Systems of Romance, released on 8 September 1978, is the third album by British new wave band Ultravox (an exclamation mark having been dropped from the moniker earlier in the year). It was the final recording for the group with original lead singer, lyricist and co-composer John Foxx, and their first album without guitarist Stevie Shears, who had left the band. Shears was replaced by Robin Simon, making his first and only appearance on an Ultravox album. Though not a commercial success, Systems of Romance had a significant influence on the electropop music that came after it.
Co-produced by Conny Plank and Dave Hutchins, Systems of Romance featured the band's heaviest use of electronics to date. More new wave orientated than the glam- and punk-influenced tunes that characterised their first two albums, Ultravox! and Ha!-Ha!-Ha!, its style was partly inspired by German band Kraftwerk, whose first four albums were produced by Plank. Among Ultravox's own repertoire, antecedents included Billy Currie's distinctive synthesizer work on "The Man Who Dies Every Day" and the romantic balladry of "Hiroshima Mon Amour", both from Ha!-Ha!-Ha!.
The opening song, "Slow Motion", was indicative of the band's direction on the new album. Though based around conventional rock guitar, bass and percussion instrumentation, it featured a number of rich synthesizer parts throughout the piece rather than simply a discreet solo or special effect. For drummer Warren Cann, "it perfectly represented our amalgamation of rock and synthesizer, many of the ideas and aspirations we had for our music gelled in that song".
The subject matter of "Quiet Men" grew out of an alternate persona developed by John Foxx, 'The Quiet Man', who embodied detachment and observation. Musically, like the earlier "Hiroshima Mon Amour", the track dispensed with conventional drums in favour of a Roland TR-77 rhythm box. "Dislocation" and "Just for a Moment" eschewed all acoustic and synthetic drums, relying on treated ARP Odyssey sounds for their percussive effects. The former song was imbued with a heavy proto-industrial flavour; the latter featured church-like vocal and keyboard effects that would be echoed on Foxx's second solo album, The Garden. "When You Walk Through Me" displayed psychedelic touches that Foxx also developed in his solo career; Cann later admitted to lifting its beat from The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows". "Some of Them" was one of the few tracks that harked back to the band's previous hard rock sound.
The album's September 1978 release was book-ended by two singles, "Slow Motion" in August and "Quiet Men" in October. Like Ultravox's previous albums, Systems of Romance received mixed reviews at the time and failed to chart. The band was dropped by their label Island Records just prior to a 1979 tour of the US. During the tour Foxx, tired of rows with other members, and of being in a group, announced his intention to leave Ultravox when he returned to England. Guitarist Robin Simon also left, electing to stay in New York City. Chris Cross, Billy Currie and Warren Cann worked on other projects while recruiting a new lead singer/guitarist (Midge Ure). This line-up of Ultravox played their final concert together in Los Angeles in March 1979.
Systems of Romance has been cited as a major influence on electropop and on the New Romantic movement of the 1980s. It was the sonic prototype for the re-formed Ultravox featuring Midge Ure who, in his own words, "loved that album". John Foxx's first record as a solo artist was the almost fully electronic Metamatic; however his next release, The Garden, took Systems of Romance as its starting point, to the extent of re-recording the earlier album's previously unpublished title song, utilising Robin Simon on guitar, and displaying a similar sense of European romanticism. Gary Numan, himself often called the "godfather of electropop", described the record as his single biggest musical inspiration; he invited Billy Currie to tour with him in 1979 and contribute to his album The Pleasure Principle, prior to Ultravox's second incarnation.