ORGAN THING: Pere Ubu’s new album, Trouble On Big Beat Street, and the heart ain’t nothing but a pump and my kidneys are loving this, it was never going to be easy and who wants it to be but then again it is, it is very very easy and it flows and…

Pere Ubu – Trouble On Big Beat Street (Cherry Red) – A new Pere Ubu album, it isn’t out until late May but hey, it just landed here and the first listen is always the best listen, second dime or indeed time around you kind of know, first time you really don’t (dime was a typo, it kind of works). Nearly four years after their previous “conventional” album release, The Long Goodbye. we maybe weren’t that sure that health would allow us another one….

The Modern Dance (1978) marked the end of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Trouble On Big Beat Street marks the end of The Song. Pere Ubu ended with The Long Goodbye (their last album, from 2019). Pere Ubu begins again with Trouble On Big Beat Street. If you missed the last 48 years then imagine a bad-attitude. Imagine Electric Light Orchestra – the version with Roy Wood – then add Muddy Waters playing guitar and Nina Simone singing” – and well I’m not so sure about that but then ELO never meant that much to me and this sounds more like Canned Heat opening boxes just to see what might be in them and well, nothing like Canned Heat or the ELO and more like a moss covered boondoggle with a great big crocodile smile and don’t cry when you see me go and….

Trouble On Big Beat Street, the 19th Pere Ubu studio album. David Thomas produced, mixed, and engineered it. The vinyl release is ten tracks long. The CD release includes all 17 tracks recorded during the sessions. Those extra seven tracks were too good to lose but took up too much time to fit on a vinyl release so we’re told.
“Pere Ubu this time is David Thomas, Keith Moliné, Gagarin, Alex Ward, Andy Diagram, Michele Temple and Jack Jones. Keith Moliné and Andy Diagram are the two pale boys. They have played with David more than 28 years. Electronica artist Gagarin was soundman for the two pale boys. Michele Temple has been in Pere Ubu 30 years. Improviser and life-long fan Alex Ward submitted a cover version of a David Thomas song to the band’s live-streaming show. David invited him to join the band. David met Jack Jones in the pub”. Ha, Alex Ward is now in Pere Ubu, he must have the best CV ever, I bet it really did make him smile like a great big crocodile when he got that call.

“53 years ago I read about ‘Song Cycle’ by Van Dyke Parks,” says David Thomas. “I didn’t understand what I read but it changed me. Years later I heard the album. This, finally, is my response to hearing to that album. “Long ago I determined that a song is best the first time it’s played. There is nothing that can go wrong or be inadequate. Repetition allows error to enter in. These songs have been played by the band one time, as they were recorded.

Is a song best the first time it is played or recorded? Does it need to get to be refined, I do recall Keith Richards moaning about how most Rolling Stones recordings featured songs that were way too new and how the recordings were made when they really hadn’t got to know any of the songs and how much he disliked most of their studio recordings because of this, but then is there anything worse than an overworked painting and how many times were the sketches far better than the “finished” things? Have you seen Constable’s sketches? How good are those and you feel they mean far more than the finished crowd pleasers. And how annoying is getting gum on your shoe? Where do you start with a Pere Ubu album? Do you start like you’ve never really heard them before, would this sound good if it was just a white label pressing with no name and no information, no band name, if we didn’t know who it was? But then we’d surely know who it was straight away? Surely David Thomas is one of those voices we’d recognise (and indeed respect) immediately, or at least his style, his hush puppies, his band, his Sprite, like Howling Wolf serving Pecan pie, Muddy Waters busting tables, they do paint great movies. So we’re at some kind of blues crossroads somewhere outside of Brighton (rather than Cleveland, Ohio), and it takes a worried man to sing a worried song and maybe first time is the best but I do think we, the listeners and going to find more and more every time and twenty-one years on the soda mountain line and the train she rides is still sixteen coaches long. And yes, if this was your first encounter with Pere Ubu you’d surely be thinking, wow, are the other 18 albums like this? This is brilliant, and who composed that song and Let’s Pretend and yes if this was a new band or an album by an unknown band we’d still think it to be something rather recommended, it isn’t just about the years of respect earned.      

Ain’t gonna turn this wheel no more, ain’t gonna turn this wheel no more, around and around and around we go, dancing around more architecture and there are sure ly are no rules to Pere Ubu now. It might feel like chaos but it really isn’t and that is an outrageous version of Crazy Horses and what a show and there they go stomping up the sky. I really want to know about the process, the how and the why, the circumstances in which they were made? Was the Osmonds bit part of the plan? (The Plan?) or did it just happen, a moment of madness that made complete sense?   Was it at those crossroads, Robert Johnston hanging out with Donny and Bob Zimmerman?

Uh Hu, we’re at the end of the vinyl now, seven more pieces to go if we’re listening to the CD. it all sounds right, loose, not too loose, it sounds tight,  beg, steel or borrow, where’s my cup of tea, we’ll have one tomorrow. I like the details, the details are good, the way the details pick up on each other, the way they play against each other and all flow together and he can see us walk by, you can feel it, you can see it. And no the other seven aren’t mere add ons, things not good enough for the actual album, they’re equally as rewarding as the tracks that did make it on to the vinyl and the Pidgin Music did just make them all fly! 

So yes, you might see this as a hard-boiled album, as something difficult, as something that isn’t about songs, that isn’t formed in the usual way, that is a reaction to who knows what, or that the song is now dead? Although I really hope that isn’t the case. And the pidgins are all back now, the Captain and his friends, and that end to that track is is almost pastoral, just for a brief second, but the heart ain’t nothing but a pump and my kidneys are loving this and reviewing a new Pere Ubu album in 2023 was never going to be easy and who wants it to be but then again it is, it is very very easy and it flows and there doesn’t really need to be words or lines or things formed or sounds pick apart as if you have some kind of control over the situation. What’s on your mind? What’s on your mind? What’s on your mind? What is on your mind? Sleep kind of means you definitely need the CD version (or, I guess the download)  and the heart ain’t nothing but a pump baby, got nothing to say but thump thump thump. Hey, I don’t know you from Adam, you come around here wanting opinions on these things, does it matter what I say, what we say? What the so called review says? They’re in a groove now, 15 From Adam, he’s thrilled to see you, or her or him or hey boy, hey Mr Thomas I’m barking at you to. Trying to make friends with the album here and…

“You’re always so damn positive about everything” moaned some not so positive person, well no, we’re actually damn picky,  always have been. Most of what we listen to, get sent, check out, doesn’t get covered, most albums don’t get covered, quite a few art shows and the less I know the more I see and say what?  I tell you this because you need ot know jsut how damn picky were are and not everything gets reviewed or covered and…

And I hope that isn’t good night but if Goodnight it is then this is a fine fine album, and excellent songs, lots of songs and that was a first proper listen, there’s certainly a need to go back again and where does this stand next to other Peru Ubu album? Does that matter? Trouble On Big Beat Street sounds as rewarding as any I’ve heard, I can’t claim to have heard them all, it sounds just like you’d want a Peru Ubu album to sound in 2023, it sounds like they still need to challenge both themselves and us as listeners, like they need to challenge their songs and these are songs, they might not be conventional songs but when was anything ever conventional with Peru Ubu?   

“If this isn’t album of the year,” says David “Elmer” Thomas, “then my name is Elmer Fudd.” Not sure if it will be the actual album of the year, when the time comes for those end of years lists, it might well be a big part of the part of the debate though. (sw)

details: Album / CD

More via Ubu World, which these days, includes a live-streaming internet show (DPK-TV), an ‘official bootlegs’ site, and, coming in February, David’s monthly radio show, on Louder Than War Radio (LTW Radio) called Stay Sick, Turn Blue. We’re told the album will be played live on 2nd June at RichMix in London, the ticket link to be available soon, and further dates to be announced, well he did say something about seeing us later, like an alligator….    

Note from David Thomas:
“Seventeen songs were recorded for this album. With the exception of Crazy Horses, which was assembled, none of them were played by the band more than once. “A song is best the first time it’s played. There is no right or wrong. Only later does Error enter the frame.’ (David Thomas, 1992) There was room on vinyl for ten songs. It was difficult choosing. With five minutes left before delivery, Nothin But A Pimp was replaced by Satan’s Hamster, for example. Considering the cost of double vinyl and the disaster of the Lee Michaels(?) double lp release in the late 60s, I nixed that idea. (Forgetting, of course, Trout Mask Replica.) Against my better judgment, I was persuaded to include all seventeen songs on the cd release, knowing that there will listeners exhausted by album’s length – a lesson learned in the 80s”.

Pere ubu (l to r) David Thomas, Gagarin, Keith Moliné, Alex Ward, Andy Diagram.
Photo credit: K Boon


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