16 November 2009

HOT FIVE: Pere Ubu

01: Datapanik In The Year Zero EP [1978]
Featuring..."30 Seconds Over Tokyo", "Heart Of Darkness", "Final Solution", "Cloud 149", "My Dark Ages", "Heaven"

Datapanik In The Year Zero is really a collection of Pere Ubu's singles, dating all the way back to 1975, that hit the streets the same year as their first two longplayers...So, if 1977 was the Year Of Punk, does this make 1978 the Year Of Post-Punk? Because to my mind, Pere Ubu owned 1978, and they weren't really a Punk band. "Final Solution" might have the right attitude and guitars, but it's too slow. Metal slow. Shit, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" has a metallic ring to it as well, and as I'm writing this, I'm wondering, as I have so many times over the years, exactly what kind of band is Pere Ubu? My friends and I always called 'em "Art Punk", although I guess we considered 'em punk because they mostly defied classification, the ultimate punk maneuver, and we thought they were arty because they were purposefully doing so. David Thomas has an "interesting" voice that he uses in interesting ways, singing enigmatic lyrics that might be children's stories and myths, but could also be dark and creepy, and other times seemingly non-sensical. He sang about animals and monsters and neighborhood weirdos, but he also sang about young love and lust, teen angst and drinking wine, and war and death and God and devils...Life. [An affordable an easily available alternative to this album is Terminal Tower, a collection which actually has all these songs, plus a couple more]

02: The Modern Dance [1978]
Featuring..."Non-Alignment Pact", "The Modern Dance", "Laughing", "Chinese Radiation", "Life Stinks", "Sentimental Journey", "Humor Me"

I was in an Art Punk band of my own back in the 1980's called Mumniti, and without a doubt I can say that three of our five members (including me) took our greatest inspiration and influences from Pere Ubu, writing songs long on groovy bass, spiky guitars, Jazz drumming, and weird, almost childlike, lyrics sang with strange affectations and plenty of repetition. The capper, I suppose, was the fact that I strongly resembled David Thomas, Ubu's singer, and there I was, co-fronting a freakshow of a band...We had two dozen original songs within the first two months we were together, but that didn't stop us from covering "Non-Alignment Pact" and "Life Stinks" from this album, The Modern Dance, and "Final Solution" from the Datapanik EP...I always thought we were a pretty good band, and we made a decent go of it for the better part of three years, but cocaine and a woman got in the way eventually, the guitarist lost interest in all of it, deciding he'd rather sit around his place drinking all day and practicing bluegrass fingerpicking...Me and the bassist started up a D&D campaign with some dudes from another Milwaukee band, and before ya knew it, Mumniti was only practicing about once every 10 days, and gigging once every month or so, and we never got around to finishing the album we had recorded in a church basement a few months earlier...Then my mom got sick, and I bought a four-track...Pere Ubu could have been my life, but they weren't.

03: The Tenement Year [1988]
Featuring..."Something's Gotta Give!", "George Had A Hat", "Talk To Me", "Busman's Holiday", "Universal Vibration", "Miss You", "We Have The Technology"

It's 1988, and Pere Ubu are a decade into their recording career when they get the original line-up (minus guitarist Tom Herman) back together and locked into an undeniably strong groove. This album has energy to burn, coupled with a move towards Pop...Capitalized P...Capitalizing on their always-strong songwriting skills and their ability to find melodies in the strangest places...Cashing in on Tony Maimone's bass. Over the next five years and three albums, Pere Ubu would take a deep and almost sentimental journey into the land of Pop, even garnering a small but respectable hit with "Waiting For Mary" thanks to a video and MTV's 120 Minutes. The Tenement Year is the album that really started that journey into Pop, while still retaining most of the band's quirkier, Art Punk aspects. In fact, this might not be their best album, but in most respects, it might very well be the easiest entrance into Pere Ubu for a newbie because it does deftly balance their past and future , with David Thomas' unique vocal style and lyrical views remaining the one true constant, the pin in the middle...

04: Dub Housing [1978]
Featuring..."Navvy", "On The Surface", "Dub Housing", "Caligari's Mirror", "Ubu Dance Party", "Blow Daddy O", "Codex"

Dub Housing is critically-acclaimed in most circles, but I've got to admit, it remains the knottiest of Pere Ubu's 1978 recordings for me to understand and appreciate, and there was plenty of Pere Ubu mersh hitting the streets in '78. Two full-lengths and an extremely deep EP (a singles comp, really) to be exact. Of course, that's about the best I can say about an album I've listened to enough times over the years to finally find some agreement and comfort with, if not an outright appreciation and full-on connection to these songs. Still, Dub Housing is a fine example for a young musician such as myself, of how a band like Pere Ubu might stretch things out, take some chances and find out how far they might go as some sort of art-damaged Post-Punk band. This was the album where they first took a few giant steps into unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable territories, which they would continue to wander into deeper and deeper over the next few years and albums before making a fairly quick u-turn towards Popland.

05: New Picnic Time [1979]
Featuring..."The Fabulous Sequel", 49 Guitars & One Girl", "A Small, Dark Cloud", "All The Dogs Are Barking", "Make Hay", "Goodbye"

By 1979, Pere Ubu were 4 years into their career, and had evolved from a somewhat weird but still fairly conventional Punk band into an entirely different beast. New Picnic Time and 1980's Art Of Walking rarely sound like anything they were doing just a couple years prior, save the singular vocal stylings of Mr. Thomas. Still, there's some sweet urgency to the album opener "The Fabulous Sequel", which still ranks high on my list of great album openers because of the wonderful jolt of silliness that comes with David Thomas' voice "It's me again!" that starts the whole thing off...From there, the songs go to some rather strange and whimsical places, trying to keep up with the lyrics, I suppose. Like most every album in Pere Ubu's long and varied discography, this isn't the best place to start, but it's an album worth visiting soon if you decide to follow the band's journey yourself.

Hotcha! Hank

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