Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Ultrasound - Everything Picture

Everything Picture

Released 1999 on Nude Records
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 17/05/2006ce

Disc One:
1. Cross My Heart (6:58)
2. Same Band (4:09)
3. Stay Young (7:02)
4. Suckle (7:28)
5. Fame Thing (4:18)
6. Happy Times (Are Coming) (8:30)

Disc Two:
1. Aire and Calder (6:36)
2. Sentimental Song (5:40)
3. Floodlit World (5:12)
4. My Impossible Dream (7:26)
5. Everything Picture/Interlude/Best Wishes (version) (39:12)

Ultrasound were Andrew Victor Wood, Richard Green, Vanessa Best, Andy Peace and Matt Jones.

Ultrasound surfaced in 1997 with the great Fierce Panda single “Same Band/Floodlit World” which lead to a brief period that suggested they might be the next big thing. Looking at them now, clearly an image problem would be there, like Screaming Trees, the morbidly obese look is hard to sell. Lead singer Tiny wasn’t helped by his colleagues – a bearded art type, a token bald guy, a glam character and a rock chick. Not as easy to sell as your stock pseudo-junky indie types like Placebo, it seems that Ultrasound were just too odd for the conformist music scene in the years after Britpop.

Everything Picture was their debut album. It was also their only album, though spread over two discs it seems the summation of their career thus far – the 1997 single was re-recorded in what sounds like the ultimate version. Ultrasound didn’t make it easy on themselves (…or the listener), this record seemed uncompromising and happy to leave in the elements that are a bit too prog or Pumpkins as well as all the good stuff. Perversely, they left off the singles “Best Wishes” (a piano version appears in the maelstrom after the title track) and “I’ll Show You Mine”, while they buried the great pop-song “Kurt Russell” on the b-side of the former. Odd that the box-set treatment might be a good idea for Ultrasound! Nude records was finished off by records like this and releases by Geneva – this is a shame, as there was nothing wrong with the records, just the fact the indie scene was not what it was and dribble like Coldplay and Travis were just around the corner…(ironically Travis offer ‘additional vocals’ alongside Bassma, Nude Idol and Science, another level alongside the electronica interludes…Everything Picture is as packed and layered as the last few Flaming Lips albums or the hit & miss folly Six by Mansun).

“Cross My Heart” is the opener to end all openers, a keyboard sequence not far from Mercury Rev initiates the song – suggesting the symphonic, the song that follows isn’t the greatest track ever. It doesn’t really seem to start...but it sounds like the first song and lays the ground for the re-recorded version of “Same Band”, which sets pulses racing. Tiny’s vocals, it has to be said, are quite reminiscent of Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, though set against an indie thrash that sounds like a more full on take on early Suede it advances beyond their influences (the bearded guy in Ultrasound clearly wants to be in Ubu too: Ubusound!!!). “Same Band” sounds desperate stuff, the kind of song that Morrissey really should have recorded before his descent into cabaret tribute band-dom – “I’d kiss you if you weren’t a girl” could have been uttered by prime-Moz or early Brett Anderson (before the clichés descended: animal and street overdrive…) The song slows down somewhere around the middle, huge glam style riffs coming in before one psyched out keyboard sequence – sort of the missing link between Pulp and Comets on Fire?

Next up is a version of earlier single “Stay Young”, which was probably the closest thing to a hit Ultrasound had and an anthem for those who really don’t deserve anthems. The opening riff is a killer, some Floyd-style keyboards come in alongside a looped chant of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part 1)” – the latter ties in with the killer lyric “Gary Glitter’s gone to seed/So who will save us now?” They were probably tapping into the dead ghosts of glam, perhaps they should have focused on Essex of David/ “Rock On”, but the Glitter-reference comes before his media descent. The lyrics seem much darker in light of what has happed to the artist formerly known as Gary Glitter – Tiny’s refrain “My advice to all you boys and all you girls is never try to be old” becomes sinister alongside the formerly Glittery one. It’s a reasonable modus operandi, though sounds a bit sad if you feel that the only way to remain youthful is to keep the attitude – the Strolling Bones would probably concur with these sentiments…but still, I think it’s a rejection of adultdom and a reminder that rock’n’roll is essentially teenage stuff. Singing about “naked pagan glory” was kind of wild, though the conclusion of the song features bassist Vanessa Best’s vocals – which get more and more Bodyform/Meat Loaf as the album continues. “Suckle” is another seven-minute plus epic, starting off as psychedelic indie, it’s the best song with Best singing on and advances off into the kind of territory Radiohead attempted on their last few albums. Like both albums by Secret Machines, Ultrasound seem to have a bit of an identity problem and shift style frequently which I quite like, but this could irritate many (the last few songs are extremely problematic as a result of this schizo-style). “Suckle” sounds like a more thoughtful Doves, a more English-Secret Machines and not that far from the more than alright act Mystery Jets – I suppose they aren’t a million miles from Bella Union act Midlake.

“Fame Thing” is one of the tracks that sounds like a b-side, which is irritating as previous b-sides (the aforementioned “Kurt Russell”, “Over There”, their cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)”) were much better. The final two songs on the first disc seem to be a deliberate attempt at writing a pop-song, neither of which really comes off. “Fame Thing” is a kind of repetition/rap thing (“well I fancy your mum…and I’m giving her some” is quite funny!), while “Happy Times (Are Coming)” can’t decide what it is – a drum machine, strange electronic sounding percussion, synths, fretless bass that might strike some as a “bit 80s” – this is one of those Ultrasound tracks that suggests they probably should have made it a single album, or got a Eno-style producer to iron out their more formless moments?

The second disc kicks the album back into touch, “Aire & Calder” initially offering Who-style acoustics before a jangly guitar riff comes in – there appear to be several singers on this, so it sounds like a folky chant before the chorus where Tiny whines “Between here and now/Where the sky hits the ground” – I suppose it’s like a more folky take on what Ride did on a song like “Chrome Waves” (Going Blank Again contains many of the qualities this record does). “Sentimental Song” (which was referred to as “From Dawn to Dusk” in several reviews) is darker stuff, perhaps if Syd had stuck with the Floyd? There’s a feel like the darker work of Bowie, though it could probably be summarised as Mercury Rev playing a Smashing Pumpkins song – the blessed-out keyboards/string-sounds/electronica sound pretty wild…Next we drift into some Aphex-style electronica minimalism (think Caustic Window) , a strange interlude prior to the re-recorded “Floodlit World” (which was released for a second time as single). “Floodlit World” remains one of Ultrasound’s best songs and is probably their key moment – if you heard it, “Kurt Russell”, “I’ll Show You Mine”, or “Stay Young” you’d probably be convinced they were a great band – alternately, if you heard the formless likes of “Fame Thing” or “My Impossible Dream” it would be easy to see why Radiohead-producer Nigel Godrich bailed out.

The conclusion of the album is disappointing – “My Impossible Dream” just too formless – good bits collide with the crap…while the title track apparently wanted to create a 20-minute plus epic in the mode of My Bloody Valentine’s live version “You Made Me Realise/Holocaust.” I have listened to it all the way through, there are some good bits (Sgt Pepper/Beta Band-psychedelia, the song for the first few minutes), but the Bodyform-style vocals and the tedious noise get a bit much. They don’t manage to match Kevin Shields, and if they wanted to be properly irritating, they should have gone for the full Metal Machine Music –approach. The ‘hidden’ version of “Best Wishes” is fine, but why not include a proper version of this decent single?

Everything Picture is an album with more good than bad, one that predictably collapses under its own bombastic ambitions – definitely an art record, heck, they really meant it. The album didn’t sell, the re-released “Floodlit World” failed to set the world on fire and they vanished shortly after that, imploding in a manner probably quite similar to the title track. Matt Jones would resurface briefly as Minuteman, releasing a few e.p.’s that people like Mark Radcliffe played – otherwise the band members vanished into the ether. This album definitely deserves to be reappraised, it’s mostly decent – though would probably work better as a single album, or in these days of downloading a new version that would take on tracks not here, probably:

1. Cross My Heart 2. Same Band 3. Stay Young 4. Suckle 5. Kurt Russell 6. Best Wishes 7. I’ll Show You Mine 8. Aire & Calder 9. Sentimental Song 10. Floodlit World 11. Hey Hey My My 12. Blackhole

An album that loiters in bargain bins from one of those bands like The Beta Band, Snowpony, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, and deus that probably deserved better.

Ultrasound: Unsung.

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