Pere Ubu – [Album]

Friday, 28 December 2012

The promotional material for Lady From Shanghai proclaims: "Smash the Hegemony of Dance. Stand still. … Lady From Shanghai is an album of dance music… fixed." That is an apt description of the music on Pere Ubu's fifteenth studio album. It almost sounds like dance music, but good luck trying to dance to it.

This has been the essence of Pere Ubu's music for their entire career. It straddles the line between almost normal and completely off-the-wall bizarre. I'm not sure if it's normal music that collapses into total weirdness, or weird music that threatens to coalesce into something normal. In any event, it constantly subverts our expectations; we rarely get what we anticipate.

Their first album, The Modern Dance, presented straight ahead rock n' roll interrupted by blasts of pure noise. It was industrial music in the purest sense – it incorporated the actual sounds of industry into rock music. They have since moved into a more electro-pop sound, but the principle remains. They don't have instrumental interludes, they have noise interludes. Also, although his voice has mellowed and he can almost carry a tune, David Thomas' yelp still disrupts our notion of how popular music should sound.

Lady From Shanghai is one of their poppier records (although only someone with a pretty twisted musical taste would even think to call it pop). There are moments of melody and bouncy rhythms, and songs which could be called catchy. But, as the PR suggests, these are only there to sucker you in. As soon as you get caught up in a song, things shift into the band's own brand of otherworldliness.

"And Then Nothing Happened" is a perfect example. It starts out rollicking, and then shifts into a long passage of industrial sounds, which take up more than half of the song. This fits in perfectly with the song's lyrics, which start out as a tale of sexual attraction ("I came/ I saw/ and I wanted her") and then… well, remember the title of the song.

This is one of several moments where the lyrics veer into sexuality, which is unusual since Pere Ubu produce some of the most asexual rock music around. But, if you're going to produce dance music for standing still, why not rock music for not fucking?

The lyrics are consistently sardonic and sarcastic. "Musicians are Scum" starts off with the lines "Why don't you get in line/ with all the others/ whose lives I have ruined." In "Lampshade Man," Thomas sings, "They say the truth hurts/ Just not bad enough." And "414 Seconds" speaks of a dream, and then asks, "Did I do that terrible thing only in a dream/ or is the dream only a tawdry bit of deception/ wherein I dream that I only did that terrible thing I did/ in a dream?" That probably sounds confusing and it should be – but maybe that fits with the essence of what we have here. Thomas is just expressing the disorientation inherent in his music. Pere Ubu want to scare you off. This is not just not easy listening music, it is anti-easy listening.

All the dialogue here might seem to turn back on itself and leave a tremendous amount of confusion regarding whether or not I actually enjoyed Lady From Shanghai. I did enjoy it, very much, but I'm the kind of musical weirdo who likes music which challenges listeners and doesn't conform to expectations. Music like this takes a little work and an open mind to appreciate. If you're willing to meet that challenge, Lady From Shanghai can be quite rewarding. If, on the other hand, you just want easily digestible pop music, don't just steer clear of this, run away!



Lady From Shanghai
will be released by Fire Records on January 8, 2013. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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