Album Review: Pere Ubu’s The Lady from Shanghai



Pere Ubu

The Lady from Shanghai

Fire Records

Release Date: January 8, 2013


Track Listing


Free White

Feuksley Ma’am, The Hearing


And Then Nothing Happened

Musicians Are Scum

Another One (Oh Maybelline)

The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed

Lampshade Man

414 Seconds

The Carpenter Sun



David Thomas – vocals, piano, xiosynth, Korg iMS-20, Monotron, Roland 303, organ 
Keith Moliné – guitar, bass 
Robert Wheeler – EML synthesizer, Grendel Drone Commander, Korg iMS-20, SNM Cacophonator II 

Gagarin – digital electronica, piano, organ 
Michele Temple – bass, guitar, bells 
Steve Mehlman – drums, vocals, organ 
Darryl Boon – clarinet

Formed in August of 1975, the original lineup of Cleveland’s Pere Ubu had planned to maybe release a couple of self-produced singles together and promptly break up after that. But within months of their first singles’ release, they had won over fans in London, Paris, Manchester, New York, Minneapolis and other places, while defining what it meant to be considered a cult favorite. And for a band that is merely a cult favorite, their influence has reverberated throughout most of modern rock music over the past 35 years – acts as diverse as Henry Rollins, Joy Division, the Pixies, Husker Du, R.E.M., Thomas Dolby, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Julian Cope and countless others have all counted Pere Ubu as an act they’ve admired or as an influence on their work.

   Released in January through Fire Records, Pere Ubu’s latest effort, The Lady from Shanghai is the first full-length album from the band in over three years, but the album is also significant because it not only marks the band’s 35th anniversary, it manages to show that the band’s creative force, David Thomas has an ability to write music that sounds (and feels) as though it’s the soundtrack of the modern condition – a wildly disorientating, anxiety-inducing, nerve-wracking fever dream of existence, where its inhabits can’t seem to discern if they’re awake or in the middle of a surreal and haunting nightmare. Lyrically, the songs describe a narrator who is in the throes of insomnia and can no longer tell if what he’s done or seen is real, and yet he’s aware that something isn’t right and that he’s possibly done something indescribably terrible. And in some way, it doesn’t seem possible for the narrator to face what he’s done or hasn’t done. Sonically, the songs are propelled by a sense of entropy – although they’re held together with a tight, irresistible groove, the songs feel as though they’re slowly dissipating. In particular songs like “Thanks’ which has Thomas singing “You can go to hell” in the same exact melody as Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell,” “Free White” and “Lampshade Man” are funky but are also full of industrial clatter – swirling, buzzing ambient electronics, clanging guitars. “Fueskly Ma’am, The Hearing” will remind some listeners quite a bit of TV on the Radio. “414 Seconds” is a song that reveals the damaged, screwed up psyche of its narrator in a deeply unsettling fashion.

   Similar to Liars’ WIXIW, Pere Ubu’s The Lady from Shanghai should shake you from your core and leave you feeling confused, thrilled and uncertain in a palpable yet indescribable way. It’s as though Thomas and his cohorts have a way of poking and prodding into the deepest and darkest parts of the psyche and revealing everything by pulling the mask off.