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coverpic flag US - Ohio - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 18 - 04/12/98

Pere Ubu
Pennsylvania
Cooking Vinyl (UK)/ Tim/Kerr (US)

Father Ubu - ex-king of Poland and heroes of Cleveland, Ohio - is an old dear beast at the Luna headquarters. Pennsylvania is their 11th ordinary studio album and the first since 1995's Raygun Suitcase. Only guitarist Jim Jones has remained faithfully alongside frontman David Thomas from the revitalized Ubu line-up of 1987. But founder member and bassist Tom Herman is back after a substantial break. He left in 1979. And Paul Hamann is still the engineer; John Thompson still the cover designer. For further information on the band, Ubu's Avant Garage (where you also find the Ubu Projex site) is highly recommended.

On first listening, I was disappointed by Pennsylvania. The album sounded as if most of the songs were based around David Thomas talking more than singing into a telephone microphone over a guitar or bass riff or synthesizer noise. Further and more thorough listening was of course needed and revealed quite different directions and moods. I downloaded the lyrics from the net, which was a big leap forward to get into the album. The lyrics made me realize how American Pere Ubu are, more so than ever it seems. The music is mainly based on old blues or rock'n'roll formulas, with a twist. A Ubu twist that is, and all the Ubu characteristics are present: steady bass and drums, nasty and bluesy guitars, even nastier synths and David Thomas' high pitched nasal voice. Raygun Suitcase and the accompanying Folly Of Youth EP included string instruments which are long gone by now. The lyrics deal with cars, highways, dusty small towns along the road with forgotten names, and going into the big city. Professor Thomas seems to be fed up with most modern life issues, only the basics of geography are left to be trusted (from the opening track Woolie Bullie):

We are abandoned.
Liars own the words & all the pictures in all the museums in the
world are just
shell & pea game played by the clever people to bilk the rubes.
Reality is defined by the needs of the media.
History is rewritten faster than it can happen.
Culture is a weapon that's used against us
Nah, culture is a swampland of superstition, ignorance & abuse. Geography is a language they can't screw up.
The land & what we add to it cannot lie.
It's also like a mirror.
Reflected we see ourselves or we choose to turn away.

These words are accompanied by a wall of distorted heavy guitars and a close to solely one note synth solo(!). On the other extreme, Slow is a short and calm keyboard tune, almost a lyric piece, though without lyrics. Monday Morning sounds to some extent uplifting and optimistic, Perfume has an eerie Twin Peakish feel... I might as well mention the lot. The cover indicates that the album contains 15 tracks, but if you keep the CD spinning after the end, a second version of Fly's Eye starts after three minutes of silence. While the first version is electric and filled with sharp guitars, the second is acoustic and almost laid-back(!). Finally we receive a 12 minute half song/half jam called My Name Is...

At times I suspect present day Pere Ubu to try a bit too hard to sound like vintage Ubu. But I haven't had the chance to listen as much to Pennsylvania as it deserves. And it seems to deserve as much listening as any Pere Ubu album. Let's say they're all mandatory.

Copyright © 1998 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Pere Ubu articles/reviews: Carnival Of Souls, Irene b/w Moonstruck, Lady From Shanghai, Lady From Shanghai, Performs The Annotated Modern Dance, Why I Hate Women.

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