So is that what Brilliant is, a cash grab? Honestly, it could be. You have to think that Ure and the boys were both flattered and a little incensed when Muse lifted entire chapters from the band’s playbook and achieved massive worldwide success in the process. (Listen to the drum beat that opens Muse’s “Guiding Light,” and try not to sing “Vienna” on top of it.) Having said that, it’s not as if Ultravox has changed their sound one bit in order to adapt to the times; indeed, Brilliant contains all of the sonic trademarks of the band’s best-known work, yet it sounds remarkably contemporary at the same time.
One of the shrewdest things the band does on Brilliant is the near-perfect synthesis of the various production techniques the band employed between 1980 and 1984. Several tracks, including the title track and the goosebump-inducing “Live Again,” recreate that distinct snare drum hit that propelled Vienna tracks like “Passing Strangers” and “All Stood Still,” while “Flow” and “The Change” highlight the more symphonic approach of the band’s George Martin-produced Quartet. Currie’s violin gets a workout on “Satellite” and “Contact,” while “Rise” unleashes a keyboard solo akin to the one that anchors “Hymn.” That’s a lot of self-referencing, yet none of it sounds self-congratulatory; the songs remain the focus, and considering the group hasn’t written together in over 25 years, that they cooked up a batch of songs this good is damned impressive.
Ure has lost a little off the top of his once-soaring tenor, but apart from that, Brilliant is vintage Ultravox, deftly blending pop hooks with operatic levels of melodrama. The only problem with an album like Brilliant is that now people are going to want another one. Let’s hope the band is up for the challenge.