Lady From Shanghai
Not many artists can do unsettled and unsettling well – and have you pleased to be hearing it. But Pere Ubu’s latest – and, I guess you could call it a return to form, it’s certainly a thrill to take in, and in some way reminds/ranks with their best work – does that on several occasions. There’s dark humour, dry humour, absurdist humour – sometimes all within the one song, like the opener, Thanks, which has David Thomas coldly crooning “you can go to hell” to the tune of You Can Ring My Bell.
That and second track, Free White, are both over within the first five minutes of the record – and you’re intrigued. And hooked. Baffling, bitter, strange and delightful alternative pop gems.
But it’s the fourth tune, Mandy, that really gets me. You imagine a Daniel Johnston-in-full-Laurie-stalker-mode crossed with Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade character, riding the bus, putrid thoughts slowly, cruelly announced ; you can imagine it all framed by David Lynch – in fact there’s something here that is reminiscent of Lynch’s own album from a couple of years ago.
And across other songs, Musicians Are Scum, The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed, Lampshade Man, 414 Seconds and closer, The Carpenter Sun, Thomas and crew play – expertly – with that tension; with the manipulation of it. Absurdities are twisted in on themselves and it’s about as creepy and captivating as when you first heard Ween singing about spinal meningitis getting them down.
Also, Lady From Shanghai, though its own beast entirely, sits alongside recent (new) albums by Magazine, Wire and Pop Will Eat Itself, Devo too perhaps (though that one slightly removed, a wrung down) as all showcase a return to form from an era that is both a continuation and no surprise at all and a new revelation/set of revelations, a darkly moving surprise.
A record that is captivating in its creepiness, downright baffling at times and boldly/starkly beautiful, Lady From Shanghai did all the things that you could want a new album from a pack of experimental post-punkers with a nearly-40 year career to do, it sold me on the first listen, it had me straight back to The Modern Dance and other highlights (including early career overview, Terminal Tower) and it’s had me returning – again and again – to hit play on this new record. An album that should satiate the cult, add to it slightly and continue to live on across the years to come, it’s almost irrelevant entirely that it was released in 2013. This could have come out at any time since 2002’s St Arkansas.