on 8 September 2010
The single best album of 1988, yes, the greatest album of 1988: Pere Ubu's 'The Tenement Year'. A magnificent, irresistibly tuneful experiment, with shards of Allen Ravenstine's synth splintering the sound, making it all the more powerfully arresting. If they're avant-garage, then be astounded by the sound on the 2007 reissue that is as brilliant, in clarity terms as you'll find anywhere on anything. And in the case of this album, there's actually reason for clarity, with so much going on. If free jazz and punk are miles and miles apart, then you have this album as a single unimpeachable pop interface between the two. The extras that come with the reissue aren't up to much, but when peak Pere Ubu sound like they are in the next room, if only your next room was a fully equipped studio, then the clarity that is part of the package is enough.
on 31 October 2008
A reformed and re-invigorated Pere Ubu launched 'The Tenement Year' on a largely uninterested public back in 1987. Newcomers to the band (who may have seen them on 'The Tube') were possibly put off by a distinctly non-visual band whose music sounded just the wrong side of accessible. Yet many remembered the Pere Ubu of the late seventies who gave us arguably two of the greatest avant-rock albums of all time in 'The Modern Dance' and 'Dub Housing' and then proceeded to test the patience of even the most diehard fans with a string of substandard albums that lacked the imaginative soundscapes of the earlier works and were mostly bereft of charm or anything resembling a tune.
Tunes abound on 'The Tenement Year', in fact it was probably a bit too tuneful for those who wanted to hear an updated 'Modern Dance'. But these are songs - ambitious, old-fashioned, structured songs - but with an Ubu twist of strange burbling noises, David Thomas's off-kilter singing and some surprising meanderings with the arrangements - and it makes for thrilling listening. Opener 'Something's Gotta Give' starts languidly but builds up into a whirl of twin drumming which sets the tone nicely for the frenetic 'George Had a Hat' - a kind of demented surrealist manifesto with what sounds like a shouting match between a trumpet and a synth. 'Talk to Me' is one of the weaker tracks and shows the path that Ubu would take on their next (less interesting) album. 'Busman's Honeymoon' has a beautiful melody and some lovely accordian - it sounds like a classic folk song. The next bunch of tracks keep up the high standard - they're all stand-outs in their own way and show just what a tight band Ubu are, with a mastery of surprising instrumental passages that seem to come out of nowhere and then slip effortlessly back to the song. The last two tracks are just great. 'The Hollow Earth' is like an early Ubu track 'Cloud 149' with an irresistible quirky melody. The closer 'We Have The Technology' is the track that most people view as the stand out - a kind of sing-along cautionary tale of the dangers of technological advances. The music matches the sentiments perfectly, it sounds charming but skewed - a masterful example of avant-pop and the perfect ending to a fine album. It sounds just fine today, not being dogged by one of those dreadful 80's productions. A great record by the newly formed Ubu - and possibly the only one that really merits a place on the shelf next to the first two, but Ubu are still going strong and the lastest release shows they're still a force to be reckoned with.