Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Ultravox! [Island, 1977] B
  • Systems of Romance [Antilles, 1978] B+
  • Vienna [Chrysalis, 1980] C
  • Quartet [Chrysalis, 1982] C

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ultravox! [Island, 1977]
"I want to be a machine" is their slogan, and with Eno producing one would hope for the best. But only on "My Sex" do they go all the way; more often these tough-surfaced post-Velvets songs identify with "the wild, the beautiful, and the damned." Eno helps them sound like a machine regardless, but unlike Eno they don't seem to enjoy it much. Which calls their humanity into question. B

Systems of Romance [Antilles, 1978]
This time these guys have mastered their concept. John Foxx's detached, creamy baritone works against the instrumentation's electronic cast for a streamlined rocksy music that suits titles like "Dislocation" and "Someone Else's Clothes." But unlike Bryan Ferry Foxx talks as if he's detached clean through, unlike Brian Eno he's encumbered by delusions of existential significance, and unlike both he's never funny. B+

Vienna [Chrysalis, 1980]
First they wanted to be machines, now they want to have roots--it's new, it's different. "A European legacy, a culture for today," sings former Rich Kid Midge Ure through a signifying synthesizer, and he's not being ironic--new Europeans may be jaded, but they avoid irony except in totally frivolous contexts. So they buy electronic instruments, rendezvous in Köln with Conny Plank, and manufacture dance music for the locked pelvis. One strange thing, though--sounds like "Western Promise" should be called "Algiers." C

Quartet [Chrysalis, 1982]
Art-school posers, working-class climbers, world where the eternal artistic truths of pop and disco are probably known to Maggie Thatcher herself by now, Midge Ure and associates can't hide behind catchy synthbeats. Ure sings from the top of his larynx like some sixth-form opera parody and acts as if humorless clichés gain demotic significance when you string them together, as in: "Give me an inch and I'll make the best of it." Take that as a warning. C

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]