I heard this, and the second album 'Dub Housing', when they came out. And I bought them on vinyl. But this is a review of 'The Modern Dance'.
Yes's 'Close to the Edge' was released in 1972, Emerson, Lake and Palmer's first album came out in 1970, as did King Crimson's 'In the Court of the Crimson King'. And from this background of increasingly self-referential and self-regarding 'prog rock' came two classic albums - Patti Smith's 'Horses' (1975) and this - 'The Modern Dance' (1978).
What a huge breath of fresh air! I still vividly remember the first time I heard this album. I was working in a second-hand record shop in Hull and I put it on the shop system to have a listen. It almost cleared the place.
The first track - 'Nonalignment Pact' - starts with what sounds like feedback. Definitely a sign of things to come. The vocals kick in ('kick' probably is the best word) and we're off on a musical 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' - sort of early Roxy Music on bad acid. Agonised synth squeals but still a really good beat, and a tune. Yes, you can nearly hum it.
'Laughing' had the people in the shop glancing nervously over their shoulders, as a wailing sax and chang-chang guitars gave way to a rousing chorus and then back to sad sax dribblings.
The intro to 'Over My Head' sounds remarkably like the Mexican band in 'From Dusk Till Dawn' but with synth drones, going into a hard/bright (telecaster?) guitar sound. This is a really gritty, above all urban, sound - from Cleveland, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. Just up the road from Akron. No New York 'sophistication', no west coast glitz.
The track that really cleared the shop, and sent shivers down my spine (still does), was 'Sentimental Journey'. The sound of smashing bottles, incomprehensible, aggressive drunken vocals, hideous synth sounds, quacking sax, that hard-bright guitar again. A dark, dark alley, late at night, self-disgust, nihilism. 'Pere Ubu' is a good name for this - from The Ubu Plays and the Theatre of the Absurd.
So then to 'Humor Me' - with a sense of relief! 'It's Just a Joke, Man!' Well, thanks guys.
This album is as much a rock classic as 'Horses'. It woke me up from a prog rock coma and still makes me want to start the Revolution. There's a Modern Dance.
Added 22/04/09. Following the tip mentioned in the Comments below, you might want to consider this edition: The Modern Dance