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coverpic flag US - Ohio - Full Moon 94 - 06/03/04

David Thomas & Two Pale Boys
18 Monkeys on a Dead Man's Chest
Glitterhouse (EUR) / Smog Veil (US) / Bomba (JP)

This album was released in late March in the US. However, the distribution in Europe, at least in the northern regions, only started a few weeks prior to the current full moon. Also, this very month it is 30 years since the musical career of David Thomas got a kickstart with the band Rocket From The Tombs. Which at least deserves to be marked by a little something extra on the menu and three cheers! The Rockets only played a handful of gigs. Some live recordings survived and were finally released on CD in 2002 to critical acclaim. The band soon split in two halves: punk-rock pioneers The Dead Boys and avant-rock pioneers Pere Ubu. And the rest, as the saying goes, is music history. David Thomas has pursued an impressive career beside his duties in Pere Ubu. Only since the turn of the millennium David has been involved in the album Bay City released as David Thomas And Foreigners (the latter being three Danish musicians), taken his theatrical Mirror Man show to the USA, collaborated on stage with celebrities such as Philip Glass, Bill Frisell and Van Dyke Parks, starred in the London West End production of the "junk-opera" Shockheaded Peter along with his two pale friends for two and a half months, recorded a new Pere Ubu album (St. Arkansas) and two with The Pale Boys, recorded most of the old Rocket From The Tombs songs in a proper studio along with the remaining surviving members of the band, taken the duet show Ubudoll (with Jackie Leven of Doll By Doll) and solo show Surf's Up In Bay City on the road etc. (gasp!).

18 Monkeys On A Dead Man's Chest is the third studio album by Mr. Thomas and his two pale English companions Keith Moliné and Andy Diagram (ex-James etc.). I guess it's the least merry and straight of the three, although 'straight' is a relative term especially when dealing with David Thomas. Also the live disc Meadville, only available in the Thomas 5 disc box Monster, with its more overt humour, probably serves as a better introduction to the wonderful world of David Thomas, with or without his Pale Boys for that matter.

Anyways, normally a trio with vocals, melodeon (a tiny accordion), guitar and trumpet ought to be a pretty neat and lightweight affair. Not so here. "Numbers Man" in particular and "New Orleans Fuzz" to some extent sound as vital and contemporary rock or blues as anything by The Streets, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, White Stripes or whatever. Keith Moliné's electronically treated guitars fill the gaps and Andy Diagram demonstrate that trumpets can be a viable substitute for bass and drums although the trumpets seldom sounds like trumpets here. When the trio is about to conquer the throne of rock'n'roll, they calm down tremendously with "Little Sister", the frailest melancholic ballad imaginable with nasal growling vocals.

The rest of the songs sound more experimental at first, some harsh and hard, others laid-back and resigned. They demand more time and didn't quite fit for me until I found the lyrics at the Pere Ubu site. David Thomas seems particularly interested in liquids on this album: especially rain, but also rivers, tears, blood and alcohol. Soda Mountain, wherever that may be, is present in two of the songs. The earlier obsession with the darker side of Beach Boys and Brian Wilson are not as dominating as on Meadville and 2001's Surf's Up! But I guess "Golden Surf" gives a glimpse of the ongoing theme. Bob Dylan is also represented, in "Sad Eyed Lowlands", a bleak reflection of Mr. Zimmerman's closing track of his Blonde On Blonde album, less fragmented than the Thomas-Moliné composition "Highway 61 Revisited" off D.T. and the pale ones debut album Erewhon.

"Brunswick Parking Lot" and "Prepare For The End" seem to be the central epic pieces of the album. The lyrics of the former was printed on the sleeve of Erewhon in 1996 and seem to indicate some long-range master plan. It is a painful recall of a long lost teenage friend or sweetheart sparsely accompanied by the melodeon with the occasional guitar and trumpet. "Prepare For The End", naturally the final song of the album, is a restrained perverted blues number, sort of. Steadily climbing higher and higher upon Soda Mountain. The echoed trumpet and electronically prepared guitar gives me the shivers. The song somehow gives reverberations of Lars von Trier's theatrically constructed film Dogville. Maybe the village Dogville was built upon Soda Mountain? Well, that is until the closing guitar chords of the song turn from eclectic to highly electric and sweeps it all away.

In "Numbers Man" Prof. Thomas declares 'I got a little bit of soul - call it rock'n'roll, I count 15 monkeys on a dead man's chest, Pour another drink and I'll discount the rest'. I wonder what happened to the missing 3 monkeys. It's only one of the minor mysteries you might delve into on the latest offering by David Thomas & Two Pale Boys.

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