From underground trailblazing to commercial success: Ultravox's Quartet saw George Martin take them further into the mainstream – but at what cost?

Ultravox – Quartet (Deluxe Edition): Steven Wilson burnishes art-poppers’ watershed 1982 album

Ultravox's Quartet album
(Image: © Amazon)

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By the time 1982’s Quartet had been released, Ultravox had evolved by some considerable distance from their angular and art-rock beginnings. While original frontman John Foxx had drawn on the influence of his stark Hackney surroundings as much as the nascent synthesiser technology that was emerging, his replacement, Midge Ure, brought with him a melodic sensibility that had been honed in bands as disparate as Slik, Rich Kids and Visage. The material released in the wake of his arrival found Ultravox taking up both an album and singles chart residency that almost felt like a land grab.

And yet, as is pretty much always the case with commercial success that follows underground trailblazing, here Ultravox lost some of the mystique that initially made them such an attractive prospect. As evidenced by the wealth of extras contained in this deluxe edition, the sacking of producer Conny Plank in favour of George Martin gave them a gloss that made the band more palatable to mainstream tastes, but a price had to be paid. Indeed, the intriguing cassette rehearsals – witness the throbbing Mine For Life – reveal a sound still enthralled to the possibilities of
the new technology. By the time Martin had finished, guitars were to the fore. Similarly, the collection of early monitor mixes find Ultravox in far more muscular form than the finished result.

Reconciling Quartet’s final glacial sheen with the sonic intent of the earlier demos is Steven Wilson’s contemporary mix. His magic touch is felt throughout. Ramping up the bottom end while highlighting tucked away rhythm tracks, We Came To Dance and Serenade feel as if they’ve been fed on a high-protein diet. Indeed, Wilson has infused the album with a warmth and pumping of blood previously thought unimaginable and in doing so has rendered the 1982 reading redundant.

While it’s doubtful that this new edition will increase any affection for Quartet, it does offer a tantalising and rewarding glimpse into Ultravox’s creative process. 

Quartet Deluxe Edition is onsale now.

Julian Marszalek

Julian Marszalek is the former Reviews Editor of The Blues Magazine. He has written about music for Music365, Yahoo! Music, The Quietus, The Guardian, NME and Shindig! among many others. As the Deputy Online News Editor at Xfm he revealed exclusively that Nick Cave’s second novel was on the way. During his two-decade career, he’s interviewed the likes of Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne, and has been ranted at by John Lydon. He’s also in the select group of music journalists to have actually got on with Lou Reed. Marszalek taught music journalism at Middlesex University and co-ran the genre-fluid Stow Festival in Walthamstow for six years.