Ultravox – Quartet (40th Anniversary Edition) (Chrysalis Records)

Ultravox – Quartet (40th Anniversary Edition) (Chrysalis Records)

An outfit who are no slouch when it comes to celebrating continued success, with their record label reissuing another deluxe edition, this time of the 1982 album Quartet. Ultravox frontman Midge Ure is currently on a UK tour with his band Electronica and continues to pull crowds, not just from his base audience of 50-somethings. Now looking to celebrate his 70th birthday, where he will step onto the stage at London’s Royal Albert Hall, but before this, Quartet’s lavish 2023 release grabs my attention. In this case, it’s a 6-CD, 1 DVD audio version that’s on offer, complete with a 20-page book, which contains newly written notes by Ure and the band, unseen photos, with lyrics and a reproduction Quartet tour programme. The press blurb calls this lavish, which some might take for upselling an item, in this case, the product design has outdone itself.

As if this feast wasn’t enough, the album has seen a new stereo mix added. Provided by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, accompanying the original 1982 Analog Master. Listening to the two mixes, it’s difficult to say which is better, or perhaps it’s not a case of better, just the preference of the listener. In the later mix, Wilson has taken to view the album in a 21st Century light, adding weight to the sound of the original, with Ure’s vocal sounding as commanding as ever. When it came to the production of this album back in ’82, previous recordings had been overseen by Conny Plank. The band felt this relationship, that, although described as “great”, “was getting a bit safe” and that a new recording would be just that, with “no excitement”. So deciding to shake things up enlisted the production talent of former Beatles producer George Martin. Martin chose to take the job because his daughter was an Ultravox fan and said in 1983 in the ‘Monument’ video: “They are without a doubt the most musical group I have come across in recent years.” So I think it may’ve been a case that Wilson had not wished to mess with perfection, approaching the task with an eye on this new century. It certainly seems to have been the case, as Analog meets Digital, resulting in a heavier tone. With an extended track listing, the album sees a further four tracks added, producing what appears to be an ’80s paradise, as synthesisers joust with drum machine, resurrecting visions of Max Headroom at times. Whilst during others, you might find yourself brushing shoulders with the likes of Mick Karn on the track ‘Hosanna (In Excelsis Deo)’, as bassist Chris Cross quite blatantly takes inspiration from Japan’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids. The fact that this additional content has been included is a welcome addition, these tracks having been B-sides at the time, in their own way have every right to have finally been included.

With this pairing in place, no matter which of the two versions you choose to listen to, Quartet is a well-produced document, that shows off one of the genre’s most exceptional groups, both musically and lyrically. The content is an absorbing listen. CD3 continues in a similar fashion, although this time with ‘Extended Versions’, ‘Single Versions’, B-sides and live recordings, as well as previously unreleased tracks. A collectors paradise, where variants that once sat on B-sides and 12”s, have been collected under one roof. CD4 is a further expansion of this, although this time where previously unreleased tracks have been assembled. The likes of cassette rehearsals and monitor mixes. These are great to hear, memories of standing at the back of a rehearsal or room, whether it be in the studio or sound check. Sounds bare of any colouration provided by later production, vocals so low in the mix, that they can be heard competing with louder instrumentation. These cassette versions are so naked, that standing out in the open, any blemishes in musicality, or vocal can be heard. Bearing in mind, these are only rehearsals when track 10 and Monitor mixes come around, the fact that a fuller sound is provided came as something of a disappointment. This didn’t last long as the mechanics of the synthesiser, sequenced patterns and electric and bass guitars provided further enjoyment.

Coming to the final two CDs, provide a concert presented in two chapters across these discs. Recorded during a show performed at the Hammersmith Odeon, in 1982. Like part of this set, this recording was previously unreleased. As the sound of polite audience applause, whistles and whoops broke the silence, the howling of a supposedly wild wind is played. Not unsurprising ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ starts the set, with low tones hollowing the body, the start of this performance is one of a finely honed band. Playing witness to an artist who came out of the electronic era might be considered somewhat static, as musicians stand behind banks of electronics, but as someone who has seen groups like Depeche Mode and Human League, this is far from the truth. Even just listening to this performance, it’s clear that the show Ultravox put on was every bit as lively as that Metallica or Iron Maiden might discharge for their audience. This show is every bit as spirited as anything those conventional bands might produce and I’ve yet to hear ‘Vienna’, this is on disc 2. The DVD portion of this set provides what is not just the Steven Wilson mix, in both stereo and Dolby 5.1, but also the B-Sides and original 1982 album. Hearing this even played through a sound bar is something quite spectacular, just don’t wake the neighbours, as the wife told me.

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