Album reviews: Ultravox, Amore and Saint Etienne

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ULTRAVOX

BRILLIANT

A recent Top of the Pops repeat on BBC4 conjured up an image of a young Midge Ure fronting one-hit wonders Slik, back in 1976. In the popular imagination, however, he is indelibly linked to Vienna, Ultravox’s synth-pop classic from 1981, with its monochrome video homage to the film The Third Man. In truth the band often preferred driving rock songs to trilling keyboard solos, as later hits Reap The Wild Wind and Dancing with Tears in my Eyes showed. Their comeback, after an interval of 26 years, is strong on bombast and high production values – courtesy of Stephen Lipson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Pet Shop Boys, Annie Lennox). Its best tunes contrast their two styles – the title track is a sweeping pop epic with a nagging hook; Rise is shiny and modern and electronic. The rest either rumble portentously or are so-so ballads. Sadly Brilliant isn’t consistently, er, brilliant.

AMORE

STAND TOGETHER

The story goes that senior executives from Warner Music were sat in their local Starbucks pondering on putting together a new British classical group when they were overheard by a tutor from the Royal College of Music who suggested they meet his talented students.

Obviously, this begs the question why, if they were looking for hot, young musicians, they hadn’t gone there in the first place but, never mind, the result was the ‘discovery’ of Amore – a trained group of opera singers comprising Monica McGhee, Victoria Gray, David Webb and Peter Brathwaite.

Their pleasant debut, featuring versions of Brindisi, Jerusalem and Cantique De Jean Racine and more, tries to steer around hackneyed and overly populist pieces and, although a little dry and lacking in passion at times, the arrangements make good use of the harmonic potential of the four voices.

SAINT ETIENNE

WORDS AND MUSIC by saint etienne

Having got their experimental phase out of the way around the turn of the last decade, Bob Stanley, Sarah Cracknell and Peter Wiggs are back doing what they do best – making music to stir the head, the heart and the feet.

Words and Music by Saint Etienne is a concept album of sorts – “about the power of pop, how it affects and shapes your life” – and opens with a story from Stanley’s youth about a friend’s pilgrimage to Peter Gabriel’s house in Somerset.

I’ve Got Your Music, Tonight and DJ – the tracks produced by Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Kylie, Sugababes) – are as dancefloor-friendly as any Saint Etienne have released in the past 21 years. Record Doctor is a glorious one-minute ode to the healing properties of melody, and Tina Charles, of I Love To Love fame, adds backing vocals to the sumptuous Twenty Five Years. What more could you ask?

Paul Draper. Picture: Tom Sheehan

Music interview - Paul Draper on his solo album: ‘It’s more a cathartic process about healing the wounds of being in a band’