Pere Ubu Vinyl, CD & tapes by Pere Ubu at Norman Records
With a voice like a malfunctioning duck, David Thomas is easily recognisable as the frontman and only permanent member of Cleveland area rock band Pere Ubu. The band has been through several incarnations with both line up and a sound ranging from experimental underground schizoid garage rock to their pop-leaning years where they nearly...nearly broke into the mainstream.
To discover the beginnings of the group we must place ourselves in 1970s Cleveland Ohio - a bleak industrial midwest heartland with a thriving scene of oddball rock bands. One of which was Rocket From The Tombs, a short-lived proto punk band that splintered off into the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu. The latter debuted in 1975 with ‘30 Seconds Over Tokyo’ which kept something of the Rocket From The Tombs garage rock template but took it way into left field with spooky discordant sounds and industrial clanking. Their debut The Modern Dance released in 1978 was further proof of the band’s daring experimental leanings. It used tape loops, synths and post production to distort and delinear what underneath could be straightforward garage rock. By the time of Dub Housing, also released in 1978, the band had caught the wave of the post-punk movement on an album subsequently seen as one of their best and is possibly the one Pere Ubu album that has been recognized widely as something of a classic. It was another example of the band tearing up the rule book pulverizing the listener with noise rock assaults whilst retaining a crucial melodic core. Red Krayola leader Mayo Thompson joined the band for The Art of Walking (1980) and Song of the Bailing Man (1982) before the group disbanded as Thomas worked on solo projects.
When the band returned in 1988 they were a much more pop-orientated affair and by the time of Cloudland (1989) they were working with Pet Shop Boys producer Stephen Hague on an album which featured an MTV hit in ‘Waiting For Mary’. It was a fascinating move and fun was had in seeing how David Thomas’s seemingly unpalatable squeak and the band’s avant garde leanings would sit within a mainstream framework. Pretty well in fact was the surprising answer, and Worlds in Collision (1991) continued down this path and had another MTV favourite in ‘Oh Catherine’. From then on the band have released a record every few years with no discernable gaps, though Thomas had a side project in Two Pale Boys which ran alongside the parent group for awhile. Their line up is ever changing with Thomas the only survivor, yet on albums like 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo the band retain the playfulness and wilful experimentalism of their much earlier work. It served to remind the listener that here was a band willing to take risks, to put themselves on the line and to push their music forward. It didn’t always hit paydirt but when it did it created incomparable work. Their back catalogue is huge and sprawling but if you have any interest in how avant garde and rock music make interesting bedfellows then please dive in.