With the departure of vocalist John Foxx and guitarist Robin Simon behind them, Vienna kicked off Ultravox's second phase with former Rich Kids vocalist Midge Ure at the helm. Trading Foxx's glam rock stance for Ure's aristocratic delivery, Vienna recasts the band as a melodramatic synth pop chamber ensemble with most of the group doubling on traditional string quartet instruments and the synthesizers often serving to emulate an orchestra. It was a bold move that took awhile to pay off (the first two singles, "Sleepwalk" and "Passing Strangers," went unnoticed), but when the monolithic title track was released, the Ure lineup became the band's most identifiable one almost overnight. The simple and instantly recognizable drumbeat of "Vienna" proved infectious, taking the single to the top of the charts in the U.K. and making an impression in a new wave-apprehensive America. Drummer Warren Cann's monotone narration on "Mr X" and the frantic ride that is "Western Promise" give the album just enough diversity and showcase the rest of the group on an Ure-heavy album. There are plenty of pretentious and pompous moments at which Foxx-era purists cringe, but taken as a snooty rebellion against the guitar-heavy climate of the late '70s, they're ignorable. Returning producer Conny Plank's style adapted well to the new group, pitting the stark and the lush against one another. Add Anton Corbijn's photography and Peter Saville's smart cover design and all the ingredients for an early-'80s classic are there. A few albums later, it would all seem like a fluke, but on Vienna, all the pieces come together.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries