Pere Ubu: Lady From Shanghai
Since 1975 Pere Ubu has been horrifying and entertaining fans with their experimental and darkly artistic musical style. With this new year comes a new album: Lady From Shanghai. If you’re unfamiliar with Pere Ubu, you’re in for a treat. Lead by David Thomas, the band is something of an auditory sci-fi freak show. There’s nothing here alarming or revolting, but the music simply feels off in an unexplainable manner –it simply puts the listener on edge, in fear of the horror stories your parents told you as a child. Really it’s as if an occult hand reached out from the darkest corner of a recording studio, tinkered with some recordings, maybe scribbled on some sheet music, and never told a soul. Regardless of what it is which sets such a strange atmosphere, Pere Ubu’s Lady From Shanghai is one hell of a crazy album.
It all starts with, “Thanks;” from the very first track of the album you’re engulfed in a myriad of seemingly mismatched yet coherent instrumental parts. David Thomas’ distinctive voice is shocking and unsettling; it’s almost like those animal abuse awareness commercials. It’s there, you know it’s there, but you just want to ignore it because of how it makes you feel. Lady From Shanghai is relentless in this manner, and the fourth track, “Mandy,” actually sounds like it could be some sort of soundtrack for a horror film. David Thomas sings, “Won’t you come out to play with me Mandy? Won’t you come out to play?” but as a worried listener, one has to wonder why Mandy would want to come out in the first place. Another particular track to stand out is, “The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed.” The song has a menacing yet bluesy feel, and perhaps that hint of blues is what sells it, creating a more human side to an otherwise monstrous album.
Unfortunately, obscure and new are not synonymous with endless hours of musical entertainment. Lady From Shanghai is something of an art piece that you see in a museum, stare at for a minute, and then walk away from, not to visit again until you’re feeling a hint of nostalgia for it. The harsh reality is that Pere Ubu’s newest album really doesn’t have any sort of replay album. Sure it isn’t a pop album or something of the such, but is certainly some of the more accessible avant-garde music out there–and given some of the oddballs that have emerged in the musical world–it feels as though Pere Ubu needs to find something new, something even more disturbing. Instrumentally, there isn’t much going on, and David Thomas isn’t some sort of masterful raconteur –understanding every little line of lyrics in the album would prove rather tedious if not partially impossible. If you’re a Pere Ubu veteran, maybe this is the album you’ve been waiting for. But for the average listener, and especially considering Pere Ubu have been around the block a few times, and should know how to present something new and interesting, this is all just beating a dead horse.
Maybe harsh noise or field recordings are a bit too difficult for the majority of people out there to get into, and maybe that’s where Pere Ubu comes in. In about 38 years they haven’t changed much, and while Lady From Shanghai may not be some sort of groundbreaking material, it’s still neat, and it’s true to the Pere Ubu way. If you’re looking for a simple change from the usual rock formula, Pere Ubu is for you, and Lady From Shanghai is a great way to introduce yourself to the band. It’s an artistic, avant-garde rock piece, and it’s uneasy atmosphere and intriguing themes are truly what defines it.
Pere Ubu is a pioneer in avant-garde and new wave music, and truly an undefinable breed of a band. To compare them to any other band would be a joke, and defining Lady From Shanghai is difficult; the album is as strange as the 1977 film, Eraserhead, and somehow it still makes sense. On the other hand, after all the atmospheric fun, the album becomes kind of boring. While it may be a one-and-done sort of deal, Lady From Shanghai may be the experimental album to inspire a new generation of avant-garde musicians.
MP3: Pere Ubu “Thanks”
Buy: iTunes or Insound!