The iconic musician takes us on a magical journey…
Balletic Transcend is the new studio album from Ultravox’s Billy Currie; the ninth installment from his notable instrumental solo catalogue and a mature work of multifaceted character that has found its way from the depths of the darkest, distant, yet most beautiful Isles. A seasonal storm of graceful vitality, with special emphasis on plenty of woody, traditional flavours, not least emerging from the spicy aroma of his rich violin tones.
Although the contrast is very evident, from lively beat drives, swirling wave formations to spacey trance, the themic essentials are very obvious throughout and go some way to bind this contemporary album of epic fantasy-meets-psychological thriller.
The title track, ‘Balletic Transcend’, flourishes with its beauty, but hauntingly so, given its stunning peaks and split personality. It breaks to an uncanny silence, marking the way to lots of piano decay – very carillons à musique and a perfect passage to the stark, eerie landscape of ‘Springboard Activist’, a subtle piece with earthy violin motifs and sparkly piano.
‘Grandiloquent’ is one of those hugely melodic tracks, not untypical of Ultravox and set against a more up-tempo contemporary sounding beat. The harmonious feel cuts to welcome more decorative aspects – reminiscent of Visage’s ‘Mind of a Toy’ intro. ‘Dip’, one of the key tracks here, is a hint as to what might have appeared had the Rage In Eden album been written today, and under the scrutiny of Conny Plank. The layering and atmospherics are all there, giving dramatic impulse with heavily weighted synths and accompanying piano that morphs with meditative strings of pure Celtic feel – delicate interludes allowing the dark watercolours of the music to build. In complete contrast, ‘Back To The Head’ exhibits a modern dance feel to begin with but its dazzling jump takes it from humble to the racy sensationalist.
‘Jump Spin’ has the listener lost in the depths of a mist-laden forest, with solo violin and viola layers creating an atmospheric ascent towards a twilight afterglow. It’s a very intimate piece that has such clarity of articulation, that you can almost visually witness the manipulation of the strings – a definite showpiece of the album in terms of sound and technique. Along the lines of the likes of ‘Stand Like A Balance’ and ‘Why Do You Hang On Me?’, which demonstrate similar feel and isolation in the moment, but differ in that ‘Jump Spin’ is curiously set inside its own dialect and gains lively excitement from the fast paced beat that takes over at given intervals. If Kurt Cobain had played a violin, he’d have done something bordering on the distorted feast of strings that we hear here, plenty of angst, blending the end of the track – eventually derailing and leaving just the echoes from within a dark tunnel.
Both ‘Unbounded’ – with its most expressive, tearful strings and ‘Pothole Pirouette’ present the attractiveness of styles heard on previous albums such as Still Movement and Stand Up & Walk; very serene and spacious with plenty of rolling soundscapes. A deeply matured, earthy toned viola creates the basic mood for ‘A Feint Idea’, followed by a tide of fast flowing notes on the piano, before the waves finally break and crash with more piano offering the basis of exploration. ‘Etoile’, along with ‘Dip’, is something special. Dark set against light, with intense, soundtrack like, heavy chords, lifted with light washes of swirly synths. Again, very Ultravox styled, with traces of the recent ‘7/8′, ‘Astradyne’ and also ‘Monument’. It’s essentially the perfect closing track; a grand finale that leaves the listener ready to seek out more.
Balletic Transcend in some ways takes a step beyond anything Billy has explored before in the solo context. A magical and pivotal collection of signature sound blends, although if it were a whiskey, it would be a fine single malt that has spent many years maturing in cask, and while it’s very shadowy and edgy in places, with remote and desolate expanse, it can be a bright little guiding journey; one that shall always reference back to the intricate virtuosity of the composer.
Live Photo by Jus Forrest.