Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance - Review
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critics' view

Serving bona-fide modernity as opposed to Kraftwerk's unrealistic variant, this peculiar quintet from Cleveland were just as likely to appeal to disillusioned prog-rockers as eclectic punks, and were the epitome of New Wave experimentation. They were to American left-field rock what Lee Perry was to Jamaican reggae; historically aware but very much forging ahead with a weird and wonderful sense of adventure, with loops, samples and effects sprinkled atop rhythms which could be rock-solid or loose-caboose, as the mood of the piece demanded.

At the time of release in January ’78 they were: David Thomas (24, vocals, musette, percussion); Tom Herman (28, guitar, backing vocals); Allen Ravenstine (27, synths, saxophone, tapes); Tony Maimone (25, bass, piano, backing vocals) and Scott Krauss (27, drums). Original bassist Tim Wright played on a couple of tracks, but he was a goner already.

Like all good bands, Pere Ubu are instantly recognisable from the off, almost entirely due to the strange vocalisations of lead singer and chief visionary, David Thomas, who treats words like elastic-bands and trembles, yelps and barks his way into your psyche over the course of the 36 minutes, with a nervous energy that’s highly infectious. Whilst there’s hardly a weak moment on this LP, the best from side 1 is the closer “Chinese Radiation”, which seems to find our man scarily addressing a thronged mass at Tiananmen Square: “We will purify, we must purify, for the sake of that security we all want, we will purify. He'll be the red guard, she'll be the new world, he'll wear his grey cap, she'll wave her red book.

My favourite track appears at the start of side 2, “Life Stinks”, the only song on the LP not to have been written by any of the current group. How fabulous that the spotlight shines on Peter Laughner here on Pere Ubu’s debut album. He was a Cleveland, Ohio singer, songwriter, guitarist, and occasional journalist best known for being in the “classic” late period line-up of Rocket from the Tombs and also for co-founding Pere Ubu after Rocket’s split. Born 22nd August 1952, he died on 22nd June 1977, aged just 24, of acute pancreatitis. They’ve done him proud here, ripping into his song with mucho gusto. Continuing this great run, “Real World” is absolutely the sound of now, the new no-wave, unconsciously elitist superior-than-thou music. I sense disdain. For whom, or what, I’m not quite so sure, but it’s there in bucket-loads.

This album is super-smart from start to finish, a most memorable debut.

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