PERE UBU: Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi: CD

There are parallels between Pere Ubu and The Fall that simply don’t exist between any other two groups of the post-punk era: Both “bands” have been around for more than three decades; Pere Ubu and The Fall have one sole constant member (David Thomas in the case of the former, Mark E. Smith in the latter); both “front men” have really transcended basic rock music, branching out into scoring plays and writing lyrics that owe greater debt to the novels of Philip K. Dick and Dashiell Hammett than to the pop songs of Chuck Berry. And in this recent outing, David Thomas has paid tribute to someone he’s looked up to for quite some time: French playwright Alfred Jarry. Thomas has called this album a radio play—a throwback to the pre-television era when radio was the main source of mass communication and entertainment in the home (think of Welles’ rendition of War of the Worlds)—and it’s certainly apt. What Thomas and Pere Ubu have done is set Jarry’s seminal play Ubu Roi to music and the results are astonishing. Lyrically, Thomas was dealing with one of the most important works of the avant garde. Jarry’s influence can’t be overestimated: dada, Surrealism, Situationist texts, punk—they’ve all been influenced by Jarry—Greil Marcus has written at length about these obvious connections. Of course, this production could’ve fallen straight on its face had Pere Ubu not interpreted and arranged the music to Jarry’s play so well. Vocally, Thomas is his usual, caustic self, sounding like Beefheart’s lost son. The complexity of Pere Ubu’s music on Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi is acute—odd time signatures, incredible dynamics, and guitar playing (at times) reminiscent of its Dub Housing years. Simply incredible. It’s interesting to note that this album will likely alienate Pere Ubu fans simply looking for more material in the vein of the group’s late ‘70s work. There really isn’t much of an audience for this record. And the amount of effort put into it is astonishing. In the words of Alfred Jarry: “Shit.”

 –ryan (Ubu Projex, ubuprojex.net)