Pere Ubu - Elitism for the People Pere Ubu 1975-78 [VINYL] - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pere Ubu - Elitism for the People Pere Ubu 1975-78 [VINYL]

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:2015-04-18

Well, Fire Records have done it again. Earlier in the year they furthered my knowledge of the ever wonderful Half Japanese with a selection of reissues, this time it’s the turn of Cleveland, Ohio’s eccentric post-punks Pere Ubu.

Elitism for the People is a huge vinyl boxset, comprising of the band’s first two ground-breaking albums, a singles collection and a 1977 live album. With David Thomas as the only constant member Pere Ubu continue to blow minds to this day. Yet if you’re looking for a starting point with one of the post-punk era’s most idiosyncratic bands you really couldn’t do better than this collection.  

Released in 1978, the band’s debut LP, The Modern Dance stands as a thrilling testament to the spirit of musical adventure around that time. Surfacing a year before The Pop Groups Y album and Joy Divisions much revered Unknown Pleasures, you can clearly hear how David Thomas and co were fully ahead of the curve from the word go.

The album mixes limber, punchy performances with an almost-Beefheart-ian appreciation for the absurd and irregular. Thomas’ over-excited vocals are frantic and fantastic from the start, just listen to the pure joy and madness in the man’s voice as he hollers, “I wanna make a deal with you girl/and get it signed by the heads of state…it’s my non-alignment pact!”

While there are more than a few brilliantly catchy, post-punk gems it’s the albums willingness to experiment that makes it such a rewarding listen. Check the squealing saxophone’s on ‘Laughing’, the creepy vibes and unexpected crowd cheers on the frankly mental ‘Chinese Radiation’ or the 6 minutes of broken glass, twisted guitar and ominous mutterings that make up ‘Sentimental Journey’. All this and they end with the catchy, almost-reggae bounce of ‘Humour Me’ with Thomas slyly singing, “It’s just a joke man!”

It’s an album that packs both a physical and cerebral punch and certainly a record that requires a few listens before it starts to make any kind of sense. It’s a brave, strange and fiercely original document and a great introduction to the Ubu’s oeuvre.

Released in November of the same year, Dub Housing shows a band confidently hitting their stride and sets the standard for the groups prolific output. The album opens with the giddy gallop of ‘Navvy’ and Thomas excitedly yelping like a man who’s just become aware of his own body, “I’ve got these arms and legs/ that flip flop/ flip flop”.

Whereas others in the post-punk world would adopt political sloganeering, Pere Ubu seemed to favour a more surrealist approach. You can certainly see an influence on the way Frank Black and the Pixies would approach things years down the line.

Thomas’ performance is enthralling throughout but Dub Housing is undoubtedly a band effort.  Multi-instrumentalists Tom Herman, Tony Maimone and Allen Ravenstine provide inventive and flexible bass, guitar, organ, synth and saxophone parts that create the albums surrealist soundscapes. Drummer, Scott Krauss provides the rocket fuel when the songs sporadically change tact halfway through.

These are songs that wilfully swing between full-on experimentalism and the surprisingly catchy; just listen to the 70’s rock, full-band chorus of ‘Caligari’s Mirror’ as they sing, “Hey hey boozie sailors!” And then listen to the woozy, off-kilter and superbly strange verse that surrounds it. "What the hell is going on?!" you may reasonably ask. That’s before we get to the sinister, wordless sound collage of ‘Thriller!’ or the throbbing electro-pulse of ‘Blow Daddy-O’. Dear reader, you’re in for a ride with this one, believe me. 

Fitting as many ideas into 35 minutes as possible, Dub Housing is a restless, constantly evolving sonic landscape that’s as challenging as it is thrilling. The band are dancing on the precipice of musical sanity and having the time of their lives in the process. Oh, and (thankfully) it’s an absolute blast to listen to as well.

The Hearpen Singles arguably contains some of Pere Ubu’s most accessible moments, revealing a band that never compromised yet knew their way around a strong, post-punk anthem. Two of these songs in particular never fail to send me into a blathering, incoherent mess; ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Final Solution’.

The fact that the Joseph Conrad referencing ‘Heart of Darkness’ originally came into the world as a 1975 B-side boggles the mind. The song pulsates and throbs with a dark magic all of its own; each tension racked second sounding desperate, otherworldly and utterly urgent. Thomas’ vocals become increasingly frantic and impassioned as the song unfurls.

1976 single ‘Final Solution’ still sounds impressively raw, almost Stooges-esque in its commitment to noisy, primal rock ‘n’ roll. The song moves from Thomas’ insecurities (“Living at night isn’t helping my complexion”) to the chorus’ gloriously defiant declaration, “I don’t need a cure/I need a final solution!” It’s a full-throated, life affirming kick in the nether regions and deserves to be mentioned alongside any ‘post-punk classic’ you could care to mention.

This epic introduction comes to an end with live document Manhattan. Recorded in 1977 at Max’s Kansas City, the six tracks here offer a chance to hear some of your new favourite songs in a live setting. There’s certainly some fine moments here but it’s probably the least essential slab of wax in this deluxe package, the recordings not quite up to the same quality as the rest of Elitism. Obviously, this isn’t such a huge loss as the mighty Pere Ubu continues to operate to this very day- go and see them live.

Taking heed of the message plastered across the front of the boxset (Design runs counter to the Pere Ubu aesthetic/Show the product/Scream in the face of the consumer….We Don’t want your fancy pants subtlety) I’ll just say this, Elitism for the People is a treasure trove of post-punk wonder and an absolutely essential trip into the terrifying and fascinating world of David Thomas and Pere Ubu. You need this. 

Comments (3)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Excellent review Andy. Fire are putting out some great stuff - Dave Cloud, Giant Sand etc..

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Cheers Rob! Yeah, Fire have got a pretty great track record really

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Man - I am more and more nostalgic for this band even though they are still around. Amazing work they have put out over the past 40 years. I saw Thomas solo once, but have got to catch the band soon. Still ferocious after all these years!

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