Lady From Shanghai… Is that an eye, or…?

Review: Pere Ubu – Lady From Shanghai

Published on January 14th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams

Another album, another new line-up, same old David Thomas; Lady From Shanghai arrives on the 35th anniversary of Pere Ubu’s influential 1978 debut The Modern Dance, but age has not wearied yer man’s ability to channel uncompromising levels of weirdness amidst those dark, barren landscapes unfettered by such earthly concerns as melodies and chord progressions.

It takes a brave or downright foolhardy soul to charter this musical parallel universe, but as a full-time resident Thomas instantly foregoes any examination or suspicion of motives. Heck, he’s probably the guy who takes your coat at the door and welcomes you into the darkness, away from the dancing flowers, smiling birds and general “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”-ery on the other side.

“You can go to hell” sings Thomas to the tune of Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” on opening track “Thanks”… Sorry, no second clause to that last sentence; it really doesn’t require one, although the malevolent circus organ probably merits mention. A soft carnival of doom inhabits Lady From Shanghai, named incidentally after a 1947 Orson Welles film the tagline of which was “I told you…you know nothing about wickedness”, which could quite conceivably be the opening gambit of a Thomas-led seminar on the very subject.

In amongst the nightmarish not-quite-disco, however, a strange kind of sense is made. “And Then Nothing Happened” belies its titles by ushering in at least a semblance of sunlight – almost-pop, if you will – before making a sudden beeline for a weird kind of ambience that one Rocksucker associate felt moved to describe as sounding like a “hippo school dinner”. You might laugh out loud here, or hold your head and scream; either way it makes for a fine articulation of the fine line between the surreal and the just plain berserk.

Quite aside from making a bold early play for Song Title of the Year, “Musicians Are Scum” grabs the attention with its sinister utterance of “Why don’t you get in line with all those others whose lives I have ruined? / I swear to you it was love”, similarly “Road Trip of Bipasha” with “She calls me Johnny Rocket / I don’t know why”, a line that Rocksucker advises you to throw into everyday conversation as a non-sequitur just to gauge people’s reactions. Say it with the kind of weary shrug implied by Thomas’s delivery and the effect shall be complete.

“414 Seconds” sees Thomas delve deep into his psyche with: “And that terrible dream / The terrible thing that I did in that terrible dream / That woke me up / I ask myself, ‘Did I do that terrible thing only in my dream? / Or is the dream simply a tawdry bit of self-deception / Where in the end I only dreamed that I did the terrible thing that I did in a dream?'”. By this time, you might find yourself thinking, “Whatever you say, man; whatever you say,” wary that this might just be an episode of The Twilight Zone and as long as this crazy guy is busy asking questions of himself then he won’t be free to read your mind.

Rocksucker is fairly sure that listening to Lady From Shanghai would make a Maroon 5 fan’s head explode. Why not find out for yourselves? Welcome back, Pere Ubu.

Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!

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Lady From Shanghai is out now on Fire Records. For more information, please visit


About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.

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