For someone who named his latest album "Answers to Nothing," a title oozing skepticism, Scottish rocker Midge Ure certainly sounds interested in finding answers to some big questions.
"Dear God," the song that has helped Ure gain his first foothold with American audiences, asks the biggest question of them all: "Dear God, is there somebody out there? Is there someone to hear my prayer?"
Hoping against hope, Ure (pronounced "your") turns the song into a grand-scale pop prayer for world peace and plenty.
During the first half of the 1980s, when he fronted the British techno-pop band, Ultravox, Ure didn't dwell much on the fate-of-the-world questions that crop up often on "Answers to Nothing." The band traded in a lush, ballroom romanticism built on swirling layers of synthesizers and Ure's atmospheric guitar playing.
On his own, Ure has gone for a less symphonic sound and a lyrical approach full of troubled reflection on global realities rather than romantic escapes.
Ure jumped into reality-in-music late in 1984, when Bob Geldof drafted him to help write "Do They Know It's Christmas?" the theme song for Band Aid, the British rock community's project to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief.
"I don't think there's any doubt about it" that involvement in Band Aid changed his perspective in a way that has made his music more socially concerned, Ure said recently over the phone from a tour stop in San Francisco. "Pre-Band Aid and Live Aid (which he also helped organize), I wasn't overly conscious of what was going on around me."
Also, Ure said, "my personal life changed quite drastically over the past 4 or 5 years. You tend to be single-minded being a single guy." Now married and the father of a 2-year-old girl, "I have a lot more responsibility that I never had before. You start looking at the world around you. It's quite frightening. With the bond (of fatherhood) comes an awful lot of worry."
And, apparently, an urge to pray--as Ure does on "Dear God," even if he is a confirmed skeptic about religion.
"I have that cynical edge when it comes to religion," stemming from his experience with sectarian intolerance while growing up in Glasgow. "I was brought up believing Catholics have it totally wrong and Protestants had it right. I was almost dragged into fights because of it," Ure said. "What I can see (of) what man has done to religion is pain and anguish."
The title song of "Answers to Nothing" knocks preachers and politicians for selling phony answers to a gullible public. The same, Ure acknowledges, could also be said for what a lot of pop musicians are selling.
"Most pop songs don't say anything at all. It's a very lightweight, disposable medium. But it can be very effective. There are songs with a real strength about them. I heard 'Imagine' on the radio today. It still stands up. Somebody's got serious feelings in that."
To Ure, rather than looking to a preacher, a politician or a pop singer, it's best to believe--as John Lennon himself concluded in a song entitled "God"--in oneself.
"It's inner strength. I don't want to sound like a hippie, but you've got to believe in yourself, rather than stories written down 2,000 years ago."
Ure sounds secure about his standing in the pop biz, even though his success in the United States has not been firmly established. While Ultravox had nearly 30 hit singles in England, it never caught on with a mass American public. And while "Dear God" has brought Ure to American listeners' attention, they haven't stampeded to buy his album, which so far hasn't been able to advance past No. 88 on the Billboard chart.
"Up until the last couple of months I'd given America up as a great loss, or America had given me up as a loss," Ure said. "If (success in) America happens for me, that's a bonus. I'm very well set. I've been lucky enough to be immensely successful elsewhere in the world. I have the (ability) to do exactly what I like."
Midge Ure plays tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $19.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.