Pere Ubu Albums
Pere Ubu is an a band that exists in its own little world. They operate outside of the normal world of music, like all good bands do I guess, but completely devoid of any standard. So they made a new one: A kind of rock n’ roll that was fast, out of control, and very urgent. It was the sound of a dance, but it sure wasn’t disco. After evolving from Rocket from the Tombs (whose other half formed The Dead Boys), the band coined their own language of rock music that blended just about every oddball and freak that had come before in the 60’s with a more normal sound, that evolved and took different shapes as time moved on. Though their peak was defiantly around the late 70’s, the “flaws” in some of the records following were still interesting, and the band hardly ever tried to do anything other than what they believed in. The leader of the band is definitely David Thomas, the wailing madman who is one of the best rock n’ roll singers ever, but does insist you meet him on his own terms. If you want pop music that is easy to put in the background, find some other band. Pere Ubu are for the ones among us who love experimental music.
(classic line up)
David Thomas – Vocals
Scott Krauss – Drums
Allen Ravinstine – Keyboards
Tom Herman – Guitar
Tony Maimone – Bass
Mayo Thompson – Guitar (1980 – 1982)
Peter Laughner – Guitar, Vocals (1974 – 1976)
The Modern Dance
The Stooges, Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground, Roxy Music, The Beach Boys, The Red Krayola, Henry Cow
The Modern Dance – (5 / 5)+
This album was like nothing before it, and nothing since really. Free experimentation of noise on two tracks, and blinding punk on the other eight. An album this perfect seems like it might have taken years to perfect, and it probably did. The years between 1975-1978 were just the band finding it’s key members (after the death of lead guitarist Peter Laughner) and finding a label that would release their, “difficult”, record. In truth, maybe it could not have happened any other way, The Modern Dance is a monumental album that brings together many challenging elements of rock n’ roll. The careful planning of lead singer-songwriter bizzaro David Thomas takes many listens to decipher but for those who listen closely, the reward is worth the effort.
The album itself opens with blaring feedback/high pitched squeal of “Non-Alignment Pact”, before the song itself reveals its true form and furious guitar riff. Through the insane rants of “Life Stinks” and “Street Waves” to the folksiness of “Chinese Radiation”, and leading to the paranoia of “Real World” and summary of “Humor Me”, there really never is a dull moment. There are some truly experimental tracks, and without “Over my Head” and “Sentimental Journey”, this would just be some weird fast music, but with them the band shows that they are trying to really create something different. “Over my Head” works a little better than “Sentimental Journey”, but they are both a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, all of Modern Dance roars with experiments, but for the first seven songs and the last, it is one of the most intense albums around. Don’t fret though, it is all somehow accessible because the band finds a unique balance in Krauss’s rhythms and Thomas’s wailing that coins a whole new kind of music. “Non-Alignment Pact”, “Street Waves” and “Humor Me” (with one of the best guitar solos ever) are some of the best songs ever written by anyone. In all, Pere Ubu showed the world that it was still possible to try new things and succeed in rock music. Everyone needs a copy of Pere Ubu’s first record, or at least should give it a listen.
Dub Housing – (5 / 5)
Opening this record up you would almost think the band became a pop group of some sorts. The happy synthesizers and more structured songs do point to that, but any review saying that would still have to consider that this is still the band that made that focuses on making adventurous and outlandish rock music, and it is anything but traditional. Pere Ubu continues on this journey that tries to refine the “modern dance” sound for the masses. I’m not talking about moms and dads here, but the kind of people that are reading this review that actively go out and like to hear good albums. The “singles” or standouts are easily recognizable, with “Dub Housing”, “Drinking Wine Spodyody”, “Callagari’s Mirror”, and “Ubu Dance Party” being the most traditional structurally. The album is built around the strength of these songs, but not in such a way that the majority sounds like b-sides or anything.
The sound pieces with few words (“Blow Daddy O” and “Thriller!”) add to the albums increased paranoia. “Thriller” is an experiment and it truly does not work that well, and along with “I Will Wait” harks back to Modern Dance’s tunes and basically, remakes them (“Life Stinks” and “Sentimental Journey”, respectively). I could see how someone would fault the band’s sophomore album because of some of these facts, but honestly Dub Housing, though not as monumental as its predecessor, proves the band had staying power and the songs are consistently good all the way though. If you are up for an odd, paranoid dance party, I can’t think of an album more suited to entertain, as each song is filled with great moments. Examples: the background vocals on almost every track, the insane rant 2:15 into “Drinking Wine Spodyody”. Another stunning achievement and probably the band’s most accessible album.
New Picnic Time – (4.5 / 5)
Each Pere Ubu album keeps getting stranger, but somehow, they are all great listens. This 3rd album by the group does what the band is known for by now, such as the crazy experimental song “A Small Dark Cloud”, and the upbeat opener, “The Fabulous Sequel”, in which Thomas screams “It’s me again!” like he is everybody’s favorite singer (and he is, right?). This album expands the Ubu palate with new emphasis on words, with some songs saying in the title what they mean (the somewhat funky drive of “Make Hey”, Thomas’s auto-biographical “Jehovah’s Kingdom Come”, and mini-song “The Voice of Sand”) and other songs placing an emphasis on feelings, like “Goodbye”, that sounds like a true send off. “49 Guitars and one Girl” and “Small was Fast” are new Ubu masterworks of true weirdness, like only this bad could pull off. With lyrics like, “It was a sound he heard, what a funny thing to feel! Well, uh, don’t panic!” and screams of “I waited, I waited, I waited for you!” which mean nothing and everything at the same time. The band controls nervous energy like no other band before them, the only competition /comparison being perhaps Talking Heads.
There are a couple of lulls on this record which make it a tad less consistent then Dub Housing or Modern Dance, like “One Less Worry” where nothing important takes place, or “All the Dogs are Barking” and “A Small Dark Cloud” (unique as it is) which are merely good not great; the latter song talks about “flies in the ointment” but pales in comparison to a similar song by English band Wire called “I Am the Fly” released the year prior to this. The band has a purposeful loss of any rhythm at times, which is honestly the way they expand on this record, by embracing the spontaneity of the moment rather than having a steady flow to each song. Such willing to experiment though is surprisingly easy to enjoy, and in its own way, very easy to enjoy for avant-garde rock. Maybe accessible is too strong a word for such a challenging record, but if you are into this kind of music, after getting Modern Dance, give this a whirl.
The Art of Walking – (5 / 5)
Hmmm, ok. After the weirdness of New Picnic Time, Pere Ubu could not have gotten any more paranoid or strange, right? Wrooooong!!!! This is one of the strangest and paranoid records ever made, with random points made all over the place and everything coming in explosive bursts, whether it be a great lyric, vocal track, drum beat, melody, or guitar mix. It is nearly impossible to describe this music in words, about all I can say is it is like their other records, except more strange and disjointed. Somehow though, this is one of the band’s best experiments, with “Rounder” and “Misery Goats” being new Pere Ubu classics (showing off Scott Krauss’s drum prowess once again), “Lost in Art” and “Birdies” being their most out-there and strangest works yet, as the former features Thomas lying on the floor screaming nonsense while drummer Krauss pounds in odd patterns on his snare drum; a surprisingly successful song that sounds awful in concept. New guitarist Mayo Thompson adding the almost standard pop music gallop of “Horses” to the band’s repertoire is a pleasant surprise, not to mention that far out guitar of his (Thompson is also the founder of The Red Crayola, the best 60’s Texas psych based band !).
These songs all reduce me to gibberish truly, “Birdies” sounds like someone being pulled down the road by a car, singing about the story of how he got into the situation. “Arabia” takes you away like being trapped at a mad circus and “Go” makes you excited while “Crush this Horn” has some kind of madness to it and t quote the album lyrics: “I’ve sung my song and I beat my drum and you can’t stop me, hey where you going? Where’s everyone going?!?!?!?!?! Come Back!!!!!!!!!!!” It all works wonders, except “Young Miles in the Basement” which is a minor misstep towards the front of the record, but “Loop” makes up for it right away just like “Rhapsody in Pink” does, there is a great snoring sound in that one song every song on here sounds completely different but great. I think that is what I am trying to say, but please listen and see for yourself to one of the best experimental records around…. if you dare!
Songs of the Bailing Man – (3 / 5)
This album is as weird as the previous one in sound, but not as successful. As Art of Walking was an example of a complete avant-garde project gone right, this was the complete opposite. Songs of the Bailing man tries to infuse jazz and surf rock up on a platter to be reconstructed and destroyed, and while destroyed it is, what is put back together is a jumbled mess that for the most part, is unlistenable. There are some songs that work, like the sole great song here “Use of a Dog”, with its lovely trumpet solos, and the good experiments “Petrified”, “The Vulgar Boatman Bird”, and “Stormy Whether”. These songs are like Art of Walking in that they are all different, and for the most part, listenable. But the majority of the record is another matter entirely, whether the problem be the length of a song (“A Day Such as This”) or just the plain unorganized, incomplete thoughts of “West Side Story”, “Horns are a Dilemma”, “My Hat”, and the worst Pere Ubu song of their original line up, “Big Ed’s Used Farms”, in which Thomas sings like a rabid three year old and the results are just awful!
With Herman and Krauss, the original guitarist and drummer (respectively), gone, the band had kind of put itself in a corner, were weary ideas surfaced and the music had to be “the weirdest thing imaginable”. Anton Fier is a great drummer (having worked with The Feelies, Bob Mould, and The Golden Palominos in his career) but he just doesn’t do what Scott Krauss can do for the band, and it is not the same without him. As an obvious result, the band produced an album that lacked the greatness of its four predecessors, prompting Pere Ubu to split up for a time. Songs of the Bailing Man was a swan song for a group that had exhausted their ideas and needed a break.
An Interuption if you will: David Thomas started a solo career around the time the band split (with the first album released in 1982, the same year as Songs for the Bailing Man, makes you wonder where his true ideas went…) and the remainder of the band went their separate ways. Pere Ubu reformed around 1988 to make The Tennement Year
The Tenement Year – (3.5 / 5)
Cloudland – (4.5 / 5)
Going sane in a crazy world is perhaps the best way to describe Pere Ubu’s full fledged pop album. The amazing thing is, going in with an open mind, is the band really nails pop music on this record! Listening to the opening track “Breath” is like traveling to a parallel universe where Pere Ubu have top ten radio staples. The melodic streak continues throughout the first half of the record, with the zany “Bus Called Happiness” being easily the happiest Pere Ubu have ever sounded; “Cry” featuring a flamenco guitar breakdown (perhaps influenced by Pixies who in turn were influenced by Ubu?); “Waiting for Mary” which is the catchiest jangle the band EVER created; and the 80’s production on “Race the Sun” that just screams “let’s hit the beach!”. I am being completely serious here, and yes this is the same band that brought us shattering glass in “Sentimental Journey” and so much other industrial rock weirdness from the last decade. David Thomas turns into a soul influenced crooner on these songs, and he really nails it while retaining his edge.
To say the band went “pop” is perhaps a misnomer, as the second half of the record features plenty of odd sound effects and experiments. The magical thing about it is the downbeat ballads the band creates with songs like “The Wire”, “Monday Night”, and best of all “The Waltz” fit perfectly on the record as well as provide a saner link to the rest of the band’s oeuvre. Not every trick works, as perhaps more thought could have gone into the remix of Peter Laughner b-side “Love Love Love” or the closer “Pushin” which ends the record on a weird note. But for every song that sticks out like a sore thumb like “Ice Cream Truck”, you have an offbeat treasure like the rhythmic masterpiece “Lost Nation Road”. It is almost as if Pere Ubu made a accessible first half, but proved to still have the odd impenetrable quality the are notorious for with the second half. I can only imagine the poor soul that picked this album up in 1989 knowing nothing about the bands discography…what a surprise they were in for! Whatever the bands mission was, to become radio stars or to just expand their sound and prove they could be like the Beach Boys, they succeed with flying colors. Cloudland is long out of print and hard to find, but for anyone interested in the limitless sounds a band can make while also having a great time, seek out a copy of Cloudland. You will not be sorry.
Greatest Songs: Bus Called Happiness, Waiting for Mary, Breath, Lost Nation Road
World of Collision – (1.5 / 5)
Here, the members of the band have truly lost their mind. Pere Ubu making adult contemporary. No, no, i’m DEAD serious here. That combo does not work at all. I mean, the most experimental band ever try to what, prove they can be normal? Well they can’t do it well, as proven by any song on this god-forsaken record. I guess the good songs would be “Goodnight Irene” and “I Hear they Smoke Barbeque”, but even those do not match/sound like anything the band has done before. Unlike Cloudland, this is predictable boring garbage, that sounds like a bid for popularity.
Story of my Life – (3 / 5)
Pere Ubu continue the pop music trend that was already stale on Worlds in Collision, but somehow it is a letter better. Jim Jones, the new guitarist, made this influence prominent, but they do produce some nice melodies on “Last Will and Testament” and the magnificent pop single “Kathleen”. More like that please! “Wasted” is truly a great opener, with a sea chanty like sound, and “Louisiana Train Wreck” keeps some of the old band alive while infusing a throbbing rhythm beat. But that is all that is worth hearing, and while some stuff is passable (“Sleep Walk” maybe), most of it is pure crap that sounds like the band is trying to be Pixies (“The Story of my Life”). Never a good sign when a band sounds like a band they themselves influenced. Talking about how “the broken hearted park their cars in heartbreak garage” ain’t the way to write good lyrics, “Postcard” sounds like a parody of the old band themselves, the chorus of “Come Home” completely RUINS the song itself, and trivial pop with no real purpose is present on “Honey Moon” and “Fedora Satellite II”. The album is patchy as everything, but for the diehard it contains some nuggets of why the band almost succeeded as a pop band.
Greatest Songs: Kathleen, Last Will and Testament
Ray Gun Suitcase – (3 / 5)
With Ray Gun Suitcase, the bands 10th album, they return to the sound of the old “modern dance” for real and its about time. This double album tries to make new additions to their old sound, and does so maybe half of the time it tries. The thing is, lyrics alone does not always mean a great song (they try that on “Vacuum in my Head”) and weirdness alone does not either (“Three Things” sounds like odd R.E.M., and “Horse” through “Ray Gun Suitcase” is just as bad). “Red Sky” and “Montana” try to be “western” sounding or something, and the cover of “Surfer Girl” bites. The remainder of the album is good, including the first four songs and the closer “Down by the River”. The album as a whole is too long to really matter though, but at ten or eleven songs it would have been a different story. “Electricity”, “Memphis”, and “Beach Boys” are examples of the band in top form, at least for the nineties. Nothing on here is horrible either, making this a slight improvement on the last two records. Still, that can’t be that hard to do, and the band has yet to match their own massive quality of the 70’s.
Greatest Songs: Beach Boys, Memphis, Electricity, Folly of Youth
Pennsylvania – (3.5 / 5)
This album opens with a metallic sound that is not misleading, but more true in tone than “metal sound”. “Woolie Boolie” is impressive in the way it has random piano parts playing over the main song, maybe a return to Ubu of old? Well, in a way, because the mood is right. Little pieces that are not really songs propel the album along (count three: “Mr. Wheeler”, “High Water Ville”, “Perfume”) and many pieces get by on the tribal modes of old. “Silent Spring” is a journey in repetition that never gets old, “Sad Txt” and “Drive” are songs where Thomas mumbles over some dark atmosphere, and it actually works! This album marks the first time in a loooong time that Pere Ubu have made a solid record, and the record is actually relatively calm for an Ubu record. After “Muddy Waters”, you can pretty much turn the album off though, because the rest of it sucks. “Wheelhouse” is the only one of the last four tracks that is decent, and that song is bookended by either two bonus tracks that are unnamed, or two songs that are meant to be a part of the album, hence another double album? I don’t actually know, but the songs really aren’t that good anyways. Though trimming would have made a world of difference, the first two thirds of the album represent a rebirth of the band in song quality, and an album worth getting finally! If the band can keep up the quality of Pennsylvainia, we are in for some good rock music in the near future. Something to cheer about.
Greatest Songs: Sad Text, Drive, Muddy Waters, Wooly Booly
St. Arkansas – (4 / 5)
This twelvth album by the band is the most like their first four records that they have made since. Going on twenty five years of existence here, David Thomas and whoever is following him take the listener on a journey through that unique band style of rhythmic beats and maniacal singing that as good today as it ever was. This album is more consistent than their last record, Pennsylvania, and shares a similar uniting quality. The theme here is a business man traveling across the country, and his alienation form the rest of the world because of this. Half of the songs set up and tell the story, like “Slow Walking Daddy”, “Lisbon”, and “333”, and the other half tell of how confused, crazy, and bored the man gets in his work, like “Fevered Dream of Hernando Desoto”, “Where’s the Truth”, the 9 minute “Dark”, and “Hell”. The last song mentioned there is the usual experimental piece, again harking back to the old days where the band tried to do that on one song on each record (though it doesn’t work completely here). Considering the band’s albums post 1980, the consistency of St. Arkansas comes as a surprise, even if all it does is confirm that Thomas still has what it takes to write a great album. This thing has twists and turns to keep it interesting, makes a good point about the mundanity of daily jobs, and does it in a new exciting (though downbeat) way. It seems as long as the albums are named after states, they are good! Seriously though, the record is great, and the band needed this to reaffirm their existence. Long live Pere Ubu, one of the most unique and creative bands ever in rock music.
Greatest Songs: 333, Phone Home Jonah, Slow Walking Daddy, Where’s the Truth
Sidenote: the remainder of David Thomas’s Pere Ubu project still tours to this day (2017) and has gotten rather prolific with their albums. Some of them are very good and I hope to update the reminder of this discography soon! 😛
(Live Albums, Eps, B-sides, Greatest Hits, etc.)
Terminal Tower – (5 / 5)
This collection contains the best Pere Ubu not found on any of their albums and couple of songs that were re worked for The Modern Dance. I’m not gonna go over the specifics, because if you are that interested, it is all there on the album sleeve. The music contained here is great and indispensable though. It starts off difficult with “Heart of Darkness” and “30 Seconds over Tokyo”, the oldest Pere Ubu songs there are: it sets the band up correctly, with challenging, slow, and brooding music that is not easy to get into, but is defiantly worth the challenge. The next two songs are way more accessible, and “Final Solution” is probably the bands defining song, making Terminal Tower a necessary buy for the Ubu devotee. The song starts off with that great Ubu rhythm, followed by an awesome chorus, “nuclear bomb” halt, then return to the rock. Back in 1975 when this song debuted, the impact of something so original was akin to a nuclear explosion in terms of influence. Seriously, “Final Solution” is up there with “Street Waves” as the bands best song, and since Pere Ubu is one of the best rock bands of all time, that makes it perhaps the greats ROCK song of all time.
Little tidbits of fun include “Untitled” (which later became “Modern Dance”) and “Humor Me”, and seeing the songs in this form is a nice listen, though neither song is as good as their later versions. More to enjoy on here with the reggae influenced “Heaven”, the demented “My Dark Ages” and deliriously high pitched “Not Happy”, and pretty much everything is worth hearing. The only songs I am sometimes not in the mood for are later in the track listing, “The Book is on the Table” and “Lonesome Cowboy Dave.” Typical Ubu if you are already a fan, but unlike some people will say, this should not be the first purchase to make. Modern Dance is not only the band’s best album, it is one of the best of all time, and should be everyone’s first exposure to Pere Ubu. If that album is your thing, pick up this, and anything else that you want by the band. This is only one of several compilations, and while the band has many other decent off shoots and singles, this will be the best for the cost and packaging you can get, and the music on here is not on any album. So If you’ve made it this far in reading allllll of these reviews, Terminal Tower is probably right up your alley music lover!
Greatest Songs: Final Solution, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, Heaven, Heart of Darkness