The Wild, The Beautiful And The Damned

On an early Ultravox kick since a friend reminded me that they recorded their sixth album with George Martin (6 albums in 5 years – puts the navel-gazing of current artist release schedules to shame doesn’t it?).

I know the “happy fed” Midge Ure Vox, but didn’t know the critically acclaimed but couldn’t get a citizen’s arrest early stuff (bar one track). Partly because of John Foxx, his Ballardian alienation thing is great in micro small doses, but even his Xerox Twin Gary Numan chucks in more riffs and tunes to soften the blow…

I could imagine “The Wild, The Beautiful And The Damned” as the intro to a film of the times, it seems to sum up punk, new wave and the future new romantics in one song. Interestingly The Damned was one of the names they threw away before settling on Ultravox! This is from the first album, which seems to not know what it wants to be – David Bowie first album spoken word hippy pretention, new wave, punk, synth-pop or glam rock? Tis a mish-mash. But “My Sex” points towards what they might become, without the spoken word, thankfully. Here it sounds more end of the pier than alien robot, which is not a bad thing, actually.

Punky Vox was a surprise…from the second album, which I liked best of the three. Seems to as much comment on the bandwagon as jump on it, from an outsider’s perspective – although as New York Dolls fans, they probably were ahead of the curve re: punk. Young Savages was a single from that time…

The other thing is spotting how many people have been influenced by Ultravox mk 1. Obviously a certain Mr Numan was paying very close attention, but also I think a young Jarvis Cocker was also, I can hear echoes of early Pulp. Case in point is the biting “Artificial Life” which is like a sequel to “Sat’day Night in the City of the Dead” and seems to pull off the analysis of youth cults and night life and feeling like you don’t belong rather better.

Also X-Ray Spex? Or is that just me?

I also really like “Fear In The World”, unusually political for Ultravox? And “Distant Smile” where it’s obvious who provided those serialist echoing pianos…

I have to say, listening to Systems of Romance, contrary to the critics there’s nothing there I really like…again, too cold, too alien. You need a balance.

And finally “Hiroshima Mon Amour” – obviously OMD and Japan were listening, and it’s a massive influence to the later New Romantics, it’s the one early Vox song I knew. But they were channeling Roxy Music, or is it just the saxophone that does that? Certainly a Ferry-style vocal, and Eno helping out, he must’ve felt deja vu.

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