Lady From Shanghai is Pere Ubu’s 15th studio album of a 37-year career (discounting a five-year break in the 1980s). These ornery Cleveland outsiders inherited most of their sonically difficult qualities from wobbling ’n’ quavering vocalist David Thomas, who has been their only constant member. They’re like a fantasy stateside twin of The Fall, mirroring as Thomas does the key presence of an equally uncompromising Mark E. Smith.
The opening Thanks steals from Anita Ward’s Ring My Bell, although only barely, amidst spurtings of electro-percussion, elasticated bass and sample matter. Thomas boasts with deathly irony, coated with a bitter, twisting streak.
The dominant force of these songs is one of detailed sonic transgression, caught in a presumably intentional boxy, hard-edged production. Stripped and brutal, the dense repetitions are full of vocal stutter-snippets.
Robert Wheeler is the chief electronics contributor, but Thomas has increased his own role in this zone. Further digital tweaks are added by the mysterious Gagarin, who also plays piano and organ. The familiar hands of guitarist Keith Moliné and drummer Steve Mehlman are also in place.
Mandy is a more conventional song, eerily romantic in its unsettling manner. And Then Nothing Happened enters a more abstract industrial zone, Thomas subsequently sounding absolutely forlorn and resigned during Musicians Are Scum. Lampshade Man is more of a rocker, revolving around a persistent guitar riff, surrounded by abrasive electronic textures.
Pere Ubu continue their established method of song interference to its bitter conclusion, permanently scarred by accumulated collage effects. The “rocking” continues with the jabbing and jolting 414 Seconds, and the album concludes with the most extreme abstraction of The Carpenter Sun.
The tunes, riffs and words might not be quite as impressive as those from the days of yore, but this is still a very arresting example of sonic art: tense and deranged, savage and serrated. Pere Ubu have frequently varied the ratios between pop song and avant attack, and this latest statement rises up towards the latter extreme.
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