Pere Ubu - Lady From Shanghai

Sound collages meet with jittery uncertain beats and undulating bass lines.

Label: Fire Records

Rating: 7

Marking 35 years since their landmark debut album ‘The Modern Dance’, Pere Ubu’s first studio recording in three years is a suitably abstruse, challenging and dense record, and yet another example of how Pere Ubu remain at the very peak of experimental avant rock.

The Pere Ubu of 2012 may have entirely different personnel than in 1976 with only founder member and sonic visionary David Thomas remaining, but in terms of ideology and commitment to making progressive music that challenges and, at times, unsettles their audience they remain as relevant as ever. ‘Lady From Shanghai’ is, we’re told, is an album of dance music. Dance music from Pere Ubu’s ever so slightly warped mind, that is. It’s perversely their most coherent and lucid collection of songs in decades. They all have recognisable forms and structures but there is a distended abstract quality present throughout that startles and enthrals.

Sound collages meet with jittery uncertain beats and undulating bass lines; a sinister malevolence-filled groove haunts the record, and especially the foreboding, icily synth led ‘Mandy’, where Thomas’ strangulated vocal pleas of ‘Won’t you come out to play with me Mandy’ is particularly disquieting.

The one thing you can be certain with on any Pere Ubu album is a fluidity of sound. ’And Then Nothing Happened’ is a standout track, showing how the band switch between styles. Its jerky stop-start rhythm comes to a juddering halt as the whole song seizes up like an electrical malfunction before static discordant noise bubbles away until it finishes. It is a striking and brilliant juxtaposition.

Pere Ubu have always been a band that are difficult to analyze, particularly lyrically. ‘Lady From Shanghai’ is no exception, as oblique references and non-sequitors abound. ‘Lampshade Man’ has a ghostly hum that sees Thomas howling, “The truth hurts.” You shudder to think what he may be referring to. There is one moment of dark humour though to lighten the tone on the excellently titled, ‘Musicians Are Scum’ his voice drips with disdain as he sings, “I thought I’d made this clear from day 1.’

Anyone unfamiliar with Pere Ubu’s oeuvre may find ‘Lady From Shanghai’ uncompromising and impenetrable. For them to release an album that’s not slightly difficult though would be extremely dull. You expect to be shocked and challenged. In that respect, this is a resounding success.