Pere Ubu – Trouble On Big Beat Street (Cherry Red)

Pere Ubu – Trouble On Big Beat Street (Cherry Red)

Nearly four years ago, when talking of their last album, The Long Goodbye, I said “…it’s like I’ve never been away, with the driving tempo & bizarre backdrop that is so familiar to Pere Ubu.”I was referring to their 2009 album Long Live Pere Ubu, a record I had become intimately familiar with when riding the tube in London, around the time of its release. Well, I’m very glad to say that they continue to explore the bizarre place between waking and sleeping, on their new album Trouble On Big Beat Street. This 17-track affair- that’s right, I said 17 tracks- presents numbers from ‘Love Is Like Gravity’ to ‘Goodnight’ and embraces you like a friend. No matter how strange these compositions are, they are songs that will find a place in your heart.

Like a sped-up Tom Waits, frontman David Thomas offers a score that possesses an unease, which changes tempo and scale. Thomas offers his narration of this story- a story in which the listener can become totally immersed- it’s unlike anything else heard outside a Pere Ubu number. To my ears this is delightful. Numbers where jazz meets the alternative, with vocals sung through a microphone bought on eBay, dating back to the 1920s. Well, this is what I have in my mind’s eye. The vocals are so scratchy- they are almost unintelligible. The horns (or more likely synthesiser) are bent in an offbeat manner. It seems like the whole band has been sent to the fun fair and is riding the waltzer. As the vocalist looks on, the bass drum thump, thumps, thumps.

‘Nyah Nyah Nyah’ is an instance, where childlike patter greets the ears, as electronic scales accompany the lyrics. The protagonist tells us he has “…gum on his shoes…”, bizarre enough, then “…I just swallowed a bug off you…” David, how old are you? The next number is like venturing through the looking glass, although this time “Across the Mississippi on US 49,” That is where the crossroads blues legend Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil.

This is a history lesson, painted on a strange musical canvas and, as the listener, I feel like I am on the birth of something great. Naïve in its presentation, this tale is from ‘Worried Man Blues’, has a searing guitars soaring through its skies, as ’Satan’s Hamster’ pokes his nose out of the Marshall cabinets. I can’t say I’d ever thought about whether that Satan possessed a pet- a hound maybe, but a hamster?

Next, I have to mention the cover of The Osmonds ‘Crazy Horses’, from the brother’s 1972 album of the same name. This has found its way into musical history and covered by bands from The Mission, Electric Six, Lawnmower Deth, Westlife and beyond, as well as being sampled by Pop Will Eat Itself, and Pere Ubu’s version stands in fine fettle. This variation is another simply awesome piece in the band’s history. An example of Pere’s learning of Jazz is ‘Sleep’ as the album progresses further toward its conclusion. This sleepy number, chock-full of bass guitar, saxophone, and a tapping rhythm, again tells a story that features Herp Alpert, then finds itself at ‘From Adam’.

Here, Thomas paraphrases the much-used term “…I don’t know you from Adam, ” with electronics providing a backdrop and pacesetter to the garbled vocal that then ensues. As mentioned earlier, the track ‘Goodnight’ closes proceedings, as the saxophone provides its blanket, and the vocalist offers a verbal goodnight to his listeners. As this finishes as abruptly as it began, it leaves me thinking, I don’t see this scaling the heights that might suggest commercial success. Instead, it will nestle in the hearts, minds, and record collections of the converted. Of these I am pleased to say I am one, thank you David and band, and Goodnight.

Pere Ubu and the Home of Ubu Projex

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