Sunday, 20 February 2011
47 Rage In Eden - Ultravox
Purchased : August 1985
Tracks : The Voice / We Stand Alone / Rage In Eden / I Remember / The Thin Wall / Stranger Within / Accent On Youth / The Ascent / Your Name
This was bought in Leeds on a visit to change some library books.
It was originally released in September 1981 when, post-Vienna , Ultravox seemed poised to become superstars. Even an EP of material recorded by the John Foxx line-up had been a hit. With the combination of serious musicianship and accessible tunes they looked set to become the ELO of the Eighties. A strong LP would have consolidated their position.
But "Rage In Eden " was never going to do that. The band took a left turn and recorded the darkest of the five albums produced by the Midge Ure line up. It was poorly received and after hitting number 4 disappeared quickly from the charts in part because only two singles were lifted from it. Ultravox remained a popular act until Ure's departure and their greatest hits collection was a big seller in 1984 but they never again threatened to become seriously huge.
The album gets off to a flying start with a long version of one of their strongest singles "The Voice". Billy Currie's jolting phased synths lead in then Chris Cross's aggressive bass and Warren Cann's brittle drumming lock together and Midge Ure sings a low verse full of foreboding about being seduced by oratory. This gives way to a classic melodramatic chorus with the others offering a low almost monastic harmony to Ure's urgent tones. The middle eight is particularly good Ure's guitar squalls set off against Currie's grand piano chords before Cann brings them both to heel with emphatic crashes.
"We Stand Alone" ups the aggression factor with Cross 's brutalist bass synth, Cann's frantic pounding and Ure playing some choppy post-punk guitar behind his doleful main chords. The lyrics paint a picture of a doomed couple "this gigolo and gigolette" led astray and facing some aful fate but taking comfort in posthumous glory. Ure's vocal is suitably heroic and Currie adds colour with his sweeping synths and viola in the middle eight.
Then the pace slows down for the title track. This is the missing link between "Vienna" and Joy Division's The Eternal combining the mechanical rhythm of the former with the air of paralysed despair of the latter. It's not as good as either and doesn't benefit from Conny Plank's murky production which dissolves into Radioactivity crackle at the fade. I'm not sure what purpose using the hook from the following track played backwards as the chorus serves either.
"I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)" is possibly my favourite Ultravox song although again I would question Plank's production - Ure seems too low in the mix. The band said at the time it was inspired by the death of John Lennon though the lyrics conjure up more of a Big Chill picture of lamenting lost youth (it's worth remembering that all the band were round about 30 at this point in time). The greatness of the song lies in the tension between the urgency of the bass synth pulse and Cann's powerful drumming and Currie's stately piano chords. Ure sings economically but is allowed to let rip with a feedback guitar solo in the lengthy middle eight . He gradually disappears in the long fade out until all we're left with is Currie's questioning piano riff.
The weaker Side Two begins with "The Thin Wall" which I was disappointed by as a single with its ungainly tuneless verses and weak chorus. Interestingly there's a line "They shuffle with a bovine grace" which accurately describes the sound as Ure struggles to phrase the spiky words atop the too-upfront bass synth patterns. The lyric could be read as a critique of the New Romantic scene with a threat of imminent doom a la Einstein A Go-Go which is a bit like having your cake and eating it. It would have fit Visage better to be honest.
Despite being over seven minutes long "Stranger Within" is better. It's the most Kraftwerkian track despite Ure's choppy guitar and occasional bass plucks from Cross with Currie's sombre keyboard melody the main hook. Lyrically it's the darkest song its tale of paranoia and mental decay entering Ian Curtis territory and Ure's vocal is suitably anguished. The instrumental last couple of minutes do seem a bit unnecessary but it's still an impressive song.
"Accent On Youth" is the most uptempo track on this side with Cann reverting to real drums. The band avoid the usual pitfalls of writing about youth by portraying it as a time of torment subject to the tyranny of impulse "We stumble blindly chasing something new and something sinful". Ure's wracked vocal and wailing guitar and Currie's abrasively pitched synths convey this riot of Catholic conflict well.
"The Ascent" is really just an extended coda to the previous song and seems more of a concession to Billy Currie's desire to get his violin out than anything else.
It ends abruptly , an echoing drum crash heralding "Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again) " a sparse, funereal ballad wherein the process outlined in "Stranger Within" appears to have played itself out and not in a good way. Ure's numbed vocal and the vague murmurs from the rest of the band hint at white rooms and sedation with only Currie's minor chords and Cann's cavernous single beats for company. It's not melodic enough to really grab me but an impressive stab at real bleakness nevertheless.
That could be said for the whole album really. It's not perfect and the second side in particular is a bit hit-and-miss but it stands alongside other sombre offerings in the post-Closer period and has aged pretty well.