It’s a social infection: the best of Pere Ubu

Here’s to a combo that combined what looks on paper like irreconcilables: some of the most forbidding noise committed to tape and some of the friendlies and most Muppet-friendly vocals and approach. David Thomas, the shaggy and uncategorizable lead singer, was like a politician organizing coalitions, a couple of which fought in his febrile imagination. Only one band could plot the journey from the self-loathing and horror of “Final Solution” (talk about a song that realizes its title) to “Bus Called Happiness”: the three men who recorded Joy Division’s “Decades” and the three men and one woman who recorded New Order’s “Fine Time.” The early results were the closest American approximation to early Roxy Music: Allen Ravenstine manipulating tape samples and synthesizers around the junk guitar styling of Tom Herman while a batshit lead singer was oblivious to the clamor.

What follow is a more restrictive list than usual. I don’t own The Art of Walking and Song of the Bailing Man, nor have I heard David Thomas’ solo albums. I lament the end of an era when I could buy Pere Ubu reissue at Best Buy, as I did in 1998. Fifteen years after purchasing I still haven’t penetrated Dub Housing (I’d love to read good writing about it and them); ten years after purchasing Cloudland I’m impressed by the manipulation of gloss for sinister ends — imagine crunching on a razor stuck into a chocolate mint.

1. Final Solution
2. Street Wave
3. Navvy
4. Bus Called Happiness
5. The Modern Dance
6. 30 Seconds to Tokyo
7. Non-Alignment Pact
8. Codex
9. Life Stinks
10. Happy
11. Say Goodbye
12. Laughing
13. Waiting For Mary
14. We Have the Technologoy
15. Kathleen
16. Breath
17. Louisiana Train Wreck
18. My Dark Ages
19. All the Dogs Are Barking!
20. Caligari’s Mirror

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