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Lady from Shanghai [Digipak]


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Performer Notes
  • Personnel: David Thomas (vocals, piano, organ); Steve Mehlman (vocals, organ, drums); Michele Temple (guitar, bells); Keith Moline (guitar); Darryl Boon (clarinet); Robert Wheeler (synthesizer).
  • Recording information: Nuke India Now, Hove; Suma, Painesville, OH; Urban Iguana, New York, NY.
  • Thirty-five years after releasing The Modern Dance, Pere Ubu delivered Lady from Shanghai, an album that bandleader David Thomas described as "dance music, fixed." That's a pretty bold declaration, and almost as attention-getting as the band naming its 2006 album Why I Hate Women (after a fictional novel). Dance music may or may not need fixing, but for a band as dedicated to questioning authority and assumptions as Pere Ubu, even the mindlessness of a hip-shaking beat could become the enemy. While most of Lady from Shanghai's controversy resides in its concept, the results find the band subverting the notion of danceable music in clever ways. "Thanks" starts the album by chewing up the melody of Anita Ward's disco classic "Ring My Bell" and spitting it out as "go to hell" as tinny programmed drums make the track as stiff and wintry as possible. The band uses a colder-sounding palette here than it did on Why I Hate Women, but like that album and most of Pere Ubu's work since their early-2000s reboot, Lady from Shanghai finds them looking to their history as much as pushing their legacy forward. Their previous album, 2009's Long Live PŠre Ubu!, featured songs from their adaptation of Ubu Roi, the 19th century surrealist play by Alfred Jarry that inspired the band's name and outlook. This album doesn't skimp on surrealism either; "And Then Nothing Happened" pairs a snippet of guitar pop with an extended passage of the band's best impersonation of alarm bells. Perhaps perversely, Pere Ubu succeed more when they use dance beats for their own purposes than they do when they try to thwart that power. "Mandy" is the pinnacle of Lady from Shanghai's uneasy listening, where lurid synths, a relentless rhythm, and a clarinet suggest something sinister is happening as Thomas listens to a "crazy jukebox." On tracks such as this, "Musicians Are Scum" (which nods to the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" on its choruses), and the circular nightmare of "414 Seconds," where Thomas repeatedly wonders "What part of the dream is true/What part of the truth is a dream?," Pere Ubu provide just enough storytelling dots for listeners to connect them into darkly captivating tales. As with Why I Hate Women, Lady from Shanghai also has its share of rambling tracks; aside from the noir-ish "The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed," the collages of murky electronics and fractured rhythms on "The Carpenter Sun" and "Feuksley Ma'am, the Hearing" remain more interesting in theory than in practice. Nevertheless, Lady from Shanghai intrigues more often than not, and shows that Pere Ubu can tap into paranoia, loathing, and the downright weird with nearly as much ease and eloquence as they did almost four decades before. ~ Heather Phares
Professional Reviews
CMJ - "LADY FROM SHANGHAI is a sinister No Wave transmission in an intentionally frightening hall of mirrors....It sounds so refreshing."

Q (Magazine) (p.108) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[It] still manages to sound groundbreaking....[With] some fabulous vintage-Ubu grooves..."

Mojo (Publisher) (p.93) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Thomas's production is extraordinary -- as befits a genuine auteur."

Paste (magazine) - "Even at its unruliest, LADY FROM SHANGHAI is gripping. Opener 'Thanks' sputters along with industrial-lite noise..."
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