Pere Ubu – Lady From Shanghai (Fire)
By Scott Creney
It starts with a hesitating scratch, a brief adjustment before we go charging off into the future.
You can go to hell. Seriously, get the fuck out of here. Never wanted you around in the first place, and I certainly never asked for your opinion.
Lady From Shanghai is the revenge of David Thomas, revenge on all the smug assholes like me who were convinced his best days were behind him, that while he may have been the brains — or at least the mouth — behind Pere Ubu, the last 30 years have proved that he certainly wasn’t the talent.
But DT isn’t a three-time international poker champion for nothing. He’s a man so interesting that he even got that blowhard dipshit Greil Marcus to shut the fuck up for a few pages while DT took over one of his books. I kneel and genuflect before the first two Pere Ubu albums and the handful of singles surrounding it, but I think this may be the greatest Pere Ubu album ever made.
David Thomas runs Pere Ubu as surely as Mark E. Smith runs The Fall, or that dumbly sentimental Mumford runs his Sons. And since the only constant in Pere Ubu from the early/mid 70s to today is DT, I guess he gets the credit for this one. Lady From Shanghai is so rich, so convincing, I’m tempted to go back and re-listen to all the Ubu and Thomas solo stuff that’s left me cold over the years. Maybe it was my fault.
Speaking of MES, I bet he’s kicking himself he never wrote a song called ‘Musicians Are Scum’, though DT doesn’t exactly have a reputation for friendliness either. The song’s a blast though.
The brilliance of the early Pere Ubu stuff was the way they took everything great & interesting about the early 70s — Beefheart/Eno/Can/Abba/dub etc and created something entirely their own out of it that looked forward into the future. Lady From Shanghai repeats the process — only this time it’s Kylie/Micachu/Missy Elliott, while managing to retain every inch of their otherness (there’s also Luc Ferrari/Carter Tutti Void/synth-skronk, the skronkiest synth that this skronky band has ever done skronked). 21st Century electronic music filtered through a fierce intelligence.
In a Mojo Guide To Music sense, this album resembles Beefheat’s Doc At The Radar Station in its unexpected late-career creative rejuvenation. It turns out the key to aging gracefully is to never go away, never stop working. You push through the creative and commercial abandonments until you reach another, deeper phase of your art. It’s worked for MES, Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Dylan, etc. Go ahead and add David Thomas to the list.
‘Mandy’ is the best song I’ve heard in ages.
Throughout the album, DT straddles the internal emotional seesaw between love & hate, between genocide & salvation. When he sings “come out to play”, I can’t help hearing “I’m going to fucking kill you”. Or sometimes — it depends on my mood — I hear “I’ve come to save you from all this” in the very same line. Only DT knows for sure, and he is a man who knows better than to reveal his secrets.
Or it could be that, like most people fighting desperate internal struggles, his outward appearance manifests itself as distant and affectless, giving nothing away b/c there is nothing concrete, nothing definitive, to give. A life spent in internal flux is a life that can’t be defined.
David Thomas has always been a man convinced of his on legacy, his artistic importance, and while I think he’s full of shit about a great number of things, this album validates every claim he’s ever made on his own behalf. “What part of the dream is the truth/What part of the truth is a dream,” indeed.
This album, in its pissy discomfort, its goofball intensity, its beauty, its depth, makes me all kinds of happy. Coming from a miserable fuck like myself, there can be no higher compliment.
 No, the other one.
 His views on class and nationality as it applies to music aren’t just wrong. They’re like objectively wrong, to the point where DT not only sounds like an asshole, he also sounds mean and dumb in a way you usually only see in far-right US political pundits — and those people are at least paid to spout their bullshit.