Date Posted:22 October 2021 


Vienna, the 1980 LP by UK synth-pop art rockers Ultravox, kicked off the second phase of their career.

Original frontman John Foxx had departed in 1979 after three albums and an unsuccessful foray into the American market. But keyboard player Billie Currie—who had worked with Midge Ure in Visage—convinced Midge to join Ultravox and revitalise the band.

They worked up new material and released the album Vienna in July 1980. The single "Sleepwalk", with its synth-at-the-disco beat, made it into the UK Top 40, but didn’t set anything alight. Nor did second single "Passing Strangers". But when the title track was issued, accompanied by a brooding black and white film clip, Ultravox accelerated like a Mercedes down an autobahn. A hit single in many countries (including #11 in Australia), "Vienna" combined sparse instrumentation (mostly synthesised) with a soaring, romantic vocal that touched a chord in listeners from Kangaroo Island to Köln*.

On the back of the single’s success, the album went Top 5 in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, becoming something of a flagship for the arty synth-pop movement. This was a time when artists such as Gary Numan, ABC, and Depeche Mode were emerging, leading a cool synth-led style that dominated the airwaves for several years. Ultravox’s Vienna, with an crisp, evocative cover by esteemed photographer Anton Corbijn, was surfing the zeitgeist.

The album opens with an instrumental, "Astradyne", whose mysterious synth textures soon develop into a potent cinematic melody. Ultravox’s affiliations become even clearer on the first vocal track, "New Europeans"…

On a crowded beach washed by the sun

He puts his headphones on

His modern world revolves around

The synthesizer's song


Full of future thoughts and thrills

His senses slip away

He's a European legacy

A culture for today

The first side of the LP finishes strongly with "Sleepwalk" yet it is side two where the sound of this new rejuvenated Ultravox really comes together. The sequence of "Mr X" (very Blade Runner), followed by "Western Promise" segueing into "Vienna" is as compelling as anything from the era.

On this 2021 re-issue we have a significant bonus: an extra LP  offering instrumental versions of the complete album, remixed by Stephen Wilson. The instrumental beds of the album’s songs are strong enough for this to be a welcome addition while also offering the opportunity for karaoke Ultravox if you decide to open your own Viennese café. Something romantic yet modern, an atmosphere chilled but intense; beautiful patrons, mysterious, detached. Welcome to the stylishly monochrome world of Ultravox.


The feeling has gone, only you and I

It means nothing to me

This means nothing to me

Oh, Vienna


* Cologne, the German city’s Anglicised name, was where legendary krautrock producer Conny Plank had his studio and where Ultravox mixed Vienna. And here is a bonus factoid: The band’s name was originally Ultravox! —that is how it appears on the first two albums. The exclamation mark was a nod to seminal German band Neu!, also produced by Conny Plank.


© Bruce Jenkins 2021


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