Sounds MARCH 12, 1977 - by Pete Silverton


Ultravox!: Ultravox!

Eyeballing the cover of this one in expectation of sliding it out and flopping it on the machine, you can get a whole wrong idea about what's happening in there.

Shocking pink shading into red neon sign of Ultravox! atop of the five of them pretending, I can only assume, to be humanoids. Staring everywhichwhere, retina burning red from the electric flash, they're wearing suitably robotic leather, plastic and black.

Told they were constructed beings, you'd believe it until you looked left and saw guitarist Steve Shears' ironical glances at the camera which lets you in on the secret that this ain't no Plastic Machine Music electronicism.

But then Satday (sic) Night In The City Of The Dead, first track up, would tell you that anyway. Strictly rocking, it achieves what the Hot Rods failed to do on Teenage Depression: create an electric band atmosphere of liberation from the urban nightmare through rock/n/roll music and its social connotations. With its episodic drum rolls, great but simple blues harp (no credit - session musician?) and speed-freak vocal, it has a similar vibe to Bowie's mid-'60s recreations on Pin Ups.

Dedicated to 'All The Tax Exiles On Main St.', Life At Rainbow's End sounds a bit like the Flamin' Groovies' Shake Some Action at times. It's powerful in an anguished way but I haven't worked out the meaning or import of the dedication yet.

Slipaway has a vaguely Spanish feel in the rhythms. Guitar and synthesiser figures meander around beneath the classic rock'n'roll love song message: sex.

Side two opens with what was probably third choice for a single (after Dangerous Rhythms which was and Satday Night which would've been my choice), Wide Boys. The title says it all. Raunchy Stones guitar riffs and city sleazoid lyrics. The only break with tradition is the heavy modulation on the vocals, like on King Crimson's Schizoid Man. It doesn't add much but it adds an air of futurism and the song's great anyway.

After Dangerous Rhythm, which more than deserves its choice as single, The Lonely Hunter is an initial startler. Fast riding hi-hat and fatback bass drum have you thinking it's gonna be London Art School with a Northern accent disco time. No way, vocal intimidation and guitar shredding is more like it.

The Wild, The Beautiful And The Damned first appeared on an Island sampler last year and while there's superb stabbing guitar and swirling violin (courtesy of Billy Currie) and frontman John Foxx's crazy ultimatistic lyrics/vocals ('I'll spit my gold teeth out at you' - really!), the production is lacking in the sparkle it has on the rest of the album.

The last track on each side, My Sex and I Want To Be A Machine, I've deliberately left till last because, as far as I'm concerned, the middle of the record could be burned right out with no aesthetic loss. Pleasant as the music might be on My Sex, amusing as the idea of Machine might be, I find the words on both so pretentious and self-indulgent in that grade 1 'A' level English poetry writing manner that I can listen to neither in anything approaching a pleasurable frame of mind. Still with eight very good tracks, what have I (or you) to complain about?

Eno helped produce it (perhaps he's responsible for the drums being so upfront in the mix) and it's obvious that both Roxy Music and Bowie are influences on Ultravox! but while it isn't in the undiluted revolutionary brilliance category of debut albums, it comes very close and as the TV ads put it, the second album could be something very, very special.