Enabled by the wonderful capabilities of the Interweb, which apparently is a series of pneumatic tubes connecting my home to every used record store on Earth, I have been adding some old classics to my CD library lately. Take, for instance, the eponymous 1977 debut by Ultravox, at that time known as “Ultravox!” for some unfortunate reason. In contrast to the later, smoother Ultravox of “Vienna” fame — for whom I also have a significant weakness — this version mixed a lot of punky energy into their stew of Bowie/Roxy/Eno/Velvets/Kraftwerk influences. The result is an ungainly hybrid of an album poised midway between punk and new wave, dating from an era before the two had split into identifiable genres.
Forcefully produced by Steve Lillywhite and Eno Himself, Ultravox! benefits greatly from the clarity of a digital remaster, at least compared to the old, scratched-up vinyl on which I always heard it before. The album’s centerpiece is the epic “I Want to Be a Machine,” which starts with “Space Oddity”-esque acoustic guitar, segues into bass-heavy Krautrock, and finishes with Billy Currie’s violin leading us off to some kind of interplanetary hootenanny. Very strange, as is “My Sex,” which references Brel-via-Bowie’s “My Death” but with droning Eno synths and lyrics like “My sex waits for me/Like a mongrel waits, downwind on a tightrope leash.” The whole enterprise is kept from floating away by Stevie Shears’ jabbing guitar and high-caliber bass-and-drum work from Chris Cross and Warren Cann, displayed to good effect on the dubwise “Dangerous Rhythm.”
Would you like it? Hard to say. For me, this is music from the salad days, and so I am preternaturally fond of songs like “Life at Rainbow’s End” and “The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned.” I have a kindred spirit, it seems, in actor/director/Chloe-Sevigny-onscreen-blowjob-receiver Vincent Gallo, who is quoted thusly in the liner notes: “I connected with the first Ultravox LP in such a deep way that everything changed.” For someone hearing it for the first time now, Ultravox! might sound like grand, operatic rock with a vibrant urgency, or it might sound like self-important gibberish. How you feel will depend in part on what you think of lead singer Dennis Leigh a.k.a. John Foxx, who has one of those distinctive but wobbly voices that make voice coaches cringe.
Myself, I like it, although even I have to call shenanigans on the vinyl raincoat ensemble he wears on the cover. But then, who cares about fashion? Not deep thinkers like Vincent and me. He’s a fan of the Buffalo Bills, as I am of the Golden State Warriors, who are suddenly, shockingly, fashionable. Bet you wondered how I was going to bring up the Warriors, didn’t you? You probably didn’t think I could do it. But I am in championship form right now, just like Matt Barnes.