Friday, October 10, 2008

Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance

One of the two bands that split off from the legendary Ohio group, Rocket From the Tombs (the other being the Dead Boys, of course), Pere Ubu mixed the intensity of the pre-punk RFTT with art-school-type clamor to produce a unique and wonderful debut record in 1978.

Opening with a prolonged screech, “Non Alignment Pact” shows how well they were able to mix these influences. The combine the energy of punk rock with aural sound-scapes (courtesy of Allen Ravenstine’s analog synthesizers) and biting guitars (Tom Herman) with pounding drums (Scott Krauss) and interweaving bass chords and lines (Tony Maimone). David Thomas’ Eraserhead-styled singing sits over the top of this all and guarantees a crazed ride!

The title track features a roller coaster of a riff that propels you along before being derailed by a burst of noise and then shifting back. Demented slide guitar fights with keyboards and synths and then it all suddenly shifts again before abruptly ending.

“Laughing” pre-dates and previews the New York No Wave scene – this had to be a major influence on that crowd. Sax and musette cry and wail over some sparse chords until it all pulls together (briefly) for a fairly rockin’ groove. They move back and forth between these two extremes a couple of times so you are never quite sure where they are going, but it is a beautiful in a truly demented way.

As rockin’ as anything RFTT ever did is “Street Waves” - fast and furious proto-punk with sharp, biting guitar chords and an infectious bass lick. Much more moody is “Chinese Radiation”. Opening with Maimone’s bass (he was a great, melodic player) which Thomas sings over while Herman adds atmospheric slide they then build an intense white noise scape that Thomas shouts over. But then it changes yet again to a quite piano ballad for the ending! Beyond schizophrenic!

One of the best of the record is the classic “Life Stinks”. How could you argue with that? Who couldn’t sing along with this at some point? “Life stinks and I need a drink”! Truer words were never said! More combinations of rockin’ riffs with pure dissonance – absolutely fitting for the lyrics! This was a Peter Laughner tune which I believe originated in the RFTT days.

I would say that “Real World” is a complaint about it, rather than a celebration of it, as if it were something to avoid, which, again, I wholeheartedly agree with! More catchy cacophony – I’m not sure how they accomplish that, but they do. Keeping the lyrics relatively simple and sparse certainly helps make them memorable – really good stuff.

“Over My Head” is driven by minimalist drums and bass chords with occasional powerful accents, but is definitely an atmospheric piece. But the atmosphere is certainly cloudy and dark here!

Someone once wrote that while Nick Lowe sang “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass”, Pere Ubu actually gloried and amplified it here in “Sentimental Journey”. More sparse, discordant sounds clash as bottles break and saxes squeal. A guitar fights for attention as Thomas quietly recites his lines. This is free jazz as performed by the psych ward!

The album closes with “Humor Me”, a more upbeat number that has Thomas accusing “is this a joke, man?” (Or is it “it’s a joke, man”? Or both?) Short, to the point and a weird ending to a weirder record.

I love this record, but it is best listened to either while depressed or drinking or both – as long as you want to wallow in the gloom! This is not a happy time record!