2. New Europeans
3. Private Lives
4. Passing Strangers
6. Mr. X
7. Western Promise
9. All Stood Still
This Is How It’s Done – 7,7/10
Let me take you back to the very early eighties and the very beginning of the eruption of many so called new wave and post-punk bands. Though in my reviews I often referenced to these genres simply as synth-pop, there’s a lot more to them you might think at first sight. Take Ultravox, one of the most well-known eighties new wave groups with extensive use of the synthesizer as a prominent instrument. Their most successful full-length release to date is and will possibly always be Vienna.
I personally found it hard to believe, but Ultravox actually began their career as a punk band. Their first three albums had a slightly different lineup as well, with the most notable difference the vocalist. Vienna marks the debut of new guitarist/vocalist Midge Ure; a man whose vocal talents would take Ultravox up the charts. There are still traces of the punk-past to this album and then I mean the less-is-more attitude in rock songs like “New Europeans” or “Private Lives”. The entrance of Billy Currie’s synthesizer is what makes Vienna stand out as well. This is innovating because never before has the instrument been used to texture the songs this way before. It can be on the background filling up the emptiness with soft chords, but it more than often treads to the foreground to dress the song up with a catchy theme or a modest solo. Currie sounds more comfortable in doing solos on his violin or piano though. But what makes me happy the most is the combination of a raw guitar sound with these synths. Ure throws in some really raw riffs to, in turn, texture the background while Currie is on the foreground. And there’s where the strength of this record lies. On Vienna, Ultravox know how to combine the raw sound of rock with the newer, more robotic sound of the synthesizer.
Opening track “Astradyne” is the perfect example. It’s a seven-minute instrumental which perfectly gets you into the Ultravox mood. There’s interchanging catchy synthesizer themes all around and a brooding solo at the end to top it off. The guitars have not yet kicked in on this song yet, but they are bound to blow you off your chair when “New Europeans” kicks off… at least, if you play it on high volume. The riff is delightfully punchy and very catchy. The warm voice of Midge Ure invites us further into the song unto the climax and a very melodic instrumental theme completes this track. Currie’s synths really shine on the rocker “Private Lives”, whereas the guitar riff and offbeat drums in “Passing Strangers” blows you away. It’s been a pretty powerful start of the album and “Sleepwalk” doesn’t let you rest in an upbeat synth-rock track; or more an experiment to rock without guitars. Surprisingly it sounds very fresh and uplifting. On “Mr. X” I think the experiment has been taken too far. It’s a dark, synth-only track (even drums have been mimicked) that stays the same for six minutes long. This is the reason why I usually don’t listen to eighties new wave. Fortunately we have the strongest song of the record straight ahead: “Western Promise”. The violin leads us to a beautiful exotic theme, right before we crash into one of the most powerful, almost industrial, themes that are the verses. “Vienna” needs no introduction; it’s a very atmospheric pop song with a catchy chorus and a classic right after it was released. With “All Stood Still”, a track that tries to go back to the power of the first four tracks closes the record, but it’s not one of the most memorable tracks on this album.
All in all, Vienna is a pretty solid record. With only one real flaw on the album I can really recommend it. If you are really into the genre you probably have already heard this album but if you haven’t, you definitely should check it out.
Strongest tracks: “New Europeans”, “Private Lives” and “Western Promise”.
Weakest track: “Mr. X”.
3 days ago