Friday, October 28, 2005Ultravox.org is once again hosting their Covers Competition (click here for some coverage of last year's contest), where amateur and professional musicians vie for the title of Best Cover, Best Original and Best Remix versions of the 1980's band's innovative music. Rock historians tend to categorize Ultravox as key members of the "New Romantic" scene (along with Spandau Ballet, Visage, Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls, Classix Nouveau, etc.) but in retrospect, that label seems less descriptive of the group's music than its stage visuals and early fashion flair.
If you're saying, "Ultra-who?" or "You mean, the English dudes with that moody 'Vienna' song?" you're only part right. While the band (who broke up around 1986) is only a minor cult fave stateside, they retain a passionate following in the European Union. Tribute bands like Monument still perform regularly to hordes of UK fans, but more interestingly, Ultravox's distinctive sonics continue to inspire entirely new compositions.
This weekend, I'll be giving the entries a good listen, but I can tell you about one song that's caught my attention right off the bat. Last year I whined about the fact no one submitted a cover version of one of my all-time UV favorites, the soaring, martial "Hymn." If you listen closely you can hear more than a smidgen of the former Soviet Union anthem, the Internationale, in its arching melody. It was one of the few Ultravox tracks that cracked MTV's U.S. video rotation circa 1982, but I always found its "deal with the Devil and there'll be Hell to pay" leitmotif perplexing...and, well, not quite majestic enough for how I pictured the song.
Well, it never rains, but it pours: this year we have not one, but three covers of the song in the contest, including two instrumentals and a surprising 10,000 Maniacs-meets-Krautrock rendition by German outfit Not About Us. Personally, I always thought it would be interesting for a woman vocalist to take the stately song on for size, and purists-be-damned, Not About Us does well using singer Nicole's earnest but earthly vocals. Another intriguing female-sung revision is Tony Siquiedo's "Vienna," given a smoldering twist with droning buzzsaw guitar that recalls Heroes-era Robert Fripp.
There is a decided leaning towards the seminal 1981 release Rage In Eden in this year's crop, including several obscure B-sides and MIDIfied reworkings by Maurizio Daniele (known for his expert MIDI UV renditions on the web). Last year's Best Cover winner Mehdi Touzani this time around offers up an brief, oddly synthless (but politically timely) take on 1984's "White China," and new contender T-Bass solidly captures Ultravox's inspiring midperiod groove with an uptempo original, "A Question of Time." Also well worth a listen are "Thin Wall (Modification)" by Casm, which brings the robotic original into modern trance territory, Beyond Extreme's Gothified "We Stand Alone," and Doug Wright's angular remixes of "Fade to Grey" and "Mr. X."