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Pere Ubu - Why I Hate Women

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Artist: Pere Ubu

Album: Why I Hate Women

Label: Smog Veil

Review date: Sep. 15, 2006

Hell of a band to critique, Pere Ubu. No rock outfit invests as much energy in preemptive self-analysis. While most official band websites are dedicated to overproduced self-promotion, the Ubu site hosts a labyrinth of FAQ files, addressing every possible hypothesis of its process and reaction to its art. Ubu clearly hates lazy critics and journos. Only a true obsessive could find something to say about the band that it hasn’t said itself. It’s like Eminem in 8 Mile.

At least on the technical, intellectual side. From a distance, Pere Ubu looks like a dry enterprise indeed. In his expository writing, singer and spokesman David Thomas boasts a CPA’s detachment. It’s in the music, too. Thomas has claimed that Ubu was never “experimental,” that it knew exactly what it was doing. Even at its weirdest, most Beefhearty moments, the catharsis of Pere Ubu was never the catharsis of punk – it was always, and remains, the catharsis of heavy industry. Like Talking Heads, Ubu’s physicality was ever shackled to the cerebral, its neuroses made compelling by the constraints of its formalist approach. Pain is not strictly the realm of mad dogs and egotists – accountants cry inside, too.

What Ubu’s FAQ’s won’t tell you is how much more soulful its output has become. Like the underappreciated 2002 LP St. Arkansas, Why I Hate Women forfeits the urgency of early, canonized stuff such as The Modern Dance and embraces a cryptic sadness, the feeling of wandering through a decaying Midwestern warehouse district set to music with almost nothing lost in translation. It’s not the easiest thing to write about. But whatever’s going on in his lyrics, Thomas’s singing voice (which still sounds like Jimmy Stewart trapped in an oboe, albeit a larger, more tuneful oboe than before) echoes bitter post-industrial regret like Steve Earle captures tortured Southeastern recidivism. And like Earle, he sounds wiser now, if not discernibly happier.

Keith Moline, who also collaborates on Thomas’s artier Two Pale Boys project, is here, and proves that he can play it straight. While Ubu was once most thrilling at its most bizarre and amusical (Dub Housing and New Picnic Time still sound as compellingly offbeat as anything Van Vliet produced), the best tracks on Why I Hate Women are coincidentally its catchiest and most conventional. “Caroleen” is a frantic piledriver, akin to “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and “The Modern Dance,” but with a more domestic sort of frustration, carried by Moline’s eight-cylinder guitar hook. “Babylonian Warehouses” is perhaps the best example yet of Ubu’s new evaporated soul music, its insomniac angst stabilized by Robert Wheeler’s whirring antique synth.

Compared to these, the shambling boogie of “Texas Overture” sounds a tad goofy. But I’m sure Pere Ubu would be happy to explain it for you, in a way that made it seem like none of your beeswax. Keep that in mind vis-a-vis the album title, too.

By Emerson Dameron

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