Music Reviews
Lady from Shanghai

Pere Ubu Lady from Shanghai

(Fire Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

I’ve been struggling with some back problems for about a year now, forcing me to dine regularly on a cocktail of anti-inflammatories and pain killers.  Usually, my body seems to process these without noticeable side effects, but the other day, while listening to Pere Ubu’s new album, they hit me with a vengeance.  As the seven minute Mandy played on my iPod, I was struck by a loopiness so extreme and distracting that I actually felt something akin to physical pain.  Why wouldn’t this song stop!?  I fumbled instinctively for the player, practically slamming the pause button with my forefinger.  I had to leave work and go home to sleep it off for two and a half hours.

As I said, I blame the drugs, not my beloved Pere, whose most vital music from the late 70s makes my adrenalin surge, not my melatonin. Yet the new album is a tough nut to crack.  Ubu’s music has always been a little thorny, with the delightful weirdness of singer David Thomas leading the way. I’m sure they’ve always acknowledged a debt to Captain Beefheart, the grandpappy of well-crafted insanity, but on several songs from Lady from Shanghai, the influence becomes almost homage. Take the angular, off kilter guitar riff from Lampshade Man, which sounds like an outtake from Doc at the Radar Station. Add a nasty dose of white noise and you have Pere Ubu, making it their own. I haven’t kept up with everything they’ve done in the past twenty years, but it seems as if their penchant for mischievous, irritating noisemaking has only grown in strength. Sometime in the 80s they dipped their toe in poppier waters coming up with tunes like We Have the Technology, which you could almost imagine being a minor hit with the right promotion that the band never got.  But all that seems a minor diversion, as the new album picks up in bizarreness, where 1979’s New Picnic Time left off.  I’m not going to lie, there’s not a lot here to really enjoy in any conventional sense. The opener, Thanks, with its repeated declaration, you can go to hell, go to hell, is about as catchy as things get. Most of the time, Thomas is doing his best to be as creepy and grating as possible.  On Musicians are Scum, he sounds like the one night stand that quickly turns out to be a big mistake - you don’t remember, but I do.  Yiiiick.

The whole presentation is awful in a way that requires the utmost integrity, which I respect. But it’s really, really difficult to recommend, unless somewhere in your library Metal Machine Music gets an occasional spin. If so, this might be for you. It’s nowhere near as annoying, despite my physically manifest aversion to it, but it definitely is not trying to please you, or make you comfortable, or even happy in any way. Ubu is trying to get under your skin.  For this reviewer, mission accomplished.