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Music / Ultravox

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The 80's lineup.note 

The feeling has gone, only you and I
It means nothing to me,
This means nothing to me,
Oh, Vienna.

Ultravox is a British Post-Punk/New Wave band, known primarily for their 80's hits such as "Vienna" and "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes". Their best-known lineup includes vocalist Midge Ure, keyboardist Billy Currie, bassist Chris Cross, and drummer Warren Cann.

The band has gone through two significant phases of their career, the first as a five-piece with lead singer John Foxx. They formed in 1974 as a Glam Rock band under the name Tiger Lily before becoming Ultravox! in 1976 and releasing their self-titled debut in 1977, produced by Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite. Their sound was closer to Roxy Music and David Bowie, but their follow-up Ha!-Ha!-Ha! later that year was aggressive Punk Rock that incorporated synthesizers. They dropped the exclamation point from their name for their third album, Systems of Romance - while none of their records took hold in the charts, Systems of Romance took the band in a more synth-driven, romantic direction that heavily influenced the burgeoning New Romantic scene. Foxx left the band shortly after to pursue a moderately successful solo career, and guitarist Robin Simon left as well.

Following Foxx and Robin's departures, Scottish Glam Rock and Synth-Pop veteran Midge Ure joined the band as frontman, himself a fan of Systems of Romance and a former bandmate of Currie from Visage. Where Foxx was an enigmatic, detached frontman, Ure was more dramatic and aristocratic in his delivery. Their next album Vienna picked up where Systems left off, shifting the band's sound from post-punk to new wave and scoring the band their first and most enduring major hit with the title track. What followed was a six year run of top 10 albums and a second enduring 80's hit, "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes".

In 1984, Ure helped co-write the Band Aid charity single "Do They Know it's Christmas" and released a solo album the year after while the band was taking a break. They returned with U-Vox, but after the sacking of Warren Cann and replacement by Big Country's Mark Brzezicki, fans, critics, and even the band felt the record was unfocused, leading Ure and Chris Cross to depart. Billy Currie headed what was left of the band until finally calling quits in 1988. He attempted a revival in 1992 with none of the other original members and recorded two more albums (changing the lineup again between the first and second 90's albums) before the project dissolved a second time.

Ultravox spontaneously reformed with the classic lineup of Ure, Currie, Cross and Cann in 2009 for a reunion tour. While the band insisted they were not recording new material, their eleventh album Brill!ant was released in 2012 before the band split up a third time, seemingly for good.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold)

  • Sam Blue - lead vocals (1994-1996)
  • Mark Brzezicki - drums, percussion (1986-1988)
  • Vinny Burns - guitar (1994-1996)
  • Warren Cann - drums, electronic percussion, backing vocals, occasional lead vocals (1974-1986; 2008-2017)
  • Chris Cross - bass, synthesizers, backing vocals (1974-1988; 2008-2017)
  • Billy Currie - violin, viola, synthesizers, keyboards (1974-2017)
  • Tony Fenelle - lead vocals, guitar (1992-1994)
  • John Foxx - lead vocals (1974-1979)
  • Tony Holmes - drums, percussion (1994-1996)
  • Gerry Laffy - guitar (1992-1994)
  • Stevie Shears - guitar (1974-1978)
  • Robin Simon - guitar, backing vocals (1978-1979)
  • Midge Ure - lead vocals, guitars, synthesizers (1979-1988; 2008-2017)
  • Neal Wilkinson - drums, percussion (1992-1994)
  • Gary Williams - bass (1994-1996)
  • Jackie Williams - backing vocals (1992-1994)

Studio Albums

John Foxx era (1974-1979)

  • Ultravox! (1977) - As Ultravox!
  • Ha!-Ha!-Ha! (1977) - As Ultravox!
  • Systems of Romance (1978)

Midge Ure era (1979-1988)

Billy Currie era (1992-1996)

  • Revelation (1993)
  • Ingenuity (1994)

Classic Lineup reunion (2008-2017)

  • Brill!ant (2012)

This band provides examples of:

  • The '80s: They were arguably pioneers of the synth-based sound so commonly associated with the eighties and traces of that sound can be found as far back as Systems Of Romance, which came out in 1978.
  • Artistic License Physics: The video for "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" has a nuclear power plant meltdown causing a nuclear explosion, which is impossible in real nuclear reactors because they use low-enriched uranium and nuclear reactors employ safeguards so that the chain reaction for a nuclear explosion doesn't occur. However, since the song itself is much more clearly about a less "family-friendly" type of nuclear holocaust (reactors don't tend to have precise meltdown times, the lyrics indicate that the singer knows to within seconds when the end will come), presumably to get a video that wouldn't be quite so traumatizing (and that in 1984 might even have been banned for that reason). If you lived in the UK in the eighties, you knew that if the Cold War went hot, pretty much anywhere in the country, except for a few very remote locations, you had four minutes at most, and the chances of actually surviving were almost nil.
  • The Band Minus the Face: Averted. When Midge Ure replaced John Foxx, the band enjoyed its greatest success, despite predictions they would perish while Foxx prospered.note 
  • Glam Rock: The band's early incarnation Tiger Lily and their self-titled debut, taking influence from Roxy Music and David Bowie.
  • In Name Only: Both 90's incarnations of the band, which were each a pop-rock unit consisting of a totally new lineup save for Billy Currie.
  • In the Style of: "Mr. X" pastiches the style of Kraftwerk.
  • Loudness War: Averted with the 1997-2000 and 2008-2009 remasters of the Ure-era output, which never dip below DR10 on the studio albums and DR9 on the 2008-2009 releases' bonus discs. The Foxx-era albums' 2006 remasters, while not as good, are still generally quite decent, ranging from DR8 to a healthy DR11.
  • New Wave Music
  • New Romantic: Greatly influential to the genre with the Foxx-led Systems of Romance and later with the Ure-led band.
  • New Sound Album: Vienna shifted the Post-Punk band's sound to artsy New Wave Music, U-Vox swapped that out with pop rock, and Revelation updated the latter sound to reflect 90's pop rock sensibilities; Brill!ant is an unusual example in that it brings the band's sound back to what they were known for throughout the 80's.
    • Ure manages to bridge the gap between both Systems of Romance and Vienna brilliantly (such at this live recording), thus making Vienna sound pretty on-par with Systems of Romance (or anything from Foxx's solo era for that matter- just compare The Garden with Rage in Eden).
  • Post-Punk: The John Foxx incarnation.
  • Punk Rock: The band's early records with John Foxx, most prominently in Ha!-Ha!-Ha! and the non-album single "Young Savage".
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • "Mr. X" is a rearrangement and rewrite of "Touch and Go", which was played live in 1979 when John Foxx was in the band but never recorded with Ultravox. Foxx recorded the original himself on Metamatic, and neither artist credited the other on their versions.
    • "Vienna 92", a 1992 re-recording of "Vienna" performed by the Tony Fenelle-fronted lineup.
  • Revolving Door Band: The group shifted lineup a number of times over the years:
    • In 1979, John Foxx and Robin Simon departed and were replaced by Midge Ure.
    • In 1986, Warren Cann was unceremoniously replaced by Mark Brzezki, and Ure & Chris Cross would leave later in the year, leaving Brzezki & Billy Currie as the only remaining members.
    • Ultravox would officially dissolve in 1988, only to return in 1992 with a lineup consisting of Currie, Tony Fenelle, Gerry Laffy, Neal Wilkinson, and Jackie Williams. This lineup would disband in 1994, being replaced by a new lineup consisting of Currie, Sam Blue, Vinny Burns, Tony Holmes, and Gary Williams, before disbanding again in 1996.
    • The classic 80's lineup of Ure, Currie, Cross, and Cann would reunite in 2008 and last up until 2017, when Currie left and the band more or less retired.
  • Shout-Out: The exclamation point in Ultravox! was a reference to Krautrock band Neu!, an influence on the early band and with whom their future producer Conny Plank worked.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Warren Cann takes the microphone for "Mr. X", a breakdown in the album version of "We Came to Dance", and the B-sides "Paths and Angles" and "Break Your Back".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Sam Blue's stint as Ultravox's lead vocalist between 1994 and 1996 was spent more or less mimicking the sound of both John Foxx and Midge Ure.