Midge Ure's 'Orchestrated' Is a Career-defining Performance
In the end, the most impressive feature of these new recordings of Midge Ure is Ure's voice.
8 June 2018
Midge Ure is, to most Americans, known almost exclusively as the leader of the second, more commercially successful iteration of Ultravox (minus the exclamation point and John Foxx), yet his work in a number of guises and collaborations have been a fixture on the British charts since the 1970s. Glam rock, hard rock, post-punk, new wave, singer-songwriter: Ure has mastered these genres and charted in most. Beginning with Slik in 1974 (who charted a #1 UK single with "Forever and Ever" in 1976), Ure has been an innovator and a fixture on the British music scene. Rumored to have turned down an invite to join the Sex Pistols, Ure later formed Rich Kids with their cast-off bassist Glenn Matlock. He co-founded Visage with Steve Strange and toured with Thin Lizzy, co-writing songs for Phil Lynott's solo recordings. Amidst all this, of course, he led Ultravox through their commercial peak period and, with Bob Geldof, co-wrote and produced the charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Ure is a performer who should be better known to American music fans, deserving of rediscovery and reappraisal.
Orchestrated, a collection of Ure's compositions reimagined for orchestral accompaniment provides a worthwhile introduction for those unfamiliar with Ure's work while offering rewards and surprises to his longtime fans. Of the project, Ure states, "I didn't want an album of just the original versions with strings stuck on top.... That gets done to death, and it's incredibly boring. "Under the careful, creative direction of arranger Ty Unwin, Orchestrated succeeds in Ure's intentions, offering a selection of reimagined songs that, more than just sounding different from the originals, convey new nuances of emotion and meaning.
"Lament", for instance, opens with quiet, pastoral strings before we encounter Ure's voice; where the original song conveys an internal dialog, this new version offers singular contemplation. The fractious sonic drama of the original is replaced by calm as if the argumentative fire of youth has given way to a cooler, mature awareness. Similarly, "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes", possibly Ure's most poignant composition, is slowed down here to a dirge-like narrative of the end times as experienced by one pair of young lovers. Where Ure's voice in the original single reaches for his upper register to amplify the drama, his understated performance here serves to deepen the emotional impact of the song. It's a rare thing: an already great song made even better through reinterpretation.
But all is not quiet. Album opener "Hymn" crashes into full symphonic grandeur from its first notes before pausing for Ure's unadorned voice, which leads the song in a slow build back into an operatic crescendo. Ure's solo single "Breathe" is even more playful here with its plucked strings and falsetto chorus. "Reap the Wild Wind" might have the most in common with its original setting; here, its epic scale is amplified by the soaring string arrangement.
These songs, particularly those originally performed with Ultravox, adapt well to the orchestrated setting because their original electronic and synthesized components were orchestral in design and scope. Despite their early Kraftwerk influence and later, spurious association with the "New Romantics", to call the Ure-led Ultravox a synthpop band is to oversimplify and undervalue their musicianship and artistic vision. While Billie Currie's electrified violin and synthesizer washes (accompanied by Ure's keyboard work) was a defining element of their sound, theirs was an otherwise standard guitar, bass, drum lineup with the electronics adding a symphonic grandeur to their songs. That early vision translates well to Ty Unwin's arrangements for orchestral strings while it also allows for the sharpening of the electronic edge in many of the songs, which still feature electric guitars and both synthesized and acoustic drums. In "Vienna", particularly, the more violent electronic crashes heard here intensify an ominous distemper only hinted at in the original.
In the end, the most impressive feature of these new recordings is Ure's voice. As distinct as his voice was when broadly introduced on the Vienna album way back in 1980, there is a sense, in comparison, that he was still learning how to fully utilize his vocal talents during his early Ultravox days. Ure's vocals here are nuanced and confident. He is less apt to jump right to his highest range to convey emotion, favoring quieter gradations of tone or variations of grit. When his voice breaks during the opening chorus of "Vienna", the song enters a new stratosphere of beauty. It's a risky kind of artistic sincerity, and it is a definitive moment on an album which, taken as a whole, is a career-defining performance.