5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Still Pretty Much Unique,
This review is from: The Modern Dance (Audio CD)
My abiding memory of Pere Ubu will always be seeing them take to the stage at London's Roundhouse in 1978 (as support to Graham Parker and The Rumour) looking more like a hotchpotch of New York (I guess that should be Cleveland, Ohio) winos than a 'rock' band, and then to be even more astonished as Allen Ravenstine proceeded to set up his 'instruments' (what appeared to be a collection of prehistoric synthesisers) on something resembling a school desk! Of course, at that time I, like 95% (or so) of the crowd, were none the wiser to the exhortations of the select few who were encouraging the band to play the song (and probably their ultimate creative masterpiece) Final Solution (which they never did).
Listening now, 35 years on (and having only just got round to replacing my vinyl version of The Modern Dance with the CD version), I'm equally amazed at how fresh, inspiring and, yes, unique the 'record' still sounds. How can it (or maybe why need it) be categorised (avant-garde punk, maybe) and where did it come from? Whatever, it is clear to me that this band sowed their seeds of influence widely (knowingly or otherwise) - Joy Division and The Pixies immediately spring to mind. Song-wise, the album is made up of a mix of proto-punk (but more sophisticated than one chord) wonders, some sublime (ethereal even) ballads and just some downright weird songs, all peppered with David Thomas' idiosyncratically poetic, witty and broadly romantic lyrics. Each of Nonalignment Pact, Street Waves and Life Stinks are pretty much straight-ahead punk gems (with Tony Maimone's bass and Scott Krauss' drums to the fore), Modern Dance, Chinese Radiation and Over My Head are ballads (albeit uniquely Pere Ubu-style ballads) featuring some characteristically tender vocals by David Thomas, whilst Laughing, Real World and Sentimental Journey defy any conventional musical style or genre. On the other hand, the album's closer (and my favourite track) Humor Me mixes all of the aforementioned styles, and is simply a sub-three minute classic.
But what pervades the entire album (and sets it apart from almost any other), of course, is the band's unique approach to rhythm and noise accompaniment. Not only are the band's conventional instruments used to set up some brilliantly vibrant and infectious (at times, reggae and/or jazz-like) rhythms, but Ravenstine's synthesisers and tapes are used to create sounds as diverse as steam whistles, screeching cats, wind tunnels, smashing bottles and various beeps and blips, thereby creating a unique percussive soundscape. On first hearing The Modern Dance it would be quite easy to be put off by the album's level of dissonance - however, repeated listens reveal the work's hidden depths of rhythm, dynamics and melody.
I would go as far as to describe The Modern Dance as a seminal album of its era, and one that is essential to any music collection.