Ultravox - Systems Of Romance
The album, the band, the influence they had on those who came after them were all very very underrated at the time. But in retrospect, that influence shines through brightly. If you want to find where the electro-pop of the eighties had its roots then look no further than Ultravox. Yet, while the band were in many ways the pioneers of synthesiser-driven electro-pop, they still had a reliance on guitars and this was what gave them a distinct cutting edge over their successors who abandoned guitars altogether in some cases. By the time Systems of Romance came out, this combination had reached its peak. Ultravox were leaders. The followers were there, but they followed so far behind that by the time they got to where Ultravox were, Ultravox had gone.
For its time this album was ground breaking stuff indeed, and what made it all the more enticing was the fact that there are some superb tracks on here as well. Among these excellent songs worthy of note are "Quiet Man" the outstanding track. However, "Someone Else's Clothes", "Slow Motion" and Maximum Acceleration" also rank among the finest moments of this album. The combination of synthesisers with some searing guitar work made for some classic moments. Produced by Connie Plank who had led the way with many of the krautrock bands of the early seventies, the emotionless, robot-like vocal delivery of Jon Foxx was brought to its apogee and shifted the balance away from bands like Kraftwerk (to whom Ultravox undoubtedly owed a huge debt) to the new wave coming out of the UK at the time.
At a time when punk dominated, the album became a classic staple of those who wanted a bit more than three chord thrash from their music. Jon Foxx was masterful in his ability to lead the band into that niche where the thinking punk yearned for something more than "Anarchy" ripping out across his stereo. Foxx was certainly innovative, but he never rose above the obscure in mainstream terms and his contribution and influence were soon forgotten by the mainstream. (I once threw an ice cube at an idiot DJ who complained that he listened to this and hated the Gary Numan rip-offs. Prat!) Ultravox were way ahead of their time and this music would not become significant, even in its own right, for another few years. Even then, it would be others who assumed the mantle of godfathers of electronic, leaving Ultravox to languish in relative obscurity until they themselves resurfaced as an electro-pop band in the early eighties.
However, Foxx always flirted with the poseurs and this proved his downfall. Ultravox could have become a great post punk band or one of the leading new romantics, taking that genre in an altogether different and more substantial direction. Both genres owe a lot to the band. Yet Foxx left for a miserable solo career before the band could decide which way it wanted to go. The inclusion of Midge Ure (almost certainly at the record company's behest) sealed their fate. By the time their earlier music had become in vogue, Ultravox had moved on. They left their punk roots behind and started producing mass appeal stuff like "Vienna". They became new romantics but as their heart was not in it, they never truly made the grade and faded.
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