Last year saw the release by Fire Records of what can only be called a seminal collection. Elitism For The People 1975-1978, reviewed by me here, collected the early releases from Cleveland's Pere Ubu. If the tunes on that set showcased the band's near-punk roots, then the new set from Fire Records, Architecture Of Language 1979-1982, out tomorrow, spotlights -- over and over -- those moments that made Pere Ubu such pioneers of sound. Everywhere on the 4 discs of this set is the material that would set these cats apart from any peers in the era. The music here is difficult and challenging and, at times at least, terrifying. This is brave, bold stuff all around and one should approach this with both an open mind and a bit of excitement at challenging one's boundaries when considering what makes up so-called alternative music.
Disc 1 contains 1979's New Picnic Time which is more extreme than anything even Captain Beefheart released. I mean, the drone of "All The Dogs Are Barking" and the stomp of "One Less Worry" are immediate and brutal in ways that few other bands' tunes were in that era, or ours. At least by Disc 2 we have music that is borderline beautiful, at least on the Tiny Tim-like "Rhapsody In Pink", for instance. Elsewhere, on this CD that contains 1980's The Art Of Walking, there are moments that would find themselves on some odd "Best Of Pere Ubu" set, should one attempt to make one. "Birdies" is -- at least in terms that David Thomas understands -- nearly a "single" when played next to stuff like "Misery Goats". If David Byrne in 1980 was wedding his twitchy nervousness to new rhythms, David Thomas was leading his group of misfits through stricter paces, and into territory previously unexplored by any American pop band.
By the time we get to 1982's Song Of The Bailing Man, Disc 3 of Architecture Of Language 1979-1982, it's clear that Pere Ubu were largely operating without a net. Still, despite the unorthodox approaches, stuff like "The Long Walk Home" is nearly accessible, all galloping rhythms and unexpected time changes. On the strange, nearly-free jazz exploration of "Stormy Weather" -- not the standard, obviously -- one feels as if this is music that is free of genre. David Thomas, in his interview with me last year, stressed how outside he and the band felt from all movements in those early years. And, yeah, he has a point. Presumably lumped in with new wave acts in the era, the band were instead closer in spirit to some radical composers of earlier decades. "Use Of A Dog" alternates horn runs and bits of hummable melody to produce something that is altogether discordant. It's not that the pieces here are abrasive but the way they have been sewn together by Thomas The Mad Genius makes them seem so. On the epic "A Day Such As This" we hear the band riding the sort of hard beat that propelled Talking Heads cuts in the same era. However, the rest of the 7-minute track here is, again, avant-garde instead of twitchy New Wave.
The final CD of Architecture Of Language 1979-1982 is called Architectural Salvage and it's made up of rarities and alternate mixes from this era but the best and probably most familiar song on this set is a version of "Lonesome Cowboy Dave", another staple of the Ubu back-catalog.
Architecture Of Language 1979-1982 by Pere Ubu contains 4 discs' worth of difficult music. Will you be playing this on a summer day with the windows down as you cruise America's highways in your Ford? Probably not but I guarantee you that if you devote some time to this 4-CD set and embrace this music you will be rewarded. The natural progression from the hard edges of the band's earlier stuff, these 3 releases and 1 compilation chart the growth of this band of musicians as Artists. Risky, annoying, inspiring, and corrosive, the cuts spread across the expanse of this set showcase one of the great American bands. Compared to Pere Ubu, The Velvet Underground nearly sound like The Monkees. Concerned not one little bit with making pop, David Thomas and Pere Ubu instead crossed every genre before them with a mixture of bravado and absurd risk-taking. And yet, they still kept things largely concise and that's remarkable when one considers where music like this could have gone instead.
Tomorrow will see the release of Architecture Of Language 1979-1982 by Pere Ubu on Fire Records. I urge you to buy this on the format of your choice and discover the tunes of perhaps some of the last real pioneers in American song-craft.