Pere Ubu – Ray Gun Suitcase Cooking Vinyl COOK CD 089 (1995)
Pere Ubu were one of the stranger rock bands to emerge from the punk era. But by the late 1980s their sound shifted to a more pop-focused arena. 1995’s Ray Gun Suitcase was a sort of return to a rock sound. The band’s lineup had changed a lot since the 1970s, so this is closer to the “alternative rock” milieu than punk, but there are hints of the band of old — such as electronic effects by Robert Wheeler that recall Allen Ravenstine‘s experiments of the past. What is most new here are the song structures, many of which play like mini-suites with numerous shifts in tone. Also, there is an emphasis on theatrics, in the formal sense. Singer David Thomas adopts affected singing techniques that seem drawn from avant-garde theater (“Vacuum in My Head”). So guitarist Jim Jones plays some driving, anthemic riffs, but those come and go in any given song. The bass (Michele Temple, plus Paul Hamann) is prominent, and the overall sound is crisp but full, with a lot of separation that lends an almost hollow effect. There are definite rhythms and melodies and chord progressions, but also atonal interjections and other elements at odds with convention. Overall, the subject matter of the songs seems to look back a bit, with an interest in “Americana,” but for the purpose of understanding what cultural history means for the future — this is not nostalgic navel-gazing by any means. This would establish a foundation for much of what the band pursued for the next decade.