Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:14 June 2024 


Recording and performing since late 1976, the early days of Ultravox resulted in a small but solid fanbase and modest sales. Their synth driven art-rock was a bit edgy for the mainstream, and eventually John Foxx and Robin Simon left the band. Keyboard player Billy Currie spent some time in New Romantic synth pop band Visage, where he met 'Midge’ Ure. They hit it off, and Ultravox Mark II was born.

The change of personnel was not the only movement at the station. After three albums with highly respected German producer Conny Plank—including the hit Vienna—the rejuvenated Ultravox engaged the legendary George Martin to produce their next album. Quartet was the result; a rockier and more polished album that became the band’s most successful release. Hitting record shops in October 1982, Quartet was housed in a cover boasting intriguing artwork by noted designer Peter Saville. The LP reached #6 on the UK album chart and made it into the Top 40 in Australia. 

A quartet of singles were lifted from the record, two in 1982 and two more the following year. Preceding the LP by a month, "Reap The Wild Wind" was the first of these. It was also the opening track on the album. After a chittering percussion intro, the full arrangement bursts forth in dramatic waves, priming us for the layered vocals. The title/chorus has a yearning character that contrasts with the punchy rhythm section, almost as if the singer is outside in the elements looking back at a sturdy home, now deserted.

"Serenade" has an up-tempo momentum, powered by Currie’s synths and driven by Midge Ure’s impassioned vocals. Again, there is stark contrast between the repetitive bass/synth foundation and lyrics evoking abandon and release. Dance a wild dance, be torn apart. Throughout the album there are hints of darker stories that point towards tragedy as gleaming rock arrangements dazzle with their precision. "Mine for Life" is an example. A rousing melody accompanies what reads like a tale of forbidden and frustrated love. Similarly, "Hymn" has all the melodic grandeur of pompous  ecclesiastical rock while questioning how relevant or meaningful religion is in the contemporary world. These are the twists and contradictions that make Quartet such a rewarding album to return to.

The New Wave / New Romantic scene was very much about appearance and posturing. Although they were not really wedded to either category Ultravox were shrewd observers of what was happening around them. "We Came To Dance" reveals this by presenting the paradox of a controlling conductor—The piper calls out a different rhyme / He cracks the whip and we step in time—and the liberation of becoming lost in the live music experience…

We came to dance

Making moves from a passion play

The ties that bind us just slip away

Elsewhere there is icy sadness in "Visions of Blue", the brisk relationship anguish of "When The Scream Subsides", and ultimate despair played out cinematically in "Cut and Run". Quartet ends with "The Song (We Go)", a fast-paced benediction (or eulogy). The pop/rock craft and song construction are exemplary throughout, creating the disconcerting double helix of mid- and up-tempo songs hosting dark lyrics delivered in Midge Ure’s melodramatic tenor. Anguish never sounded this lush nor desolation so romantic.

As for Steven Wilson’s 2023 mix, it boosts the bottom end and punches out the drums, giving a sonic spring clean to the original version without ever disrespecting George Martin’s polished 1982 production. The cover has been remixed too. An homage to Saville’s design, it’s single sleeve also contains an instrumental version of the remixed album as a bonus for fans.


© Bruce Jenkins—June 2024

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