If the idea that Pere Ubu was able to receive a major label contract from Chrysalis records in the late 70’s sounds crazy, then equally as crazy is the fact that the same band attempted to release a relatively mainstream record after they signed with another major label-Polydor/Mercury-in the late 80’s.
Cocaine is a helluva drug!
For those of you who are familiar with
Ohio’s Pere Ubu, then the idea of a
commercially acceptable Pere Ubu album is in itself akin to saying you have the
cure for cancer in your pocket. For those of you not familiar with Pere Ubu, a
brief overview is in order.
The band released an album called Dub Housing in 1978 (on Chrysalis) that sounds like it was recorded in an alternate universe circa 2063. The band is comprised of weirdo musicians who look at notes like they’re hierogliphics and they’re fronted by a large vocalist who sometimes appears to be mentally unstable. One of my favorite songs by Pere Ubu finds this frontman, David Thomas, uttering in a sweetly bizarre falsetto voice “The birdies are singing! The birdies are singing what I want to sing!”
Fast forward to 1988-or rewind as the case may be-and there’s the impossible notion that Pere Ubu released Cloudland on that major label with the hopes that someone beyond their core audience of a few thousand brave souls will find an appeal enough to catapult the band into a second wind of cult status.
Cloudland doesn’t sound like it was recorded in 2063. It, like much of that decade, sounds like it was recorded in the mid-80’s, but there’s enough random bizarreness that the record transcends the typical hermetical seal of the 80’s and sounds properly off in its own polished sheen.
The lead-off single was “Waiting For Mary,” an incredible catchy college radio track that begins with ambient crowd noise and a ticking clock before some properly rehearsed guitars encroach on a veri. “Welcome to Mars! It’s open all hours!” declares Thomas as he delivers what is Pere Ubu’s only potential radio smash. And I’ll admit, it should have been a contender.
Even in this incredibly docile state, there’s nothing that can prevent Pere Ubu from sounding a bit off. Listen to “Waiting For Mary” a little closer, and you’ll discover that those soundscapes that kicked off the track are prevelant and get weirder as the song progresses. Behind everything up front, you’ll hear seagulls and layers of blips and beeps that serve no other purpose than because Pere Ubu has a band member that’s in charge of blips and beeps.
Or take their cover of “Sloop John B,” the Beach Boys classic that gets retitled as “
here. It starts off familiar enough in a quick tempoed before changing into a musing of bygone eras,
just like you see Neil Sedaka shelling on late night tv. Thomas talks about the
“first mate” and his attempt to soothe her with “Don’t cry baby, don’t fly in a
rage/I’ll tell you a story ‘bout the golden age/thirty cents a gallon, the
super highway/You could fly like the wind through the hollow of day.” By the
end, the John B sails all the way to Reno,
where Thomas admits “Them good days are gone.”
But they’re not all gone here, even with this compelling attempt at narrowing Pere Ubu’s focus and corralling their attentions like some mid-career Adderall. Cloudland points out that while it does sound like the band has been tethered to the ground somewhat, they’re still floating out there, ready to snap the string and flutter above us.