It’s been 40-some years since Pere Ubu emerged from the ashes of Rocket from the Tombs, so one could be forgiven for thinking that the seminal Cleveland band’s latest is also its last. But rather than alluding to Pere Ubu hanging it up, the title is a nod to Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name.
I won’t pretend to be familiar with Chandler’s work or even Robert Altman’s film adaptation that Ubu frontman David Thomas explained he also likes at a recent live appearance. Besides, such reference points probably do little when it comes to appreciating this particularly difficult album from this band known for being particularly difficult. Indeed, in the years since Thomas and company released “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” on its own Hearthan label, one has only been able to expect the unexpected when it comes their records.
In press materials, Thomas has said that before making The Long Goodbye (Cherry Red Records), he was listening to a lot of pop music and this was his attempt to make “pop music the way it should sound.” However, this album doesn’t even resemble the band’s attempts at pop during the early ‘90s. Instead, the record buzzes and chirps idiosyncratically while Thomas veers between spoken lyrics and his distinctive caterwaul. “What I Heard on the Pop Radio,” the leadoff cut, isn’t like anything ever heard on pop radio, but a juxtaposition of barked vocals with criss-crossing keybords and a motorific beat. The rest of the record follows suit musically, while Thomas frequently returns to the tropes that have often populated his songs, such as highways as metaphors for the big strange world of America. On “Who Stole the Signpost?” he also references the Americana classic, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” while the rest of the song ventures off in an entirely different direction of clarinet skronks and analog synth oscillations. Similarly, “Fortunate Son,” while name checking the band, sounds very little like CCR.
Thomas’ insistence on following his ideas through to nth degree has always been admirable, and this record is surely deserving of admiration. That said, it probably falls into the small cachet of Pere Ubu releases that most fans will never actually listen to on a regular basis.