Monday, May 30, 2011

81. Ultravox!, "The Man Who Dies Every Day" (1977)


This turned up on a mix tape of punk-rock that a friend made for me in the fall of 1977 after I expressed some interest following the "Time" magazine write-up of the Sex Pistols tour, then just starting. I think the song might even have opened a tape side, and I know it was accompanied by at least one other Ultravox! song, "ROckWrok," the band's official first single. Certainly it made an impression and opened my eyes ... to something. It's hard to think of it as punk-rock now, even if it comes from the right place and time (London, 1977). With its dramatic dynamics, rubber-ball tempo, harmonies at the top of the lungs, and strange wailing noises it's more something poised between glam and New Wave. I can't imagine, for example, how it could possibly be performed by players not wearing makeup. I can see better now how cartoonish it is, steeped in B-movie pseudo-noir spy subterfuge affect and gesture, but no, still don't consider that too much of a problem, let alone deal-breaker. If the whole production is practically stalking around in a trench coat and fedora, to me that just means it's in character: "Someone stood beside me for a moment in the rain / A silhouette, a cigarette, and a gesture of disdain," it starts, and it pretty much goes on in that vein. It's easy to imagine it as background music for a nightclub scene in a movie like Blade Runner, say, which I think must have been the kind of futuristic sense I picked out of it right away. It was a pain in the ass to rewind the tape and play again and again but there was a period when I did just that, and that tape was no slouch in terms of what it included (at least one more selection from it still to come, in fact).

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