"The Very Best of Ultravox" (Album+DVD, 2009) !DSO Recommended!
Pedants might argue this is "The Very Best of Ultravox… during the Midge Ure era (including a couple of duffers)" - and they'd be right. Still, until they bring out a compilation of the best of Ultravox! from the pre-wee-Scottish-one era, namely when John Foxx was the front man and key member, this will have to do. Oh, what hardships we must endure! Bollocks. This may exclusively document the resolutely pop-era of the band during the early to mid 1980s, which saw them morph from synth-based pop stars to pompous, grandiose and bland rockers as the decade wore on, but there are numerous gems included. What's more, this fantastic two-disc package comprises not just the remastered audio collection but accompanying promo videos and live performances on a DVD.
CD:- The audio has been sympathetically remastered. Clearer (but not clinically so), better than previous 'best of' releases and pointless trying to improve further. Singles from the albums Vienna, Rage In Eden, Quartet, Lament and U-Vox, spanning the years 1980 To 1986 are included, so that's the thunderous drums and searing synths of Sleepwalk, through to the ghastly Celtic-for the-masses of All Fall Down. It's a serious decline, for sure, but it happens very gradually and only really becomes unlistenable in the final throes of the last couple of songs. But this is the digital age, so you'll just do what I did, and fail to rip the barely passable White China and the risibly po-faced All Fall Down to your hard drive - and immeasurably improve the entire experience in the act of doing so.
Purists can argue the toss all they like, but this contains some of the finest songs of the entire decade. Were not talking twee synthpop here either. Powerful storytelling, moving atmospheres and epic songs like The Voice, Visions In Blue and even the later fittingly-entitled Lament. An almost flawless document of a major force in 80s electronic music. 9/10
DVD:- Initially a simple marketing means to visually represent a song on TV, the pop-promo rapidly developed into an art form in its own right giving many future feature film directors their first taste of recognition and success. The quantum leap really came when MTV took to the airwaves in 1981 and record labels were falling over themselves and increasingly digging deep to create ever more outlandish, original and entertaining promo videos. To be honest, there weren't that many decent promos for electronic bands at this time.
The Human League, Visage, Duran Duran and a handful of others stood out with their distinctively decadent, new romantic take on the genre (sometimes sharing directors like Russell Mulcahy). For my money it was Ultravox that had the most consistent record for creativity and quality and this was during the main period represented by the accompanying CD. What I didn't know at the time was that most were directed by band members Midge Ure and Chris Cross - which makes them all the more impressive. There were no promos made for the earlier singles Sleepwalk or Passing Strangers - these represented here with live clips from a gig in St Albans, England in August 1980. Both are fascinating. The version of Sleepwalk is especially dynamic. Many will recall the iconic and atmospheric video for the band's number 2 hit Vienna - a fine example of the lavish story-telling mini drama/film narrative video form (apparently inspired by Carol Reed's The Third Man).
I had vivid memories of the cold war vid for Dancing With Tears In My Eyes featuring a young couple killed in a nuclear attack on the UK. In 1984 this was perfectly in tune with the political climate of the times, and possibly contributed to the occasional nightmares I used to have as a teenager that we were all going to die in a mushroom cloud of Russian doing. Then there is the Indiana Jones-inspired, tongue-in-cheek romp of Love's Great Adventure that saw a bespectacled Ure reading a comic and transformed in his mind as the heroic lead in a thrilling African adventure movie.
However, the real 'very best' of this collection are the more overtly surreal, artistic and imaginative clips made for that cluster of the lesser releases like The Thin Wall, The Voice, Hymn and Visions In Blue - 20 minutes of 80s pop video perfection. A textbook record of the era, and the ideal replacement for my ageing The Collection video cassette. 9/10
Rob Dyer (March 2010)