Pere Ubu - Lady From Shanghai

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2013-01-21

The 17th album from legendary art-rockers Pere Ubu has been widely hailed as their best since since early masterpieces The Modern Dance and Dub Housing. While that is debatable, it certainly doesn't sound like the work of a venerable band resting on their laurels. Main-man David Thomas remains almost evangelical about the importance of pushing sonic and compositional boundaries in the name of art, and the likes of 'And the Nothing Happened', which unravels from jerky but melodic post-punk into a musique concrete muddle of sirens, bells and scrapes, mean Lady From Shanghai is as challenging a record as Pere Ubu have ever crafted.

The keeps things fresh, this album was put together through a form of musical 'Chinese whispers', with band members recording their parts in isolation. However, the excellent musicianship on show means that Lady From Shanghai hangs together very well for the most part, remaining taut and tense rather than self-indulgent. 'Musicians Are Scum', for example, is as confrontational as its title suggests, with Thomas sneering Iggy Pop-style, "I looked in your eyes/ I said I will ruin your life" over clipped, menacing guitar and guttural, insinuating synth.

However, while the continually shifting, downright malevolent electro-punk of 'The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed' recalls the uneasy listening of David Lynch's Crazy Clown Time, elsewhere Pere Ubu display a lightness of touch, even a sense of humour, within their own warped idiom: the opening 'Thanks' is a sci-fi experimental reworking of Anita Ward's disco classic 'Ring My Bell', with Thomas replacing the word of the chorus with a sour wail of "You can go to hell". This is not a band which has mellowed one iota since their late-70s conception but it is, you sense, a band still enjoying its own perverse sense of fun.

Throughout the album, spidery post-punk guitar and dogged bass and drums are mixed expertly with electronica. Sometimes, as on the lurching 'Free White', it almost sounds like two different pieces of music overlaid, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work. It's just makes for a bloody difficult listen and, as with David Bowie's 1. Outside or Scott Walker's recent Bish Bosch, you'll either want to put the work in or you won't.

Like The Fall, Pere Ubu are a band which has survived numerous line-up changes, always steered by the singular vision of one difficult bugger, impervious to fashion or fad. Like The Fall, it's always best for new listeners to go back to the band's early classics, but each new record presents a reasonable jumping on point in that 'always different, always the same' way. Lady From Shanghai certainly falls into the category. Beneath the confusion, songs such as 'Lampshade Man' are built on sturdy garage-rock foundations. You just have to lock into that groove. If you've yet to discover Pere Ubu, get this album and The Modern Dance. You'll have a blast.

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