Pere Ubu - Carnival Of Souls - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pere Ubu - Carnival Of Souls

by Jim Harris Rating:9 Release Date:2014-09-08

Whenever you hear of a band being 'experimental' it usually translates as occasionally 'hard to listen to'. Pere Ubu is no exception and they’ve been more than occasionally hard to listen to since they started in 1975.

Not that I’ve listened to them that long - I was first quite puzzled by an album I borrowed from a college friend in the early 90s called Cloudland, which seemed, in retrospect, a synth-pop album processed through studio musicians from an insane asylum. I loved Cloudland and it did produce their one and only pop hit (number six on Billboard) ‘Waiting for Mary’. 

If you really want a taste of what primary musician/singer David Thomas was all about back then please check out the YouTube video of the Saturday Night Live performance. There you’ll see a David singing and dancing crazily around a microphone and looking and singing like a cross between John Belushi and Joe Cocker. But the main attraction for me of that video is a youngish Deborah Harry in a black mini-skirt shaking and singing backup. Those were the days.

Pere Ubu is still around and Dave Thomas is still the primary songwriter/singer, still surrounding himself with mellotrons, clarinets, and tin buckets to create eerie bad-sci-fi movie backdrops to scary poetic exercises that accentuate his unique high-pitched voice and delivery, sometimes reminiscent of what Tom Waits might sound like after a kick in the nuts and a shot or two of nitrous oxide.

Carnival of Souls is the latest release by Pere Ubu and it rocks. David Thomas would like to think of his music as avant-garage, but there is very little garage here but plenty of avant. This is a spooky, cool album. 

The sing-speak Thomas brings to such songs as ‘Vision of the Moon’ and ‘Carnival’ is brilliant at capturing this heartfelt mood and sound (as if it’s the heart of someone else that has just been ripped out of their chest with a meat cleaver and scissors and thrown onto a kitchen table). His voice and delivery of these dark, deliberate lyrics is riveting. It works on all the levels he is reaching for. You wrap such visually and lyrically arresting songs inside the opening synth-rocker, ‘Golden Surf II’, and the ending jam, ‘Brother Ray’, and throw in potential classics such as ‘Irene’, and Carnival of Souls is as good as anything this band has delivered in the last few decades.

There is no doubt David Thomas is the soul-force behind Pere Ubu. As the last remaining original member, and the most memorable member regardless, he has kept the weird, avant-garde rock music of Pere Ubu alive and well with Carnival of Souls. It’s been almost 40 years since the first Pere Ubu album, so David and company have to be commended for still cranking it out. Just leave a light on during some of the songs…

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