Review Summary: Pere Ubu is born, and so avant-garde gets a good start with the landmark. Modern Dance.
Overlooked is a term which is very easily used but in some cases don't fully describe the item its being called. Take for example the hoards of people who call Loveless
overlooked. This would be more true if My Bloody Valentine
weren't signed to big shot label, Warner Brothers. Another release that gets the overlooked nod is The Velvet Underground
's Velvet Underground and Nico
but when you actually show the people its cover you will probably get a response of "oh the banana album". Indeed it seems having the right artwork can make your work more recognized, then again I guess being as big as they were helps too. Further recognition of the piece can be given by fans of Warhol, though perhaps they didn't actually give it a spin. All of this aside, one piece of music that is certainly overlooked is Pere Ubu's avant garde work of art (punk), The Modern Dance
, a piece that introduced the band to making full lengths and would jump start their career that would go on to influence The Birthday Party
, The Dead Kennedys
, and the much loved Talking Heads
What must be properly adjusted to in the preparation of enjoying this album is the part of your brains that takes in the vocals and decides if they're good or bad. In this case, those terms do not apply as David Thomas hollers with the best of them, not in terms of shouting and outright throat-killing, but with projecting the voice, and bringing it up to yelp and pulling it back down to deliver normally. The singing on this album by Thomas is one of the most distinguishable things featured on The Modern Dance
, one cannot help but be fascinated by how it aides the instruments, which come with white noise, feedback, and an insane horn section. Bassist Tony Maimone sings in back of Thomas, but it is just that, a backup role, his decent singing is overshadowed by the loud and out there nature of Thomas.
Take for example, Laughing
, which enters innocently enough with guitar and drums playing with an overlapping and overpowering said horn section. This happens for about two minutes until the band comes in full stride, from that point it seems the audio assault (well, its more like an audio occupation, but still) is set aside, in terms of it just being the 3 instruments, but hark! it ends not! In fact a mere minute after it was let out, it returns, still in free form style, everyone just playing over themselves to satisfy the "whatever sounds right" principle. This continues until the song returns again, reiterating the same words used before and basically becoming the same verse. It seems like it, but this is not a song on repeat, it is made of 4 sections, 2 different instrumentals and one singular verse section, and is actually one of the more structured songs on here.
It is not only the tracks with the erratic vocal stylings of Thomas, but the atmosphere the band let loose on the other tracks. Not nice and easy as people might assume, Sentimantal Journey
is one of these, being virtually mute for the first 50 seconds before that is shattered by the sounds of glass being broken. Soon enough guitar plays in the back of a single shooting horn and the sounds of glass being broken and Thomas mumbling pickup. This is a very difficult song as it is the stepping stone that keyboardist Allen Ravenstine takes to be featured more in the work, putting together some very strange sounds to go along with the mumbling and occasional audible guitar work. "Whats Up" is the first audible phrase spoken, and it indeed leads to...nowhere, as the song eventually fades out. 6 minutes of mostly atmosphere and the sounds of a dude seemingly blowing raspberries on tape begs the question is this is really enjoyable. Some disagree and are turned off by this, citing it as stupid and a wonder anyone authentically enjoyed it.
What else must be noted is the inconsistency of the lengths of the songs on here. Wouldn't it be nice if the band could settle down and write quick 2-3 minute jags like most of these here "punk" groups do? It would, but this is not the route Pere Ubu take, as especially near the end of the album, the lengths get very jumpy and anomalous going from the range of 1:52-6:08. This fact becomes undermined as in retrospect it doesn't seem like such a big detail, but it being a different time then, this could make it seem the band were onto something.
Even today in the world where it seems anything and everything goes, this would be considered a unique release. Now picture it being put out there 28 years ago, how could the limited market who picked this up react to it? The 4 I have awarded this piece goes nowhere to describe the influence this piece had on bands that called themselves punk but completely subscribed to the ideas of traditional guitar bass drum setups. What a shocker this was, incorporating so much more into the sound and oftentimes using the structureless approach; The Modern Dance
was a huge album that let people branch out when making music, and provided a true step outside of the universal box.