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Music / Vienna

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"The rhythm is calling."

Vienna, released in 1980 through Chrysalis Records, is the fourth album by British band Ultravox. Their first since the departures of frontman John Foxx and guitarist Robin Simon the year prior, the album introduces Foxx and Simon's replacement, Midge Ure. The album's sound is a sharp contrast from Ultravox's prior works, shifting the former Post-Punk band into an artsier, New Romantic-influenced New Wave Music direction rooted in Ure and violinist Billy Currie's own background with the Synth-Pop band Visage. While Systems of Romance appeared to anticipate elements of this new sound, it was still decidedly rooted in the band's post-punk core.

In addition to its shift in sound, the album is also marked by a change in the band's creative style, becoming a more mutually collaborative unit and creating songs by throwing ideas around to form base structures. The culmination of all of this was an album that experiments in a large variety of styles based on a cohesive, sophistication-infused core; in particular, the band took a special liking to the song "Vienna", feeling that it so greatly encompassed what they wanted to do under Ure's lead that they chose to make it the album's Title Track.

The Title Track, released as the album's third single at the start of 1981, would end up catapulting Ultravox into commercial success, prompting strong sales of Vienna throughout 1981; the album would peak at No. 3 on the UK Albums chart, ending up as the 15th best-selling album of 1981 in Britain and later being certified platinum in both the UK and New Zealand.

Vienna generated four singles: "Sleepwalk", "Passing Strangers", "Vienna", and "All Stood Still".


Side One
  1. "Astradyne" (7:07)note 
  2. "New Europeans" (4:01)
  3. "Private Lives" (4:06)
  4. "Passing Strangers" (3:48)
  5. "Sleepwalk" (3:10)note 

Side Two

  1. "Mr. X" (6:33)
  2. "Western Promise" (5:18)
  3. "Vienna" (4:53)
  4. "All Stood Still" (4:21)

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  • Anti-Love Song: "Vienna" features the narrator reflecting on his memories of a failed relationship.
  • Concept Video: The "Vienna" music video details a man being led along and ultimately killed by a Femme Fatale during a classy masquerade.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The album cover.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: "Western Promise" opens with a two-minute instrumental section in a five-minute song.
  • Epic Rocking: "Astradyne" and "Mr. X" both go noticeably over the 6-minute mark.
  • Face on the Cover: All four band members appear in black-and-white photographs on both the front and back covers.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Done repeatedly throughout the album; "Astradyne" segues directly into "New Europeans", and "Mr. X", "Western Promise", and "Vienna" all crossfade into one-another on side two.
  • False Friend: Implied to be the case with the narrator of "Passing Strangers" and his social circle.
  • Femme Fatale: The music video for "Vienna" details a night in the life of a murderous one.
  • Genre Roulette: The album exercises a number of different styles based around an artsy New Wave Music base. Among others, "Astradyne" is a progressive-tinged Epic Rocking instrumental piece, "New Europeans" is a guitar-driven rocker more in-line with the John Foxx era, "Sleepwalk", "Western Promise", and "All Stood Still" are fast-paced Synth-Pop tracks, "Vienna" is a moody anti-ballad, and "Mr. X" is a sparse, mechanical Kraftwerk pastiche.
  • Hikikomori: "New Europeans" features characters who isolate themselves from others, almost never leaving their rooms and using newer technologies to feed into their obsessions.
  • Instrumentals: "Astradyne", a seven-minute suite of pure, flowing synth.
  • In the Style of: "Mr. X" is an obvious pastiche of Kraftwerk, so much so that the band recorded a German-language version of the song as the B-side to the 12" single release of "Vienna".
  • Longest Song Goes First: The 7:07 "Astradyne" opens the album on the original European release.
  • MegaCorp: The Pepsi Company is portrayed as this at the end of "Western Promise", erecting itself as a religious institution in the unspecified Eastern country the song is set in.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: "Western Promise" satirically applies this on a national scale, featuring a western nation approaching the "mystical east" and seizing it for corporate interests while affecting a veneer of charity.
  • Mind Screw: The album introduces Midge Ure's signature obtuse lyricism to the band, with much of the songs on Vienna being drenched in metaphor and figurative imagery.
  • Mysterious Stranger: The enigmatic title character of "Mr. X" is described as "a perfect stranger," with the narrator being obsessed with meeting him in person and figuring out who he is.
  • New Media Are Evil: "New Europeans" takes a unique spin on this angle, stating that obsession with new media is toxic and isolating, rather than bashing new media for the crime of being new.
  • New Sound Album: While Systems of Romance already dabbled in artsy electronic stylings, Vienna goes whole-hog with it, to the point where Ultravox no longer sounds like the same band that John Foxx led.
  • The Not-Remix: Received one in 2020, courtesy of prolific album remixer Steven Wilson. Originally included on the album's 40th anniversary deluxe edition with the same bonus tracks as the 2000 remaster, it later received a standalone release for Record Store Day 2021, swapping out the bonus tracks for a second CD of instrumental mixes.
  • One-Man Song: "Mr. X", which details the narrator's attempts at finding the eponymous man after seeing him in a photograph and becoming fascinated by his appearance.
  • One-Word Title: Both that of the album and its Title Track.
  • Orientalism: Criticized throughout "Western Promise", which satirically refers to a "mystical East" that becomes overtaken by the west and turned into a capitalist playground.
  • Precious Photo: Played with; the narrator of "Mr. X" holds onto the photo of the title character not out of endearment, but because he's obsessed with uncovering the man's identity after declaring him "a perfect stranger."
  • Rearrange the Song: "Vienna" was later re-recorded in 1992 with the Tony Fenelle-fronted lineup of Ultravox as "Vienna 92". The recording was mainly done to promote this new lineup of the band, and did not appear on the Fenelle lineup's sole album, Revelation, relegating it to permanent non-album single status.
  • Shout-Out: The album cover is a nod to that of Closer by Joy Division; both albums released in July of 1980, and both of their sleeves were designed by Peter Saville. By extension, it also acts as a nod to the cover of Station to Station by David Bowie, with it being a Deliberately Monochrome photograph framed in white, with the band name and album title written in stark lettering at the top.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Drummer Warren Cann recites the spoken-word vocals on "Mr. X".
  • Take That!: "Western Promise" is a pretty open critique of Western imperialism, neocolonialism, and Orientalism.
    Mystical East, all taxi-cabs
    All ultra-neon, sign of the times
    Your Buddha Zen and Christian man
    All minions to messiah Pepsi can
  • Translated Cover Version: The track "Mr. X" was re-recorded in German as "Herr X" and featured as a B-side to the 12" release of "Vienna", tying in with its nature as a Kraftwerk pastiche.
  • Updated Re-release: Vienna saw a remastered release on the EMI Gold label in 2000, featuring the associated B-sides as bonus tracks. Later in 2008, the album was remastered and reissued again as the Definitive Edition, with the B-sides tucked on a second disc alongside live recordings and other tidbits.