The Ultimate A To Z Of Album Reviews By Gary Steel – U

Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘U’.

 

U

UB40 – Present Arms (Dep Int)

1981/In Touch

Strong tactics and messages relayed through contagious songs and passive, sunny, cruising reggae sounds. Better than Signing Off in every respect, okay? 7/10

 

UK Subs – Another Kind Of Blues (RCA)

1980/Evening Post

Punk rock is alive and well and living in our homes, if not our hearts. It seems that society could hardly wait to obituarise and bury that nasty social phenomenon known as “punk”. But unbeknownst to this planet’s vinyl consumers, variations and progressions stemming from this era are more prolific and popular than ever they were in their heyday.

UK Subs (short for United Kingdom Subversives), if for nothing else will be remembered as the first punk nostalgia group. They were relatively late on the scene in Britain, and it’s obvious from Another Kind Of Blues that they are content to pay interminable homage/tribute to those early punk bands with limited musical ability and lowly artistic goals.

Nick Garrett plays impressive heavy metal-oriented guitar, but the rest of the band don’t pull their weight so well. Charlie Harper “sings” or shouts unintelligibly and plays even worse harmonica, while Paul Slack’s bass throbs instead of packing real punch. To call Pete Davies’ drumming rudimentary would be to underemphasise.

Their material (all 17 songs) is largely uninspired and forgettable, but on occasions, they come up with an interesting tune or sound, as on the almost-blues of ‘I Couldn’t Be You’ or the all-out no stops barred energy of ‘Tomorrow’s Girls’, ‘TV Blues’, ‘CID’ or ‘Blues’. 5/10

 

Ultravox – Rage In Eden (Chrysalis)

That shallow but satisfying ‘Vienna’ pomp pop spectacle has created a hungry audience for its predecessor that, in aesthetic terms, Rage In Eden fails to capitalise on.

The music here is a somewhat pale shadow of ‘Vienna’, and it’s wide of the mark. There’s no 3D sound panorama because of a strange bungle of instrumental mismatch (mismix?)

More importantly, vocalist Midge Ure seems content to steer the boys into the general direction from whence he came – a Slikdom of teeny pop utopia.

Rage does have its moments. The most interesting is ‘Stranger Within’, which is a string-dominated, unsettling thing with a hint of funk bass – Tuxedomoon comes to mind (vaguely). Short instrumental ‘The Ascent’ has similar violin/viola virtues, but it’s very slight. The title track features pleasing pats of electronic percussion.

Unfortunately, the remaining six slices teeter alternately towards wimp rock and pomp rock – unimaginative and unworkable.

That sonic grandeur can carry one, however misguided the music may be, but it’s transparent stuff. It’s an illustrative, imitative (surprising in respect to their influence on other groups) sound, but never innovative. It’s a thin album surprisingly short of ideas, a lack which is aptly summed up by the tiresome repetition and vacuity of the grand finale, ‘Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again’. I do like its electric ‘BOOMS!’ though. 5/10

 

The Undertones – The Undertones (Sire)

1979/Evening Post

The Undertones must be the ugliest bunch of geezers yet to have their music etched in vinyl for posterity. Ireland’s major punk band’s first album possesses an honesty which shines through like a beacon in the dark against most current album releases.

Punk they may be, but this never imposes limits on a band more concerned with expression than fashion. They race through a total of 14 tantalising short pieces, each a complete entity, each full of tune, tone and colour.

Their music acknowledges roots in early 1960s British rock (Beatles, Dave Clark Five), and is orthodox while at the same time forging out an original sound and musical construction.

Every track is of interest, but as a starting point, try the engagingly memorable ‘Girls Don’t Like It’, the standard pop of ‘Wrong Way’, or the almost avant-garde ‘True Confessions’. 7/10

 

Unrestful Movements – First Movement In E-flat (Jayrem)

December 1982/IT Magazine

Unrestful Movements are a kind of collision between Killing Joke, Oi and early punk. They’re worthy. In a sense they’re old hat. But it’s grand to hear some aggression again. There are not enough Angry Young Men (and Women) around with Something to Say no more.

And these are, what’s more, all very good songs. They have real tunes with more than the usual quota of musical ideas for bands with similar lyrical themes: “Glorify the country and the nation/This is the start of foreign war policy! Regimentation let’s join the army/Have a dictator this is fascism/I’ve started to wonder/Who’s at the top, who’s behind this/Who rules our lives, what are they doing?”

Listen if you care. 7/10

 

Unrestful Movements – Q: Are You A Fireman? (Jayrem)

1983/TOM

Unrestful Movements’ second extended 12-inch EP is their statement of intent and testimony. ‘Anti-Trend’ makes it clear just where they stand – “Don’t label us, we’re anti-trend.” Following along the same line of thought, ‘Band Of Our Type’ swipes at other bands’ compromises to the rock industry. ‘Street Violence’ comments on pointless carnage and makes the relevant observation that physical confrontation cannot “change my ideals, you can’t stop me thinking.” They hit out at state oppression in ‘Plastic Bullets’, in which the music is a suitably vivid nightmare vision. ‘Work’ questions the merit of useless jobs wasting useless lives – something we all know but seldom question. ‘Really Different’ is the fastest song, a comment on the cheap option of failed relationships/dented ideals: sexual perversion. 7/10

 

U2 – Boy (Island)

23 May 1981/Evening Post

Boy is the first album by Ireland’s U2 and it is as much a trendless breath of fresh air as The Associates’ The Affectionate Punch earlier this year.

Like another Irish group, The Undertones, U2 is freer to create its own distinct music away from the London new wave vanguard’s self-defeating credibility (self) consciousness. Mere fashion-plate acceptance must mean little to U2.

U2’s music is a strong, youthful dance. It is worried, sometimes depressed but there is always a sprightly undertow. These boys don’t belong to the blank generation. The energy of youth meets a disarming world weariness.

U2’s collective feet stand in several eras but its art is of now. Bono Vox is the obvious asset: his voice is strong, well-rounded and self-assured. Guitarist The Edge (yes, The Edge) produces steely tones which remind me of The Skids’ Stuart Adamson. Steve Lillywhite (famous for his XTC productions) contributes his usual upfront mix of bass and drums – plenty of boom and reverb. Otherwise, U2 is a standard line-up of instruments, except for the (uncredited) xylophone which adds substantially to the quieter passages.

Boy is about growing up. There are no new revelations on the subject, which could have left the band with a bloated concept. Thankfully, it does not pretend to be anything other than a collection of good songs.

I do not find it as stimulating as The Associates. It is more pummelling and less uplifting. U2 music is a rare combination, though, of brash, beefy music, intelligence and subtle twists which one inevitably misses on the first and second listening. 7/10

 

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.