close your eyes
[music, albums]

XXXVII: 1978 Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance

Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance


Nonalignment Pact
Pere Ubu start their debut LP with a shrill ringing feedback sound on the right channel. A couple of staid soothing bass guitar notes form the melodic antithesis to that noise and are then followed by a pushing rockabilly guitar riff on the left channel. The avantgarde meets garage punk via impressionism. When David Thomas unique high-pitch nasal voice joins in just after the feedback turns into the whinnying of horses which are about to be set free things get psyched out.

The Modern Dance
On the propulsive trippy title track Thomas bleats the words at the end. In the background Tom Herman, the guitarist sings Merdre, Merdre. The word that almost started a riot at the beginning of the premiere of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi in 1896. And then the music halts and we suddenly find ourselves within a group of people whispering, talking and laughing. It could have been like that when King Ubu first saw the light of day in Paris.

The first two minutes have got a very relaxed almost folkish feel due to David Thomas musette which sounds a little like a Scottish bagpipe. There is also a jazzy vibe here with the saxophone free-style play. After Thomas vocals come in the song morphs into something entirely different though. He sings on shooting and/or laughing at the devil. This song reminds me a lot of Jeffrey Lee Pierce. A devil who has had his last dance some time ago.

Street Waves
I hear Lou Reed's cool guitar (or was it Sterling Morrison's) from the golden times of the Velvet Underground. But there is also Maimone's dubby bass which is beautifully underlined by Ravenstine's synthesized storm sounds. This is the new age.

Chinese Radiation
Not sure if this is a song about the promised land of communism. The red guard, the red book, the big wall and the new world seem to point into that direction. Musically it is quite listener-friendly and almost catchy. It starts slowly with the laid-back guitar riff, then there are some nice otherworldly synthesizer sounds and the bass giving the song more weight. David Thomas voice is that of a drunken hippo. After the accelerating middle part with the live atmosphere and the Hooray shouts the piano finishes this song off on a slow and grave note.

Life Stinks
A leftover song from Rocket From The Tombs, the blues rock meets punk outfit heavily influenced by the Stooges which preceded Pere Ubu. It is by Peter Laughner who had already died when TMD was recorded. A simple riff and typical punk throwaway lyrics. This version is much subtler than the original.

Real World
A great start with what I hear as the horns of a ship which arrives in a harbour. The chorus I don't like too much. Too stomping or something. What Pere Ubu build around it is fascinating though. A little bit of a mess but a very controlled mess. The real world finishes with bells and a forced laughter.

Over My Head
Thomas whispers on this one. A spooky track which never rocks out. The line "And how I pray that I never should sin again" fits quite well. Something is going on here which cannot be proven by science.

Sentimental Journey
I think this is the longest song on the album. Lots of people don't like it. It is meandering along after the glass bottles have been smashed on the floor. I love it. It has got that improvised performance feel. "Window. My size." That should give a lot of light.

Humor Me
A reggae is about as good to end an album as a joint is to finish a day. Relax and smile. Even if you don't get the joke. The funniest ones are the ones without a punchline anyway.

Further reading:
Vinyl Mine on The Modern Dance

Here is the overview of the series 40 years, 40 albums of which part XXXVII was this post.


great choice alex. good summaries of the tracks too. i know you like it but is there an over-riding thing that appeals to you most?

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i discovered the album in the past month. most of the time i listened to it on earplugs on my mp3 jukebox as i only have a download (it's a shame but it does not seem to be available in germany). in a way that forced me to listen to details i probably wouldn't have noticed on speakers. the album to me seems a block. i can't imagine any track being chopped off. it is all great. and pretty varied too. i like the dynamics of the songs. like many roxy music songs they begin in one way and head into directions you wouldn't have anticipated after the start. something else i noticed. in the beginning there is something discomforting about the music, especially david thomas voice. but when you get used to it you almost want to hug him so heart-breaking is it. does that answer your question, phil?

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ich hab die cd, soll ich sie dir brennen? one of my all-time faves. hab pere ubu in den jahren danach, anfang der 80er, glaube ich, zweimal gesehen in wien.

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gerne, aber dann möchte ich auch eine cd für dich brennen. such dir was raus aus den 30 alben, die ich auf cd habe. nur analog habe ich das white album (lp), die steve reich (mc), die cure (mc), die wipers (lp), lloyd cole's easy pieces (mc) und die mary margaret o'hara (lp). schreib mir einfach ne e-mail an die bigfoot-adresse oben rechts.

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... comment

Maybe it's because...

...this album is one of my favourites that I find it so hard to describe, but you've done a great job, and pointed out things I hadn't noticed before (even after over 20 years of listening). Thanks for this summary, it's just the thing to show someone who's never heard TMD.

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are too kind, brendan. whenever i don't know what to write about an album i write about the tracks. it's so much easier and it always works. i just write about what i hear, no interpretation, no synthesis, just the music and how i hear it. and the thoughts which come to mind. when this album business is over my plans are to write about songs. maybe one per weekday with an mp3 link, or something like that.

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i just realised that your blog seems to be on hiatus. how come? too busy with the books?

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... comment

last updated: 2/23/21 8:55 AM
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