Midge Ure deserves respect for his illustrious musical history. This pleasant '80s throwback shows he can still make decent music, even if his voice these days disappointingly lets him down.
As pop music’s history stretches into its seventh decade, so does its list of heroes. These heroes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: the all-powerful (Elvis, Madonna) to cult (Alex Chilton, Evan Dando). But pop’s tapestry stretches in other ways too so it can encompass another type of hero: the all-around good egg. And in this category I present you the Scot Midge Ure.
Ure is more than just a nice guy. His 1975 to 1985 career course does read like the composite "How to be a pop star" encyclopedia: from boy-band lead (Slik), to post-punk (Rich Kids, Glen Matclock’s new direction after the Sex Pistols), to major synth pop (Ultravox) and the new romantics (Visage), to co-writing the fot-the-ages charity single "Do They Know It’s Christmas?". Ure co-organised Live Aid and Live 8 with Bob Geldof. He even played hard rock guitar with Thin Lizzy, for heaven’s sake.
All these accomplishments, while remaining a decent human being, have combined to make Ure the seriously good guy of repute. However, the fact remains that, since 1985, Midge hasn’t seriously troubled the charts with a group or as a solo artist. The odd album, the last one being the 2008 cover versions LP 10, has come and gone with negligible musical impact. Midge did come together with a reformed Ultravox in 2012 and released Brilliant, a respectable but hardly cutting-edge outing.
All this is a preamble to saying that the listener approaches Fragile with minimal expectation. And in that sense Ure exceeds. The first thing to say is that it is a beautifully produced album. Ure’s illustrious heritage means that he is a proper music pro, and it shows. The second is that the album is undoubtedly an '80s throwback. That doesn’t make it a bad thing. The '80s was responsible for a lot -- both outstanding and mediocrity -- but Ultravox was capable of very classy '80s. Fragile showcases a man who knows his electronica and synths, and above all, to reinforce this point, he really does know his way around the studio.
There is a third downside point, however. Midge’s voice is not what it was. It sometimes lacks strength and on several occasions he opts for the irritating electronic voice treatment, presumably to toughen it up. But this happens too may times, which is unfortunate because it rather overshadows the album as a whole.
The overall impression at the conclusion of a couple of listens to the LP is of a pleasant aural experience. There is blandness there ("Star Crossed") , but tracks like "I Survived" and "Let It Rise" convey a certain grand stateliness, hallmarks of Ure’s halcyon Vienne days. "Bridges", one of the two instrumentals, summons up a slightly spooky Twin Peaks ethereality. The crystalline acoustic guitar sound that introduces "Wire and Wood" provides a welcome respite from the electronica. The bouncy single "Become" could have easily graced the charts in 1983.
Midge Ure is evidently proud he has got to where he has, a survivor and much-respected elder statesman of British pop. The opening track "I Survived" is self-explanatory in that respect. The closer "Fragile" likewise sounds like a personal manifesto. Good luck to the man, and full credit that he is still making music, which if a bit dull is definitely not a dud.