Tired of the Moody Blues but not quite ready to abandon innocuous lyrics couched in grandiose pop? Try Ultravox, the synth- pop British quartet with a dazzling mechanical heart beating in the middle of immaculate production by George Martin (remember the Beatles?).
This band represents the continuing struggle between style and substance. Last year's "Vienna" veered toward substance, but the vacuous "Quartet" suggests what might have happened had REO dropped out of the bars and gone to the same art school as Yes.
Of course the sound is swell, superbly crafted (kind of like the Cars). But the more you listen, the less you hear. Potential hooks are sabotaged by ponderous beats; though Martin has tightened the sound, tearing away some of the unneeded synth layers, he hasn't improved it. And Midge Ure, a particularly uncompelling and passionless singer, is unwisely pushed forward in the mix.
Still, a few songs sneak through: "Reap the Wild Wind" has a cerebral jaunt to it, while "Serenade" surrenders its tuneful medody to Ure's anguished vocals. And "Hymn" would be a lot more impressive if Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark hadn't had a hit with "Enola Gay" first. Unfortunately for Ultravox, that melody lingers on. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM ULTRAVOX -- Quartet (Chrysalix B6V-41394). THE SHOW ULTRAVOX, Sunday at 8 at the Warner Theater.