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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

PERE UBU The Art of Walking

Rough Trade 14 (1980)

As rock critic/sociologist Greil Marcus once wrote, punk is where you find it. Pere Ubu were a band of musical misfits from Cleveland, Ohio who started playing together in 1975. While groups such as the Sex Pistols and the Ramones were recording their first albums for major labels, bands like Pere Ubu (as well as Television and the Buzzcocks) were releasing limited runs of their own "homemade" singles, sparking an "underground" movement in popular music that emphasized "doing it yourself" (or "DIY" for short).

The Art of Walking was the band's fourth full-length LP and was released on the British Rough Trade label. Even by Ubu standards, it's out there; (relatively) straightahead rockers like "Go" and "Misery Goats" are outnumbered by weirdly experimental tracks like "Miles" (in which singer David Thomas moans "There's no place like home" over and over in a shivery voice against a swelling organ accompaniment), "Arabia" (seemingly aimless synthesizer noodling over a plodding, minimalist beat), and "Crush this Horn" (shortwave radio static). The craziness comes to a head in "Lost in Art", which features Thomas beating on a drum and yelling about shoes while the sound of snoring is heard in the background. Halfway through the track, Thomas starts to berate his "audience", who has apparently gotten fed up and left ("Hey! Where'd everybody go? Come back!").

If you've never heard Ubu, The Art of Walking might not be the best place to start (try their 1988 reunion album The Tenement Year or the singles collection Terminal Tower), but it's a fun, playful, and smart record that shows that, as arty and impenetrable as they could sometimes be, Pere Ubu always had a sense of humour.


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