Review of Pere Ubu's album Long Live Pere Ubu with Sarah Jane Morris
A little history first. Pere Ubu formed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1975 and along with fellow weirdists Devo - from neighbouring Akron - they formed the vanguard of a process which creatively spawned both the post punk and industrial movements. Ubu frontman David Thomas had little time for British punk, either for what he saw as its traditional rock-based structures, or for the reflexivity of its anarchist agenda. The son of a professor, Thomas in fact saw Pere Ubu as art using noise as a medium, an approach exemplified by soundscapes like 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, in which the band over six chaotic minutes attempted to create the 'Total sonic environment' of American bomber crews as they set off to destroy the Japanese capital in 1945. Ubu's first two albums - The Modern Dance and Dub Housing - were released within seven months of each other in 1978, ushering in an alien environment of emaciated guitar minimalism, one which also used synthesisers in a provocatively reduced way, mocking it's virtuoso history via the likes of Rick Wakeman.
Whilst Devo soldiered on in ever decreasing creative circles after their contribution to the tumlut, Q.Are We Not Men A. We Are Devo! Thomas and co. rejected any suggestion of commercialising their sound and joining the burgeoning 'New Wave'. Instead, with a revolving cast personnel they've remained the very definition of a cult act, dallying with pop on their own terms on the likes of 1989's Cloudland, but living true to a go anywhere, do anything aesthetic which has it's roots in the era that spawned them.
So to Long Live Pere Ubu, in which the band has come full circle - their name was taken from the central character in Alfred Jarry's bilious, absurdist nineteenth century play Ubu-Roi, Thomas drawing similarities with the essential ugliness of both parties. Inspired by the play, Long Live.. is essentially an avant garde light opera of sorts, but I'll let the sleeve notes set the context for you: 'Pere Ubu is a fat toad. His wife, Mere Ubu is a grotesque harpy. They are French. Pere Ubu is right hand hand man to Venceslas, King of Poland. Mere Ubu questions his ambition. Ubu kills the king, grabs the throne and loots the kingdom'. And so on. Ubu's wife is played by Sarah Jane Morris, who your mum may remember in 80's prole-poppers The Communards, but this record is far, far from the beaten track she trod then. A cacophonous mix of over the top theatrical dialogue and smeary electronic stabs, it's what your teacher would euphemistically call a 'Challenging' listen. And then some.
Massive kudos must go to Cooking Vinyl for having the balls to release Long Live Pere Ubu, a record which will try the open-mindedness of the band's most ardent long term supporters. And equal props should be awarded to Thomas for conceptualising it, because as uncompromising as it is to listen to, there are few people in the mainstream's periphery who can lay claim to releasing such an anti-careerist work this decade. Bravo.