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Père UbuPère Ubu
Album: 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo
Label: Cherry Red
Tracks: 12

The album title conjures one of those bleak and deserted disused post-nuclear-age industrial units beloved of latter-day film noir plots. The music is quintessential Pere Ubu - typically uneasy listening, bizarre post-punk. The band now contains just one of its original members: this has to be singer and creator extraordinaire, main-man David Thomas. And glory be, we're still right there in the world of the first three or four Pere Ubu LPs, an edgy juxtaposition of intense, nervy proto-garage and unsettlingly weird avant-garde experimentation. And this blend still has the power to sound radical, the power to seriously unsettle the listener. I feel sure no other band is able to do that on successive albums recorded 40 years apart; Ubu may have gone away on different jaunts in the intervening years, but Thomas has returned to the fray with a vengeance, and the miracle is that the band's new album retains the uncompromisingly unusual sound and maverick spirit of albums like The Modern Dance and Dub Housing yet doesn't sound like self-pastiche but instead constitutes a fresh artistic statement. The key contribution made by engineer Paul Hamann (who, sadly, died just a short time ago) may help to account for the consistent ambience of the recording that defines Ubu as inhabiting its own musical world.

There's a feeling at the start, though, that even the tightest, tautest of trademark Ubu mutant guitar-based riffing thrash with strange and disorienting synth interjections might not quite engage, since the first four tracks are pithy in the extreme: short, snappy numbers lasting two minutes or less, barely started before they're over. Just as you're getting a touch impatient, though, things take a turnabout with the scary fifth track, The Healer, that the pace slackens and more menacing atmospherics get a look in, a dimension where claustrophobic contradictions abound. Thereafter it's more substantial fare, if still something of a fantastic switchback ride: Howl is nothing less than a Beefheartian homage to Howlin' Wolf; the wiry Red Eye Blues fairly motors along like vintage Stranglers; Walking Again brings terrifyingly deranged entreaties in its extraordinary vocalisations; the sinister angular plod of I Can Still See posits a disturbing vision through a haze of burbling radio static, and the deep-throat twang of the album closer is an audibly tangible expression of its title Cold Sweat. Thomas himself may think of the album as "The James Gang teaming up with Tangerine Dream; or something like that", but though he takes on Joe Walsh's Funk 49 early on this melange this gives little clue as to what it's really all about in the end. For illumination regarding the lyrics of the rest of the songs, visit the Ubu website, where full texts are to be had - and much else besides. But enigmatic to the last, and still literally unique - that's the Ubu brand. And we wouldn't want it any other way.

David Kidman