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