The first fifteen seconds of opening track ‘Live’ leave you in absolutely no doubt that this is Ultravox, they’re back and they’re on extraordinarily good form. ‘Live’ employs every trick in the band’s book: it’s solid, upbeat and epic, it’s sprinkled with their electronic and string sounds, and it’s underpinned by a pop-hit catchy chorus featuring their trademark echoing vocals. As an opening track ‘Live’ sets the bar high for what’s still to come, and as the album continues it quickly becomes clear that ‘Brilliant’ has classic Ultravox DNA running through the veins of every single track.
The mid-paced second track, ‘Flow’, although distinctively Ultravox, carries something of U2’s epic rock sound and then we’re onto ‘Brilliant’, the title track and the first single from this album. Starting with a oddly muted vocal ‘Brilliant’ is an ideal first single, very much a statement of intent for what else is to come. It’s classic Ultravox in every way, from the solid guitar sounds overlaid with an understated sheen of electronics, to the epic drama of the lyrics and vocals.
‘Change’ steers the album into darker territory, slowing down the pace of the record as it couples a dramatic electronic beat with a rather menacing vocal that lightens only slightly as it reaches each chorus with the faintest of echoes of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’. The electronic mood is sustained on Rise’, the most overtly electronic track of the album so far, which picks up the pace again before the synths swirl out of control, a dramatic introduction for the next track, ‘Remembering’, which is constructed around a slow and melancholy piano refrain and slowly blossoms into an impressively wistful and introspective ballad.
There’s something of the Pet Shop Boys in ‘Hello’, it doesn’t sound like them as such but there’s something in the the way the spoken introduction explodes into the song, something to do with the electronic string sounds that underpin the chorus, and something to do with the way the track ends in an electronic explosion into silence. The jagged guitar and bombastic synths however, set off against an elegant piano riff, are a definite nod to Ultravox’s rockier influences.
The next two tracks – ‘One’ and ‘Fall’ – slow the pace of the album right down, the emotion in Midge Ure’s impassioned vocal performance in ‘One’ giving way to the gentle electronic pulses, crackles and chimes of ‘Fall’, a moody, sophisticated and deceptively simple song. The upbeat ‘Lie’ comes next in stark contract to the melancholy of the previous two tracks, but still tinged with sadness, despite its distinctively epic Ultravox sound.
The exuberance of ‘Satellite’ with it’s haunting middle-eastern melody is a far more straightforward proposition, an upbeat number with echoes of the epic grandeur of Simple Minds. Then, all too soon, the album finishes on a curiously downbeat note with ‘Contact’, a slow, atmospheric and haunting track which leaves you wanting more… which may be exactly the point!
Ultravox may not be breaking much new ground with ‘Brilliant’ but would we want them to? What they have delivered is an assured, accomplished and extremely enjoyable album that plays to the band’s many strengths, and as such it’s already a definite contender for our album of the year.
Live Again / Flow / Brilliant / The Change / Rise / Remembering / Hello / This One / Fall / Let It Lie / Satellite / Contact
‘Brilliant’ will be released on May 28th (June 5th in the USA) 2012 on CD and via download.
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