Sunday, 4 August 2013

Cassette experiment day 123 - Ultravox 'Lament'

Like most sad forty-something year-olds I remember  Live Aid like it was only yesterday.

We amassed a huge stack of video tapes (pre-cleared as safe to record over), checked their tabs hadn’t been punched out and, as Richard Skinner (remember him?) launched into his introduction, we pressed play on the remote control. By the time the American leg finished in Philadelphia we’d amassed a whole shelf full, most of which we never ever watched again.

Live Aid was our first introduction to the concept of the ‘charity payback’, where a good performance in aid of charity could net you new sales beyond your wildest dreams. It’s widely acknowledged now that Queen were the biggest ‘winners’ of the day. Already possessing a reputation as a formidable live band, with Freddie Mercury the most charismatic of front-men, their Live Aid performance won them even further respect. Personally, (please forgive me Freddie, wherever you are) I always ran behind the settee whenever Freddie pulled out his trademark ‘let’s sing a load of random notes and have an adoring audience sing them back at me’ ploy.

Duran Duran, and Simon le Bon in particular, didn’t quite manage to hit the same highs (or, for that matter, notes) in their performance. Simon later said it was the most embarrassing point of his career. He’d obviously never seen the video for ‘Union of the snake’.

There were two people whose previously formidable musical careers were quite clearly rendered stone dead by the whole experience. Which seems a bit unfair as they’d been instrumental in putting the whole thing together, and those two people were Bob and Midge. And our cassette experiment subject today is the last big album by Midge and his pioneering electronic chums, ‘Lament’* by Ultravox

It’s an album that aims for a much more ‘mainstream commercial’ approach than other Ultravox albums, and, for better or worse, achieves its intended aims with some honour.

Opening with ‘White China’ (a song about the boys’ previously unknown predilection towards the finest quality tableware), side 1 cracks on at breakneck speed by means of twin big-hitters ‘One small day’ and ‘Dancing with tears in my eyes’ to land firmly at the door of the mournful title track, ‘Lament’. As side 1s go, it’s a very good one.

Side 2’s not bad either, but there’s not a tune on side 2 that’s in the same league as any of the tunes on side 1.

As an added bonus on this cassette version the miserly 8 tracks are bolstered by the inclusion of extended mixes of the best two songs, ‘Lament’ and ‘One small day’. The former is more of a straightforward extended version of the title tune, and very nice it is too, while the latter is more of a remix and a marginal improvement on the original to these ears.

If you’re looking for a list of 10 albums that perfectly encapsulate what music in 1984 was all about, then I suggest you’d struggle to leave this one out.

Label – Chrysalis

Year – 1984

*which, in the interests of total disclosure, actually belongs to Suz and not me.
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