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Last updated 3/11/13
The Buyer's Guide to Pere Ubu
Deciding where to start with Pere Ubu, if you're a newbie, or where to go if you've dropped out for awhile, can be daunting. Few bands have made so many different kinds of records. Each album page includes some review quotes. These may help (but of course we only use favorable quotes!). You might also want to check The Bug Report when considering which version of a release you want to buy.
The best currently available audio of the "Historical-era" albums is the Datapanik In The Year Zero box set re-issue on Cooking Vinyl, released October 2009. This is the 4-cd box set. The original 2-track, quarter-inch analog mix tapes of all the albums were re-transferred to digital at 192khz / 24 bit resolution and re-mastered, after, of course, having been baked in the Suma oven to dry them out. If you want to go the individual album route...
Start with Dub Housing (1978).
Critics generally agree that this, Ubu's second release, is the masterpiece from the Historical Period. Ubu's first album release, The Modern Dance (1978), appears more often on lists of the great albums, for good reason, but this may have more to do with its shocking impact than its cohesiveness. Can't go wrong starting with it instead. Check this link for advice on which release version is best.
Move on to Terminal Tower (1975 - 1981).
Most of these songs appear in the "Greatest Hits" poll. The impact that the Hearpen singles had on the emerging music of 1975-1978 cannot be understated.
Where to go from here is a bit of a crap-shoot. Three more albums comprise the "Historic Period" - in order, the dense jungle of New Picnic Time (1979), the testing Art of Walking (1980), and the tightly crafted Song of the Bailing Man (1982). One way or the other these are all considered to be "difficult" albums, albeit each passionately endorsed by different factions of Ubu Fandom. As a newbie to the Ubu Catalog you will find this a recurring theme - there are fans who will claim that any one of these is Ubu's greatest work, and as many who will claim any one of these to be the weakest.
Four albums comprise the "Fontana Years." Unavailable for years they were reissued by Mercury in April 2007. Again, opinions are strongly held. The Tenement Year (1988) was designed to be a clattery heap, Cloudland (1989), an epic journey (and the band's original intentions are clarified on the revised 2007 reissue), Worlds In Collision (1991), an examination of pop music through the Ubu prism (with references and tips of the hat scattered and hidden throughout), and Story Of My Life (1993), an oddly-defined roots document. All were critically praised at the time of release though many in Ubu Fandom were shocked at the production of some of them. Either Cloudland for its ambition or Worlds In Collision for the quality of the songwriting are good places to start. If you like your Ubu messy then go for The Tenement Year.
For a taste of the Fontana Years you might try Apocalypse Now (1999), a live album recorded at a small Chicago club in the middle of a long tour supporting The Pixies in 1991. It is a spirited and impromptu semi-acoustic performance with Eric Drew Feldman playing a honky-tonk upright piano with dubious tuning instead of synthesizer. It's also interesting to hear Pere Ubu stripped of electronics playing as a "normal" rock band. Very revealing. Brief glimpses of the band playing "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and Hawkwind's "Master of the Universe." And, until recently, the only source for 2 b-side recordings, "Invisible Man" and "Wine Dark Sparks," the tribute to Van Dyke Parks.
From here go to The Director's Cut releases of either of Raygun Suitcase (1995) or Pennsylvania (1998). Each was highly praised but if you have to start with one choose RGS simply because it sets you up for the PA experience, an album Greil Marcus voted as the best of 1998. The "Modern Era" is rounded off by 2002's St Arkansas and 2006's double release of Why I Hate Women and Why I Remix Women.
30 Seconds Over Tokyo, Beach Boys, Birdies, Breath, Bus Called Happiness, Busman's Honeymoon, Caligari's Mirror, Chinese Radiation, Codex, Come Home, Dark, Dub Housing, Fabulous Sequel, Final Solution, Folly Of Youth, George Had A Hat, Go, Goodbye, Heart of Darkness, Heaven, Humor Me, I Will Wait, Laughing, Misery Goats, Modern Dance, My Dark Ages, Navvy, Nonalignment Pact, Oh Catherine, On The Surface, SAD.TXT, Slow Walking Daddy, Small Was Fast, Street Waves, Ubu Dance Party, Waiting for Mary, Wasted, We Have The Technology, Woolie Bullie, and Worlds In Collision.
The Shape Of Things captures the band in Cleveland in early 1976 and though the recording is true bootleg style it is a must-have - someone complained on a retail website somewhere that it was the worst sounding record he'd ever heard. Maybe he missed the HUGE text on the front cover noting that it was recorded on a cassette machine in 1976. What do you expect? Sting?
hearpen.com is a good source for bootleg-style live recordings of various Ubu performances as well as other rarities and studio releases. We use the best quality compression for these downloads which means the file sizes are relatively large - that is the price of quality - but broadband access is now common and it shouldn't matter. If you're in the market for a download of an Ubu Projex product check here first. The audio quality will be better than you can find anywhere else.
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Buyer's Guide to Pere Ubu
For those wondering what to buy first, next or last.
A good place to find information concerning Pere Ubu, David Thomas, Special Projex and other sources on the site.
Pere Ubu Studio Albums
David Thomas Albums
Rocket From The Tombs