sun 14/07/2024

Reissue CDs Weekly: Pere Ubu | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Pere Ubu

Reissue CDs Weekly: Pere Ubu

Ohio’s mavericks sound better than ever on box set collecting their earliest years

The disquietingly intense Pere Ubu at New York’s CBGB's in 1977. Left to right: Tom Herman, Scott Krauss, David Thomas, Alan Ravenstine and Tony MaimoneCourtesy Ubu Projex/Fire Records


Pere Ubu: Elitism for the People 1975–1978Pere Ubu: Elitism for the People 1975–1978

Pere Ubu’s early records still sound great. The ethos of the Cleveland, Ohio band had nothing to do with prevailing trends when they formed in 1975, and had nothing to with the punk, new wave or what was later termed post-punk which opened many doors for and ears to them shortly afterwards. The timelessness stems from being singular, an aspect of which resulted in them issuing four singles on their own label between December 1975 and August 1978. Yet Pere Ubu were not isolated: their precursor band Rocket From the Tombs was co-billed with Television in Cleveland in 1975. They had brought the New York band to Ohio. It went both ways: Pere Ubu would play New York before they had released an album.

It’s obvious Pere Ubu intended breaking out beyond their fertile local scene and wanted to be heard. They’ve never been heard like this before though. Released forty years on from when they formed, the vinyl-only, four-disc box set Elitism for the People 1975–1978 collects all their early material in its best-ever sonic fidelity.

Elitism For The People includes their first two albums, The Modern Dance and Dub Housing (both 1978), the eight tracks from their four early Hearthan-label singles and a stray track from the period on a third disc (effectively an expanded reissue of the 1978 Datapanik in the Year Zero EP – this new version co-opts its colour scheme), as well as, on the fourth disc titled Manhattan, tracks from a 25 February 1977 New York show. There is no accompanying booklet, but a reproduction of a poster for a 1977 Cleveland show is included (on purple-red paper, rather than the green of the original, pictured below left). There is also a card with a code for downloading digital versions of all the tracks.

Pere Ubu Pirate's Cove 1977 posterExcepting the live tracks on Manhattan, all this material has pretty much been continually and easily available via vinyl and CD since 1978 and 1979. So why buy Elitism for the People? If the budget stretches to it, this is essential as it sounds so much better than any previous editions – including first pressings of the albums and the singles, and 1996’s CD box set, which was also titled Datapanik in the Year Zero.

Going into the music itself is unnecessary as it is amongst the greatest from the mid-Seventies. Anyone who has not heard the early Pere Ubu should rectify that immediately. However, it is worth going into the sound of the studio tracks. The New York show was recorded on cassette from the audience, is certainly not lo-fi and sounds as good as it ever will. It captures the band at its darkest and most muscular, with powerful runs at “My Dark Ages”. “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and “Life Stinks”.

The studio tracks were remastered from the original tapes by Paul Hamann (son of the band’s original engineer Ken) in the highest-possible digital resolution and then mastered for disc by Brian Pyle. There was no remixing. Across the package, what is heard has more depth than ever before – more is audible. There none of the sonic de-coagulation which surfaced on the 1996 Datapanik in the Year Zero box. The new masters are extraordinarily cohesive. It’s probably a worrying concept – as Pere Ubu were so disquietingly intense in this period – but hearing Elitism for the People is like being in the room with the band as they were recording. This has to be one of the most impactful digital to analogue mastering jobs undertaken to date.

Unfortunately, a few minor niggles relate to the packaging. The single’s disc and Manhattan come in thin card sleeves with no inner bags (like Eighties 12-inch singles). For a premium release, the lack of proper album packaging is disappointing. Manhattan's annotation mentions “Heart of Darkness” and “Final Solution”, yet neither appear on the record. The sleeve of the single’s disc bears credits for the cover art of each single collected – complementary illustrations of the sleeves themselves would have been good.

For the music alone though – which is what Elitism for the People is about – this is an indispensable release.

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