"I dropped the accent grave after about a week. The name was pretentious enough for a rock band with an ambition of maybe some day getting a gig at The Viking Saloon. But, to be homest, I dropped it because getting a typewriter to do accents was a pain."
"Most bands follow Cult Of Personality rules. That's what fans accept as a norm but Pere Ubu is an idea, not people. Each album starts with the Idea anchored in a new setting. The exception is The Modern Dance which was like a newborn settling into its own. Maybe for that reason it anticipates all that will happen in pop for the next forty years."
"Before I listened, really listened, Pere Ubu would have been the last thing in the world I would have liked. It goes like this: the first ten minutes you hate it, the next ten minutes you think to yourself 'Oh, this isn't so bad' - then you realize that this is possibly the most incredible band you've ever heard."
If it's a single album you want to start with, consider Dub Housing (1978), reissued by Fire in 2015. In a fan's poll of Ubu's Greatest Hits, seven of the album's ten songs could be found in the top 35. Critics generally agree that this, Ubu's second release, is the masterpiece from the Historical Era. Ubu's first album release, The Modern Dance (1978), also reissued by Fire in 2015, appears more often on lists of the Greatest Albums Of All Time, for good reason, but this may have to do with its shocking impact. Can't go wrong starting with it instead.
As a Newbie it could be that the best purchase would be the 2020 release of By Order Of Mayor Pawlicki, a recording of a Coed Jail concert in Poland. It has received startling reviews and includes a selection of songs from 1975 to 1982, i.e. the span of the Historical Era. In a way it is a Greatest Hits of that period. As one fan notes, "You haven't heard Pere Ubu until you've heard Pere Ubu live."
The Hearpen Singles is a collection of all the non-LP singles released 1975 - 1977. Most of these songs appear in the Greatest Hits fan poll. The impact that the Hearpen singles had on the emerging music of 1975 - 1978 cannot be understated. They are also available on the compilation, Terminal Tower.
The singles, one after the other, open doors and step inside rooms that are individual spacetimes, each suggesting an alternative future for the band. This process culminates with the 'Manhattan' disk. 'The Modern Dance' is a collection of individual songs. With 'Dub Housing' the individual songs begin to coalesce into an overarching story. 'New Picnic Time' completes that process. Every subsequent Pere Ubu album reflects that paradigm. The technique used to tell a Pere Ubu story is pointillist. Each song is a collection of pinprick-like dabs of paint. Only by stepping back can you see that the collection of dabs makes for an image and that the assembly of songs makes for a story. The listener must cooperate with a Pere Ubu song and a Pere Ubu album and that involves a degree of submission.
If the notion of beating a strictly linear path through the rest of the releases is daunting, there's no harm in taking a jump straight to 2019's The Long Goodbye. It is a moment, after 40+ years of pushing forward, when Pere Ubu take a short breath. It's one long, time-bending tracking shot, that's a catch-up to the story so far and a hint of things to come.
Where to go from here is a bit of a crap-shoot. Three more albums comprise the Historical Era - in order, they are the dense jungle of New Picnic Time (1979), the testing The Art of Walking (1980), and the tightly crafted Song of the Bailing Man (1982). One way or another these are all considered to be 'difficult' albums, albeit each passionately endorsed by different factions of Ubu Fandom. As a newbie 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. Fire Records released a box Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés 1987-1991 in 2018. Again, opinions are strongly held. The Tenement Year (1988) was a farewell to hometown. It is a much-loved album by Route 6 fans.1 Many of them say it is their favorite. Cloudland (1989) was next, 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), followed. Story Of My Life (1993) came last, 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.' And Rolling Stone magazine enthused over 'Story Of My Life,' "The most stirring new music I've heard this year."2
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 two b-side recordings, 'Invisible Man and 'Wine Dark Sparks' (a tribute to Van Dyke Parks).
For the Modern Era, go to either of Raygun Suitcase (1995) or Pennsylvania (1998). Each was highly praised but if you have to start with one choose 'Raygun Suitcase' simply because it sets you up for the 'Pennsylvania' 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 Why I Hate Women, an album of love songs in the Ubu voice.
"Long Live Père Ubu!" (2009), a musical adaptation of Alfred Jarry's 'Ubu Roi,' inaugurates the Orange Period of album projex based on films and theater. It was accompanied by a theatrical production called Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi.
Finally comes The Dark Room Period, starting with 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo (2017), praised as a return to rock form. Then there is The Long Goodbye (2019) written after the second time Mr Thomas died in two years. American cultural critic Greil Marcus noted, "A great circle of a band's story, which might have made its best album."
The Download Audio page on this site is a good source for bootleg-style live recordings of various Ubu performances as well as other rarities and studio releases. (Ubutique is our online shop.) The best quality compression is used 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 there first. The audio quality will be better than you can find anywhere else.