Only the mercurial David Thomas remains of the original 1975 lineup of Pere Ubu. For many bands, an ever-shifting membership would lead to a gradual dilution of their initial sound and energy (I’m looking at you, The Stranglers), and a slow, steady slide into banality. These washed-up acts troop around the country like the walking dead, perhaps even releasing new material in a vain attempt to capture the good–old-days of spit, hand-printed record sleeves and safety pins.
However, Pere Ubu (like The Fall, who have had more members than hot dinners) buck this trend. Carnival of Souls is a cacophony of fresh weirdness – a shrieking, heavy breathing riot of darkness and “fuck it all” attitude.
The album’s opener, Golden Surf II, is the aural equivalent of a cheese grater. Its bassline throbs, twists and turns, perfectly offsetting Thomas’ yelping vocals. The lyrics are similarly bizarre, with the refrain “a firefly mothman” an unexpectedly surreal earworm. It’s fucking good.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album fails to live up to its first track. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of highlights (the excellent and mournful Visions of the Moon and Irene are as close to “ballads” as Pere Ubu will ever come), but it’s not a cohesive work. For example, some of the tracks are, frankly, overly pretentious. Dr Faustus is one of these. Brother Ray is another.
That said, Carnival of Souls was never going to be consistent. It’s a Pandora’s box of the odd, frightening, banal, impenetrable and unlistenable. To call it Marmite would be a criminal understatement. After all, “it’s a dime store story with a Fortean twist.”
WORDS: MAX FIGGETT