30 Days: 30 Albums | Pere Ubu – The Lady From Shanghai

30-days-30-albums-headerI have a scattering of Pere Ubu albums in the Record Cell. I never really heard them but read about them a lot back during their first phase. The first Pere Ubu CD I ever bought was when I ran across the “Waiting For Mary” UK CD single at a record show in the late 80s, when that release was fairly contemporary. And there it stayed for years, until my wife heard that and took it upon herself to investigate more. I really loved every thing that I heard, with the exception of “New Picnic Time,” which I had to let go. I have not chanced to buy any releases of the band for perhaps the last decade, due primarily to budget and proximity reasons. When I had the chance to buy the new album, I pounced on it since we were planning to see Pere Ubu at the Hopscotch Festival [the night before last, in fact].

Pere Ubu ‎– Lady From ShanghaiUKPCDA

#4 • Pere Ubu: The Lady From Shanghai UK CD [2013]

  1. Thanks
  2. Free White
  3. Feuksley Ma’am, The Hearing
  4. Mandy
  5. And Then Nothing Happened
  6. Musicians Are Scum
  7. Another One [Oh Maybellene]
  8. Road Trip Of Bipasha Ahmed
  9. Lampshade Man
  10. 414 Seconds
  11. The Carpenter Sun

The band have stated that this new album represented an attempt to “fix” dance music, which only sought to manipulate the listener. “Smash the hegemony of dance,” the band extolled. With that in mind, it’s not quite as shocking when the album opens with “Thanks,” a twisted deconstruction of Anita Ward’s 70s particularly insipid disco tune “Ring My Bell.” This time, singer Dave Thomas is intoning “you can go to Hel-ll” to pretty much the same tune as the Ward song in his distinctive warble. Pretty much the same tune all right, perhaps as played by The Residents.

The extreme left field of this album is probed by the alien “Feuksley Ma’am, The Hearing,” which sets chopped, sliced, diced, and processed vocal lines by Thomas over an insistent twitch-beat music bed. At 5:11, perhaps it overstays its welcome. At the point in the album where it could all go horribly awry, the band deliver a coup de grace in the haunting “Mandy.” The naggingly insistent song is like a minor-key mandala of 7:14 that worms itself into my skull and stays there, happily for hours at a time. This song truly could play for hours and I would be happy to hear it for the duration. Even as it offers only vague unease as it unfolds for its duration.

“And Then Nothing Happened” sounds like it was constructed out of samples of hooks from three decades of anthemic radio pop as remixed by Brian Eno during the sessions of the first two Roxy Music albums. The lurching sense of the familiar turned sideways, is very much the reason why I like Pere Ubu as much as I do. When the group skirt the far edge of pop yet nearly mangle its ideals beyond recognition is a very exciting prospect to listen to.

“Musicians Are Scum” manages to charmingly integrate the cowbell and vocal hook of The Chamber Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” into a cold-eyed deconstruction of Thomas’ show-business brethren. Uncle Dave has a way of almost telling a sardonic joke but he never forgets to slip the poison into his delivery. The world-weary humor of the band is only a patina over the deadly serious payload that the songs carry.

The band manage to flesh out the intent of the material with a musical vision that is by turns tuneful and damaged/repellent. This gives the Quixotic music a unique frisson of attraction/repulsion that is constantly in play. Sometimes the band tip the scales a little too far in one direction, but their sense of balance usually keeps the interest of my ears even in the face of their apparent indifference to an audience. Maybe even the idea of an audience. The synthesizer styling in particular by Gagarin [a.k.a. Graham Dowell] manage to build on the foundations that Eno laid in early Roxy Music and which were soon forgotten among the wave of cheap keyboard driven synths that soon followed. Pere Ubu have managed to pull their wings from the flames once again to manage something akin to soaring in skies of their own design. More from a band we cannot ask.


– 30 –

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2 Responses to 30 Days: 30 Albums | Pere Ubu – The Lady From Shanghai

  1. Echorich says:

    Pere Ubu made liking American bands ok at a time when it seemed EVERYTHING I was into was British. Of course they had to go to the UK to get some respect, but that seemed to be the way from 1977 – 83 for US bands with something interesting to contribute.
    Some of their later output has been hit or miss for me, but Lady From Shanghai is very enjoyable. As for the label they are signed to, there are some real diamonds in the rough on Fire Records – The Kellies being the top of the heap.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – And let’s not forget that Pere Ubu probably benefitted the most from the Stephen Hague Production Syndrome®! “Cloudland” is definitely the band with the most of their jagged edges smoothed over, but when you have as many jagged edges as Pere Ubu can, the end result is something that I can’t argue with! Pere Ubu are fascinating, even when I can’t listen to them [so far, “New Picnic Time” out of about seven albums]. I don’t think it’s possible for a producer to bland them out so as to make them unlistenable and boring. Their sauce is too spicy to begin with. They are only unlistenable when they go over the edge; which they can do.

      They among all of the bands in the world seem to be influenced by the first two Roxy Music albums in a way that is completely non-derivative. And since they were a Cleveland band, I can assure you that they did hear the first two Roxy Music albums! That city alone in America was like the point of entry for UK Glam/Art Rock of that time period – for some weird reason. Roxy and Bowie broke out in Cle from the get go. I don’t know why. Hearing “The Modern Dance” sounds every inch like a band that looked at Roxy Music, absorbed the inspiration, and then went off in their own direction that sounded nothing like Roxy music. It has the same wild, exhilarating freedom that Ferry + Co. brought to the music without sounding a bit like them. It probably helps that Dave Thomas recalls no other singer.


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