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coverpic flag US - Ohio - Full Moon 202 - 02/25/13

Pere Ubu
Lady From Shanghai
Fire Records

We only managed a short mentioning of Lady From Shanghai last full moon and promised to return to the album in February. Here we go!

Did I do that terrible thing only in my dream?
Or is the dream merely a tawdry bit of self-deception wherein
I dream that I only did the terrible thing that I did
In a dream?

I've found the most recent Ubu-albums a bit disappointing. It's always rewarding to listen to David Thomas' stories, views and philosophical thoughts, but less so when the musical accompaniment on Why I Hate Women is quite impenetrable. The remix version of the album, I Remix Women, was definitely different, but it didn't make matters easier. Long Live Pere Ubu! was an adaption of Alfred Jarry's classic absurd play from the 1890s that Pere Ubu, the band, took its name from, and not an ordinary Ubu album as such. In the second half of the album the lyrics seem to matter more and more, the music eventually almost non-existent. Lady From Shanghai is definitely an improvement although the formula is more or less the same as on the previous albums by the band in this century. The line-up is the same as on Why I Hate Women and the bad hair day-gig in Oslo one and a half years ago, but augmented by Gagarin's electronics on five tracks. The music varies from melodic to noisy, using the ordinary rock'n'blues instruments and quite a lot of electronics of the bubbling and whining kind. The vocals range between the spoken and the sung, mainly a mix of the two. David Thomas' nasal great little voice is quite unique, the trademark of Ubu. The music of the pioneers of the avant-garage is definitely an acquired taste, but can be very rewarding to get into. When it works, the end result is a synergy that adds to more than the total of the lyrics and sounds/music.

Lady From Shanghai can sound quite massive at first, though not impenetrable. Some songs are quite accessible and hummable. As earlier, I found it much easier to get into the songs once the lyrics were published on the Ubu Projex site. "Feuksley Ma'am, The Hearing" and "The Carpenter Sun" are the hardest quests. The former has ultra-distorted vocals low in the mix only accompanied by lots of drums and a clean-cut bass. No chance to pick up any of the lyrics via the ears; they have to be read. It appears they are a homage to the very first phonographic recording and its inventor Thomas Alva Edison, a cut-up version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb", no less! The latter has less distorted vocals, but occasionally it's almost drowned in noisy electronics that eventually takes over before the album fades out.

The remaining nine tracks have clean-cut melodies, well, more or less. In particular "Free White" when Thomas chants about 'It's a wunnerful world, It's a beautiful thing'

and "414 Seconds" where he asks 'What part of a dream is truth, What part of the truth is a dream'

give me the kind of creeps that classic tracks off Ubu's albums of the late 1970s and early 1990s provoked. But of course there is a lot more to delve into. The opening song, the short, snappy and hateful (lyrically that is) end of an affair, sort of, "Thanks" starts with normal guitar, bass, programmed drums (it seems) and a clarinet that gives it a touch of the Middle East. More than promising! "Mandy" is a melancholic ballad, sort of, with a return of the clarinet. "Musicians Are Scum" is the little rocker with a twist that never really takes off and remains rather restrained throughout, whereas "414 Seconds" (not over Tokyo) evolves into the post-punk, experimental symphonic nightmare of the album. And there's also the happy, in a way, "And Then Nothing Happened" with a long percussive ending garnished with electronics and a kind of laid-back existential blues in "Road Trip Of Bipasha Ahmed" to mention a few more. We also need to inform that the Lady is supposed to be Pere Ubu's dance album, believe it if you can. The inside of the album, however, says: Smash the hegemony of dance. STAND STILL!

All in all Lady From Shanghai works very well. It's the most interesting Ubu album since the mid 1990s, if you ask me. The songs give no direct clue about the album title. If you want to find out and would like more information about the Ubu rules, ethos and lots of other matters concerning the album, check out the accompanying book/booklet Chinese Whispers that can be ordered from the Ubu Projex site.

She calls me Johnny Rocket
I don't know why.

Copyright © 2013 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, Pennsylvania, Performs The Annotated Modern Dance, Why I Hate Women.

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