A creative leader in rock and New Wave in the ’70s and ’80s, Cleveland’s Pere Ubu has spent the past two decades perfecting its disappearing and reappearing act. In that time, singer David Thomas, the only member who’s been there from the start, and the experimental rock band have swapped line-ups and quietly turned out solid records that fly under the critical radar like clockwork with every release.
Pere Ubu is no stranger to concept albums, most recently illuminated by St. Arkansas, 2002’s tale of a highway trucker who fatally loses his grip on reality. Lady From Shanghai—the most recent in the band’s just-over-37-year existence—is Pere Ubu’s “dance” album. No, there are no “bangers,” no heartbeat bass, nothing trendy that will appeal to club kids. From the herky-jerky instrumentation on “Mandy” to the threatening metronome-backed voice-over of “Musicians Are Scum” (“I looked in your eyes/I will ruin your life” drones Thomas) and through the halting staccato guitar on single “414 Seconds,” Lady From Shanghai is a sinister No Wave transmission in an intentionally frightening hall of mirrors.
If this isn’t obvious from the minute of the album, Thomas clarifies on his site: “Smash the hegemony of dance. The dancer is the puppet to the dance. It’s past time somebody puts an end to this abomination. Lady From Shanghai is dance music fixed.”
Plainly, the fix is to momentarily give DJs a pass and to hold court in experimental rock’s castle of creeps. There is a blood on the dance floor at this party, and it sounds so refreshing.