david thomas

Please welcome AD’s (now) semi-regular contributor, J. Neas, as he reflects on the seminal, if misunderstood, Pere Ubu’s Dub Housing LP. As I read this I was reminded of first hearing the band, as they opened for the Pixies in Atlanta (at the Centerstage) in the fall of 1991. I was barely 16, but even then knew I was witnessing something special. – AD

pere ubu dub housingThere really is nothing that can prepare you for that first time with a record like Dub Housing. Even now, nearly 30 years on, when popular music has had every opportunity to absorb and disseminate its influences, there really is nothing like it. With jazz, noise, populist rock, reggae, dub and even sea chanties represented across its compact sprawl of 35 minutes, Dub Housing is a brilliant record.

The first thing you have to deal with is David Thomas. There are people who don’t like various singer’s voices, but Thomas is another story entirely. Warbling, cycling between insanity, anger and lunacy, balancing it all with a carnival barker’s sense of showmanship, you don’t so much listen to Thomas as be assaulted by him. It’s the most easily identifiable feature of Pere Ubu’s sound and probably the most contentious as well.

If there is a song that best summarizes the bizarre ride that Dub Housing entails, it’s probably “Caligari’s Mirror.” Opening with a plodding bass line, random stabs of noise and keyboards and Thomas’ singing sounding as if it’s coming through several layers of water, the song is a certifiable mess until it suddenly congeals around a barely-held-together rock and roll chorus. “Hey, Hey, boozie sailors!” Thomas yells, a chorus echoing him from beneath.

Pere Ubu were studied in some serious music. Jazz rears its head in more than one composition; pop background vocals swim under some fairly surreal layers of noise. Opener “Navvy” actually starts off as if it’s going to be something more conventional, only to turn into a complete mess by the chorus. “Boy, that sounds swell!”

It’s easy to hear touchstones of the time period in the music, however. At times it’s the tribal beat of the Stooges or the chiming guitar of Television. At others its the late 60s jazz fusion of Miles Davis. The title track sounds like a bastard brother of The Specials“Ghost Town”; “Ubu Dance Party” like Dick Clark’s nightmares, where American Bandstand has been overrun by degenerates and yelping noise freaks.

Then the album ends on an even less expected note – “Codex” is moody, brooding melancholy. With parts that sound like a horror soundtrack being played in a submarine, and others that sound like hellish chain-gang singing, the fact that Thomas’ singing becomes actually affecting is nothing short of a miracle. It could be that amidst the general insanity of most of the record, this creepy and disjointed song actually sounds like what would be a genuine emotional moment for Thomas. It’s a singular moment in an album full of singular moments. – j. neas


MP3: Pere Ubu :: Dub Housing
MP3: Pere Ubu :: Caligari’s Mirror
eMusic: Pere Ubu – Dub Housing

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6 Responses to “Pere Ubu :: Dub Housing (1978)”

  1. This is Pere Ubu’s finest hour and one of the greatest albums of all time.

  2. Is this the album with Suicide Solution? Love that song.

  3. Me, are you referring to “Final Solution?” The only place I know of that it appeared as a Pere Ubu track is on the Terminal Tower collection that pulled together all their pre-The Modern Dance singles. And, of course, when Rocket from the Tombs reunited a few years back and did the Rocket Redux album, they did a version of it as well. Hope that helps you.

  4. btw “Final Solution” was on a CBS Comp. from 1978 named “New York New Wave” along with SUICIDE, THE FAST etc

  5. Yeah, what a great album. Pere Ubu recorded it at SUMA studios which is in a wooded area in Northeast Ohio, sort of a nowheresville, between Cleveland and Akron called Mentor Township. I got to pop into the studio last summer while the Black Keys were recording their new album their with DangerMouse. An incredible spooky old chalet set back in the dank woods with a strong David Lynch vibe. Inside there’s wall with all the albums up that were recorded there, everything from Wild Cherry to The Pagans and of course Pere Ubu. The recording console was handbuilt by Cleveland audio pioneer Ken Hamann (RIP) and his son Paul (who engineered the Keys sessions). The main room is cavernous, like a gothic barn, and in one corner there’s a sign that reads: “The wood in this room is 125 years old. If you smoke, do not use the ledges and floor as an ashtray.”

  6. Boy were Rocket & Ubu great in 2003 when they appeared at the Freud Theater at UCLA. I do believe Rocket was the loudest band I ever heard, louder even than Zeppelin in ’70 or The Ramones in ’77. David Thomas lumbered around the stage, enormous with cane, and seriously still had everything he’d ever had to bring the songs across. All over the Freud, grey heads bobbing along to Crocus Behemoth & Cheetah Chrome (one of the truly great rock guitars of all time).

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