Fire records have been beavering away, releasing a series of splendid repackaged box sets spanning Pere Ubu’s exciting career from the marvellous “Elitism For The People 1975-1978” (which is due a re-issue methinks – hint hint) to this new one, spanning the aforementioned period, slipping many extra discs in amongst their official releases. The albums in this box were remixed (by David Thomas himself) and re-mastered, and cover a time period which saw them re-invigorated from a 4 year hiatus since 2002’s “St. Arkansas”, and touring heavily with Tom Herman replacement Keith Moline on guitars, the band are tight and there is an air of fresh improvisation to the whole proceedings. For most of this period David Thomas is experimenting with auto-tune, giving his voice a weird David Lynch wobble, which at times gets a little tiring but generally works ok and at best adds to the surreal edge the band have always had.
What we have here starts with 2006’s “Why I Hate Women”, here re-titled “Why I Luv Women” and omitting the song “My Boyfriend’s Back” from the original CD due to vinyl constraints. The title is an imaginary book from crime writer Jim Thompson, that played out in David Thomas’s imagination as he was formulating the project, and it is populated with film noir monochromes and characters, while at its heart it seems to contain love stories from the American badlands, similar to previous works “St. Arkansas” and “Pennsylvania”, but more in tune with Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (while it does actually contain a song of the same title), interspersed not only with happiness, joy and hope, but also with mystery and disturbing imagery, ‘Is that blood I see?’ he intones on “Synth Farm”. Elsewhere the gleeful driving beats of “Caroleen” and “Mona” motor along, while “Babylonian Warehouse” and “Stolen Cadillac” hark back to the bleak “Dub Housing” Pere Ubu, making it a fine album indeed.
Pere Ubu initially were named after the famous pre-Dadaist Alfred Jarry play Ubu Roi, which was first performed in 1896 to a perplexed and confused audience, being dubbed offensive and childish. The language used in the play is a mixture of slang code-words, puns and near-gutter vocabulary, set to strange speech patterns. No surprise to find then that the play was adapted by Thomas and performed at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge with guest singer Sarah Jane Morris (Communards) providing the voice for Ubu’s wife Mere, and subsequently recorded and released as “Long Live Pere Ubu” in 2009. Thomas referred to this as the first true “punk” album in 30 years. It is dramatic and strange, and, with the addition of Morris, and electronica from Gagarin, not to mention experimental recording techniques referred to as ‘hypernaturalistic’, involving using smashed speakers and glass instead of conventional microphones, elevate this record into the realm of both madness and genius, from the malevolent whispers of “Slowly I Turn” to the guttural screams of “Big Sombrero”.
2013’s “Lady From Shanghai” (from the 1947 Orson Welles film noir) has the feel of lo-fi demos and is a return to the sound of the pre-Pere Ubu band Rocket From The Tombs (recently resurrected by Thomas), complete with science fiction B-movie imagery. Interspersed with snippets of tape recordings of nursery rhymes and bastardizing the lyrics to Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” into ‘you can go to hell” and throwing a Velvet Underground line ‘I could sleep for a thousand years’ into “Mandy”, the album is uncompromising and experimental, the wobbly auto-tune completing the collage cut-up techniques on display here. David Thomas describes the album as simply a dance record but it is more of a dream of a dance record, and is all the better for it (‘what part of a dream is true/what part of the truth is a dream?” – “414 Seconds”). Apparently the making of the album was based on the principles of the game Chinese Whispers.
Completing the box is the following year’s “Carnival Of Souls”, the title taken from a 1962 B-movie. Again due to vinyl constraints some songs had to be dropped, but this version, although missing “The Strychnine Interludes” and the 12 minute “Brother Ray”, does include two new songs “Throb Array” and “Moonstruck”. With the addition of clarinettist Darryl Boon the band sound like they have been kick started, and seem intent on blasting off into space, such is the force behind songs like “Golden Surf II” and the wonderful strangeness of “Dr Faustus”. The music was made to be performed as an underscore to the movie, and the Pere Ubu film unit have toured it. The single “Irene” both references the song “Goodnight Irene” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You”. “Road To Utah” has similarities to “Chinese Radiation” from the first album.
There’s never a better time to catch up on all the delicious things you may have missed first time around with all these repackaged box sets that Fire are putting out from your favourite avant-garage band, with almost every period of the band now covered, and this is a very worthwhile chunk of time to catch up on. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Nuke The Whales is out now on Fire Records – order the vinyl boxset or stream here
Find out more at ubuprojex.com
Review by Andrew Wood
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