In the “old days” this was the point when you flipped the (then vinyl) disc over. Make no mistake it wasn't often you had the energy to do so. If you did, you were confronted by the Malcolm Mooney-esque screeching of Life Stinks.
Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance (deluxe Dual Disc reissue) (Bertus/Silverline)
Hell's teeth, review The Modern Dance... is it actually possible? I'm still not sure. I suppose what I should do before getting completely frothed at the mouth is explain what a Dual Disc is. It's a CD and a DVD in one, being flip-able like a good old vinyl. You will doubtless be aware that this new technological refinement comes with lots of add-ons, including the wondrously described ROM zone (with Windows media and AAC (iPod compatible) Oh, to be in a ROM zone, it sounds like the lands of War-Drobe or Spare Oom, does it not, Narnia fans? Anyway, the DVD has a good Ubu biography, a very enjoyable interview with Ubu supremo David Thomas and the LP in DVD & Dolby Digital too.
Right: enough aperitifs, onto the main course. The Modern Dance. Possibly thee defining moment of Post Punk, (and possibly the moment when Post Punk should really have dissolved, such is this record's crushing future/past power), and, definitely, the signpost for nearly all leftfield pop bands over the following 10 years (whether good or bad), it is still a fucking challenging listen to this day. I have seen Bohemian bottle parties full of so-called music heads descend into indignant chaos when this record has made fatal union with the needle and brought forth a veritable Pandora's box of squalling, screeching noise and unbridled pop riffery. Make no mistake; this LP has a dark, mischievous heart and its glacial obscurantism is a quality that needs a lot of listening time for it to be fully appreciated.
The opener, Non-Alignment Pact is possibly one of the greatest weirdo pop songs ever written, right up there with Lucifer Sam and the first Roxy LP. The introductory screeching gives way to a rolling garage pop riff, a battering drum beat and one of the greatest opening couplets ever written; "I wanna make a deal with you girl and get it signed by the head of state/ I wanna make a deal with you girl and get it recognised round the world" Get down! Everything gets manic all of a sudden, and the Thomas distracted-professor-falsetto-vocal-wobble imperiously bosses everything around by the end of the track. If you're not jumping round the room by this song's close, you really don't know what good music is.
Title track The Modern Dance is more spacious, more of a meditation; an abstract set of sonic and lyric observations held together by a determined beat. In some ways it's close to Tago Mago era Can. Laughing is well nigh indescribable in the conventional sense of describing things, a rattlesnake of a song slowly winding through the desert waiting to strike. The slow, lazy dissonance created by the (clarinet?) evaporates once the guitar smashes in, accompanied by the bug-eyed chorus - which contains the cracking couplet – "My baby said-ah, My baby said-ah /If the Devil come, I shoot him with my gun". It's classic.
Street Waves is more conventional, built on a rolling Amon Duul2 style riff, but containing nonetheless enough ingredients to make you jumpy; not least that Thomas holler. In some ways it's a rampant, ranting stream of consciousness, as espoused by a rasping preacher-man. In others it's a great way of letting off steam. Following that, Chinese Radiation initially seems to return the music to the abstract meditative pastures found on the title track. There's a great middle eight when the music builds up into a whirling dance, only for it to settle down into a very downbeat (but charming) piano tail-out.
In the "old days" this was the point when you flipped the (then vinyl) disc over. Make no mistake it wasn't often you had the energy to do so. If you did, you were confronted by the Malcolm Mooney-esque screeching of Life Stinks. Bloody hell, what a mad opener for the second half; squeaking, rolling and wailing, Thomas seems engaged in a battle to free himself from his straight jacket. All too soon it's over. Real World is a collection of instruments all seemingly refusing to make each other's acquaintance. Oblivious to all, Thomas rants on about real time and the real world in a very paranoid way. The similarity in attitude between this and Talking Head's Drugs or Animals can't go uncommented on.
Over My Head is a quiet piece, seemingly peeping out from the undergrowth, punctured by the odd scraping guitar run, yowling synthesizer and a Mass in F Minor style vocal backing. Sentimental Journey (all six minutes of it) really takes some patience and forbearance on your behalf. There are lots of noises and rumblings going on at the beginning, and I often wonder if Martin Hannett nicked the idea of smashing glass noises for Unknown Pleasures from here. Three minutes in, everything gets a little out of control, incredibly the only soothing bit throughout is Thomas's meandering, talking in his sleep incantations. Vocally things get more understandable about five minutes in, when we are treated to a description of the objects in Thomas's house. By now, the smashed bottles are pilling up, and our narrator seems to wade through them on his way out of the door. Golly Mick, that song encompassed some intense stuff...
The end track, Humor Me is a classic Ubu weird pop song, with the unforgettable yelled refrain, "It's just a joke, man", (as if the entire LP has, indeed, been a big joke) and a very powerful guitar line that lifts the track up another level about half way through. An absolutely brilliant ending to what is obviously a brilliant album.
Try The Modern Dance kids. I warn you, it's like graduating from cod to caviar. Not easy but worth it.
Words: Richard Foster.