jack has dribbled a sloppy review of what, on listening to the video and iTune samples, will be a very good album produced by a group who knows its place in the pantheon of British music.

6. comment removed
User account closed.
7. comment removed
User account closed.
8. comment removed
User account closed.
9. comment removed
User account closed.
10. comment removed
User account closed.
11. comment removed
User account closed.
12. comment removed
User account closed.
13. comment removed
User account closed.
14. comment removed
User account closed.
15. comment removed
User account closed.
16. comment removed
User account closed.
17. comment removed
User account closed.
18. comment removed
User account closed.
19. comment removed
User account closed.
20. Malcolm Jack18 Jun 2012, 1:58pm Report

Hi,

Thanks for all of your responses to this review – always good to see people defending a band they’re passionate about, and in a spirit of reasoned and healthy debate I’m going to respond. Though not to the nastier criticisms – granted, my review is hard, but I make no personal attack on the band themselves and don’t see why my character is fair game for slagging. I’m a nice guy, honest.

Just to show that I’m neither ‘incompetent and unobjective’, ‘historically inaccurate’ or ‘a tad short on journalistic skills’, I’m going to take you line-for-line through the review and my reasoning.

---

‘Does the world really need another album, the first in 26 years, from the ‘classic’ Midge Ure-era Ultravox – a group of negligible lasting impact on music even at their mid-80s arena synth-pop zenith?'

A very acute angle of entry into a review – I’ll admit to being a little taken-aback by how harsh that first line sounded upon reading it back. But then, I remembered what the overriding feeling I experienced from this album was, and that was irritation, maybe even anger. The reformation bandwagon has been travelling at full tilt for several years now, and Ultravox are neither the first nor last band to jump on it. But I feel like much more severe distinction needs to be made between bands who are finding new relevance or even rising to the challenge of modern music (or at least trying to), and those dully cashing in on nostalgia without bringing anything new to the table – particularly those that weren’t up to much first time around. If bands/labels are prepared to hire PR companies to send copies of albums like Brilliant to journalists, and expect reviews on the same terms as current bands, then they need to be prepared to hear a few nakedly honest criticisms just like the rest.

My ‘group of negligible lasting impact’ line stems principally from reading Simon Reynolds’ definitive history of post-punk Rip It Up and Start Again. Reynolds characterises Ultravox as being extremely peripheral, latecomer players in the rise of synth-pop – always followers rather than leaders. The best British bands of the post-punk era (New Order, The Associates, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, The Human League etc) were making exciting music that was either highly artistic, cunningly subversive, unashamedly catchy, deeply intellectual, provocatively controversial or some combination of the above, and they all challenged conventions, not to mention went on to influence all kinds of great and important music thereafter. In the Midge Ure era, Ultravox – who had looked much more promising prior to the departure of John Foxx (whose latest album like much of his solo stuff is excellent, I should add) – were the sound of dispassionate opportunism: exponents of mock serious-sounding mainstream rock, mixing obligatory zeitgeisty synth flourish with a low-grade facsimile of the raincoat brigade’s furrowed-brow seriousness. It might have worked and still work for some people, and that’s fine – we all take what we need from music – but Midge Ure period Ultravox can be credited only as champions of blandness, with their heavy songs conspicuously light on substance. In short, we can squarely blame them for Keane and Coldplay.

‘The Trade Descriptions Act-violating Brilliant is another of those new old records for diehard fans to apologise for while quietly ignoring the fact that such a half-arsed exercise in nostalgia merely craps on their cherished memories.’

To me, Brilliant fails to acknowledge the last 27 years of music, and I find that arrogant and lazy. It’s a record plainly aimed only at diehard fans – it might as well have been made in 1986 and locked away in a safe. Locked away for good reason, because it’s got no tunes – no great hooks, no memorable melodies, no unforgettable choruses, no unusual changes of pace, mood or direction. I can recall not one defining feature of any single song, despite listening to it on repeat for the best part of a day, and that is unimpeachably damning.

Why would any Ultravox fans want this to be their latest and possibly last experience of a band that clearly means so much to them? This is the crux of my gripe with the reformation rush – while some bands (and note my five star review of the new Dexys album in the same issue of The List) are returning to take care of unfinished business with real heart and soul, others, however honest their intentions might be, are only displacing with something inferior, in whole or in part, the enduring, meaningful experience real or imagined which their fans treasure. Little a reformed New Order, Simple Minds, Ultravox or countless others do – their spirit, inspiration and possibly even friendships having long since abandoned them – can probably ever top what they did for you, as a fan, in their heyday. Even if you weren’t around then, pour over Youtube footage and let your imagination do the rest – it’s almost certainly better than watching tired, balding men go through the motions in a soulless corporate-sponsored arena/festival.

‘It’s the sound of a band who either couldn’t make their music seem relevant or couldn’t be bothered to: a desolately uninteresting lunar landscape of portentous piano melodies and wheezy antiquated synth sounds, booming drums, bombastic guitars…’

Note that this review was written for a print publication, not the web – space was very limited, so I had to be economical. I usually aim to make direct reference to two or three songs in any album review I write, and I set out to do that here. But then I remembered that – as mentioned above – nothing stands out for me on this album. It all sounds like one long, tedious, soundalike mulch. What better way to express my experience of this completely featureless journey than by not signposting any specific sites? It’d just be misleading to drill down into an album that, after several hours of listening, demanded no such effort.

‘… and Ure’s clenched vocals swathed in ridiculous echo, echo, echo, as if their dull pompousness requires repeating, repeating, repeating.’

Seriously, Midge, quit it with the echo.

---

I don’t expect any of your opinions to be changed, but I trust this will at least prove to you that my review wasn’t thoughtless – I gave serious consideration to my verdict on Brilliant, as I do anything I write. Thanks for reading in any case.

Malcolm Jack

21. comment removed
User account closed.
22. comment removed
User account closed.
23. comment removed
User account closed.
24. comment removed
User account closed.
25. ml99mos8 Aug 2012, 8:01pm Report

Malcolm,

pleeeeeeease do not call this a "review", since it is not, no matter how, with hindsight, you try to justify your gibberish, gibberish, gibberish

26. comment removed
User account closed.
27. comment removed
User account closed.
28. comment removed
User account closed.
29. Joe 9018 Dec 2012, 11:56pm Report

I think Ultravox (Midge Ure era) were/are fantastic!!! I've got all the albums on vinyl and CD and would never part with them - still got the poster from inside the Rage In Eden Album :)

I KNOW YOU FANS AINT GONNA LIKE THIS BUT, I JUST LISTENED TO BRILLIANT AND I THINK IT DEFINATELY LIVES UP TO (PART OF) THE REVIEWERS COMMENT WHICH SAYS :-

"a desolately uninteresting lunar landscape"

I JUST DONT THINK THERE'S ANY GOOD OR MEMORABLE SONGS ON THIS ALBUM!!!

I DO NOT AGREE WITH HIS COMMENTS SLAGGING ULTRAVOX OFF!!!!

Ultravox are still one of my favourite bands from the early 80's as are Visage (first 2 albums). I hate the state of todays popular current music scene - to me its an insult to whats gone before it. I love everything from metal, glam, funk, rock, punk, goth, dance, disco and classical. I have a really wide taste in music so I am not limited to a single genre. Just cant seem to get to grips with this latest offering from Ultravox though - its just boring :( Sorry guys, this album just doesnt do anything for me at the moment.

To be absolutely fair, I'm gonna give it a few more listens and see if any tracks are growers and if they are I'll come back and say so!

30. comment removed
User account closed.
31. Jessica Jansen16 Sep 2014, 10:20pm Report

What a shitload full of bullshit. Did you get paid for this, or did you pay for this to get published?

32. Neil B23 Jan 2015, 10:41pm Report

This review doesn't really deserve to be commented on, although I will say that it encapsulates for me why I rarely have time for /any/ reviews, let alone monumentally bad ones.

Music, film and art are inherently subjective. Especially if they're any good. Anything that doesn't get mixed and strongly polarized reviews isn't likely to be doing anything very interesting. The best a good review can do is offer some insight independent of subjective taste. This one does exactly the opposite of course, and it's pretty funny and revealing that the reviewer felt the need to reply at such great length to the negative feedback. :-) If he'd had any confidence in what he wrote he'd just have let it stand. However I suspect that he's very aware of what a sloppy and destructive piece of writing it was. A learning experience, let's hope.

I haven't heard the album yet. I didn't know it existed until I heard one of the tracks on the radio the other day. A surreal experience (and I don't use that adjective lightly), because I didn't immediately recognise it as being by Ultravox (how could an oddly slightly different and non-contemporary sounding new track on the radio be by a long-defunct 80s band I used to like 30 years ago as a painfully shy and nerdy teenager?). It was all the weirder because, by a wonderfully choreographed coincidence, at the time I happened to be driving through the area where I used to live as a teenager... Of course it all fitted when the name of the band was announced (without it being any less surreal).

On the strength of what I've heard and read I suspect I will like the album, and this may very well be as much to do with my personal associations with the band, the era and my own adolescence as with anything else. In a wider sense that's true for all music though.

Post a comment

RSS feed of these comments