Ultrasound – Play for Today – album review

Ultrasound – Play for Today (Fierce Panda Records)
Available now

It was 1999 the last time Ultrasound released an album and when they disappeared it seemed sad they’d not stuck around and fulfilled their potential.

Our reviewer takes a listen to new album Play for Today but isn’t so sure the comeback redresses the balance.

”ËœWe’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 – ”ËœWelfare 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 ”ËœWelfare 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 ”Ëœnever 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 ”ËœBeautiful Sadness’ is a straight forward rocker which recalls The Stranglers and the next two tracks ”ËœTwins ”Ëœ and ”ËœNonsense’ are perfectly pitched pop/rock numbers which wear their sensibilities loud and proud and show that simple is best.

”ËœBetween 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.

”ËœGoodbye 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 ”ËœDeux 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.

”ËœLong 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 ”Ëœpostcards 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 ”ËœAlways coming back to you’.

Things really take a turn for the worse in the Phantom of the Opera soundalike ”ËœGlitter Box’ and the spectre of Andrew Lloyd Wanker hangs heavy in the air and never more so in the line ”Ëœappearing in a game show could be the best thing we ever do’.

The closer ”ËœSovereigns’ 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 may have set out to redress the balance but unfortunately, along the way, it fell a little short of its ambitions.

All words by David Marren. You can read more from David on LTW here.

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  1. And what are these influences that ultrasound so completely fail to transcend? Muse, coldplay, the black keys, Jack white and morrisey? I’m sorry, but, morrisey aside, that just makes you look foolish. Citing bands that have come since ultrasound split. They break so little new ground (although quite splendidly , in my humble opinion) on this record that mentioning these bands suggests more about your limited scope rather than the band’s own. For a website that appears to be named after Castro’s comments after the manic’s played Cuba, I’m surprised by this apparent lack of knowledge.
    You also somehow manage to pick out the album’s high points for criticism, whilst praising some of the slighter trac ks and quote a great lyric whilst singularly failing to identify that fact.

    must do better louder than war.

  2. I agree with your conclusion, like most comeback albums it doesn’t live up to its full potential. That is where our agreements end. Your review seems to be all topsy-turvey: the notable tracks are criticised and the filler elevated; aside from Beautiful Sadness I don’t think we agree on a single track.

    But that is all opinion. What is more objectively poor is your name dropping. There is a special circle of music writer’s hell reserved for those writers who confidently assert influence from particular artists when they clearly have no more idea than the rest of us. It is spectacularly lazy, and describing music by just referring to well known bands is only a notch better. Nevertheless, this is still a trainwreck style of writing too common for me to criticise you alone for. What is worth of criticism is the utterly bizarre nature of the artists you mention. Coldplay? Lloyd Webber? Morrissey? The White Stripes? Did you choose these acts by plucking names out of a hat? Or did you just write down the first four artist names you heard on the radio? I can almost see the Muse comparison, but the fact that Ultrasound is older than Muse and the fact that Everything Picture is a lot more bombastic and proggy (so Muse-like) than this album still makes the comparison a tenuous one.

    Another cardinal sin for the music reviewer has been committed in this article. Criticisng music simply for being a bit like prog was a lazy tactic even back in the ’90s, let alone in the era where Oceansize was a thing that happened. The word you are reaching for is “overblown”. It’s a strange criticism, prog rock looms far larger over pretty much any track from Everything Picture than on Welfare State or Between Two Rivers, but it’s at least one you can make without sounding like a dinosaur. It also seems odd for you to be bandying around the term “dad rock” without a hint of irony when you are old enough to remember Ultrasound the first time round and therefore presumably old enough to be a father yourself. It’s a perjorative phrase that starts sounding a bit silly the moment your age stops ending in “-teen”.

    Summary: Conclusion good. Shame about the rest of the review.

  3. Let me put my cards on the table straightaway: I’m a dad, I love rock music and I grew up surrounded by Prog. Saw Ultrasound do two songs on Jules Holland back in 1997-98 and thought they were the most interesting band I’d heard in a decade – Everything Picture confirmed to the rest of the world they definitely were. I grieved at length over Ultrasound’s demise but got over it and spent the next 14 years listening to EP perhaps a couple of times a year, never ceasing to be amazed by the inventiveness, brashness, subtlety and sheer exuberant “Britrockness”of it all. So I completely missed the release of Play for Today. However, fate eventually smiled upon me because I stumbled upon it purely by chance a couple of weeks ago not 2 days before the band were doing a gig in Islington. I’ll just say that the gig was pure, undiluted wonder and leave it at that. But the album – what more do dads want? or their mums or their children? It’s all there, a journey from start to finish that runs through all the emotions and, for dads of my age especially, ends with peace and calm so we can head off for a quiet nap, tired but happy. So criticise all you like, folks but for this particular well-travelled son of the 70’s most other new rock albums I’ve heard in the last 12 months are just a little bit, er, thin by comparison. And I’m sure Tiny would agree.


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