Ultrasound –Play For Today


‘We’ve been away for a while but we were never in style’ claims lead singer Tiny Woods in the opener for this opus- the bands first since 1999- ‘Welfare State’ revealing perhaps Ultrasound’s strengths and weaknesses in that one line.

Hailed as having a great future ahead of them in the late nineties arriving in the fallout of Britpop, when optimism hung in the air and anything seemed possible, Ultrasound seemed destined for big things before acrimony and inner band tensions caused them to implode before realising their true potential, leaving behind a growing band of distraught, disappointed fans and unfulfilled promise. Brought back together by the unfortunate plight of a fellow musician, differences were put aside and  followed by some line up changes the re-emergence of Ultrasound was ready to –more or less- take up where they left off and the result of this is the brand new spanking album Play for  Today.

Opening with the aforementioned ‘Welfare State’ which announces its arrival with insistent, chugging guitars before keyboards and drums kick in creating a barnstorming opener full of euphoric promise. That is until about three minutes in when the band decide to take an early vacation in an extended pause which almost threatens to destroy the energy they have created up until that point. This is where the relevance of ‘never in style’ lyric becomes poignant as a style the band can actually call their own seems to elude them. Thus the opener storms in all rock bravado and returning conqueror swagger then immediately  turns all unnecessary prog rock. This may have worked in the immediate post OK Computer terrain of the late nineties but merely sounds passé and unnecessary today.

All is not lost however and the second track ‘Beautiful Sadness’ is a straight forward rocker which recalls The Stranglers and the next two tracks ‘Twins ‘ and ‘Nonsense’ are perfectly pitched pop/rock numbers which wear their sensibilities loud and proud and show that simple is best. ‘Between Two Rivers’ is a return to the dreaded  prog unfortunately or more correctly leaden, lumpen Dad Rock which takes itself far more seriously than it deserves to. ‘Goodbye Baby, Amen’ borrows from both the Black Keys and the White Stripes and gets things back on track pretty impressively before they turn all Coldplay on us with ‘Deux et Natura’ and lose the impetus they had only just managed to regain. It is not a bad track just forgettable even after several listens. ‘Long Way Home’ sounds like something Morrissey might have turned out –again this lack of individual or unique style becomes overtly apparent although whether this is a good or bad trait is debatable-  and chugs along pleasantly enough with the line ‘postcards from the kitchen sink’ worthy of the Mozzer although I doubt he would have ever included such an obviously clichéd and obvious line such as ‘Always coming back to you’.

Things really take a turn for the worse in the Phantom of the Opera soundalike ‘Glitter Box’ and the spectre of Andrew Lloyd Wanker hangs heavy in the air and never more so in the line ‘appearing in a game show could be the best thing we ever do’. The closer ‘Sovereigns’ sounds like a jam session between Muse and Coldplay and brings the album to a pleasant enough close. If you like Muse or Coldplay that is, which I don’t.

I must admit this album made more sense to me after several repeated plays and revealed qualities I dismissed on my original hearing. It is a competent rock album which is not wholly representative of the state of rock music in 2012 but then again what is? Its main problem is it seems to wear its influences a little too obviously and never stakes out a territory totally unique to the band. Whilst the original Ultrasound split up in a cloud of unfulfilled promise then this album have may set out to redress the balance but unfortunately, along the way, it fell a little short of its ambitions.

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