Who would’ve thought one of New Wave’s flashpoints lie in Cleveland, that the heartland held the spark that fanned a blaze? Pere Ubu rose out of the crumbling hull of Rocket From The Tombs, creating over the course of ’75-76 a couple of singles that would catch the ears of Mercury Records, who in turn created the Blank imprint just to get Ubu out to the world. Seems like a dream now, a major label fighting to get fractured art-punk to the masses despite knowing that little commercial success might come of it. The band existed in the same glowing headspace that allowed Devo, Ultravox and Public Image Ltd into the homes of impressionable youths with a glinting, metallic taste of commercialism gnawing at their tongues and the unrelenting itch to buck rock’s bloat nagging like a shirt tag. The band’s debut, included here, was, probably much to Mercury’s dismay, not a pounding commercial success and its probably apparent from the very first piercing tones why. Though it stands as a monument to punk’s lasting impact and acerbic stance to this day.
Mercury did not see it that way and the band were dropped following the record, leading them to Chrysalis, a home of much of the prog rock excess that it would seem they were in direct reaction to, though they’d swing to a much more welcoming roster in the years to come (Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Stiff Little Fingers). There the band took no notice to Mercury’s obvious reaction to their difficult debut and created a record even more unwelcoming in its wake. Dub Housing is often touted as the band’s high water mark and Tom Herman heralds a new generation of bands folding noise into their guitar work here. In turn, David Thomas continues his mission to push the limits of how a frontman can be perceived, peppering the album with his chaotic yelp and driving it towards the edge of its own cliff. The record, again, was not a household staple. As with Mercury, Chrysalis dropped them after just one record.
Fire’s first box of Pere Ubu’s journey contains these two pieces of the puzzle along with The Hearpen singles, those early bits of kindling that brought the fire to life, and a set recorded at Pere Ubu’s peak in 1977 at Max’s Kansas City. The band lives on after this, but not in as deranged circumstances. Though its been said that “there are no inessential Pere Ubu releases” and even the latter catalog has a twisted fire that the label has now documented in a second set. If ever there was a “show your work” example of why Pere Ubu need to be in your life and probably were in the lives of someone you’re listening to, Elitism For The People is the set to put the theory to the test.
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