Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pere Ubu - Dub Housing

I “rescued” Pere Ubu’s Dub Housing from a radio station, where it stayed locked up and forgotten until my efforts came into play.

And for years, I never really understood why I kept it. It’s a difficult album, and I rarely played it. Even though I initially didn’t “get” what the band-or specifically this album-was all about, at least I had the common sense of keeping it. I thought that if I gave it some more time, I would someday discover what it was about this band that had so many glowing reviews.

When I heard “Non-Alignment Pact” and “Final Solution,” two early singles from this weird band from Cleveland, I began to warm up. And thanks to the accessibility of Cloudland, I was beginning to piece together the complex stitch work of Pere Ubu, and before long, I was ready to tackle Dub Housing again.

I still didn’t get it.

Dub Housing is the band’s second full-length, and it’s a hard thing to understand how they could get an album like this on a major label. Yes, they were on the Chrysalis records roster-right next to Nick Gilder and Jethro Tull-during a time when you could get away with something like that.

And I still can’t believe how this, an album that took me so many years to figure out, found it’s way onto the label during the year 1978.

It sold horribly, or so I’ve read, and those promotional copies sent to radio stations probably all ended up in a dumpster instead of hidden away in a back shelf like my copy.

I can’t tell what exactly turned me around. Maybe it was those years of listening to Captain Beefheart records, secretly prepping me for things that didn’t always make sense. But when it finally took hold, I discovered that Pere Ubu was indeed a national treasure and Dub Housing their most vital release.

Don’t let me scare you off: there are actual songs here, and you can get a taste of both the bizarre and the traditional song structure that mixes together with opener “Navvy,” a bouncy, angular guitar pattern made positively normal when Allen Ravenstine comes in with his bag of beeps, blips, and scratchy noises.

If Ravenstine never played keyboards on any other album besides Dub Housing, he’d still deserve a place as one of the all time greatest keyboardists. There is very little in his playing that constitutes traditional structure, yet the minimalist technique and endless barrage of strange sounds is positively groundbreaking. He has a fondness for both the typical garage rock organ tones of the 60’s and a healthy quest to create the most bizarre sounds known to man, in other words, a perfect addition for a band that’s already very adapt at making left hand turns.

Dub Housing features some of vocalist David Thomas’ most manic and memorable offerings. From crazed voices of repeated phrases (“Walked around/Took a bus/Walked around/Took a bus”) to just a bunch of noises made with his mouth, Thomas does not let his limitations deter his skewed sense of art.

He is one of the reasons why I never gave up on this record. And even though it took me several years to get there, I finally relented an began singing the chorus of “Navvy” with much conviction, joining Pere Ubu with their declaration “Boy, that sounds swell!”

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