I'm surprised to see so few blog entries regarding this killer recording.
I'd like to put aside the usual "crazy out of key man screaming about
how the '70's sucked" stance and focus on some of the tunes and tones that
make the Modern Dance sound so timeless.
Pere Ubu seem to have known from the get-go that great music is made
when ample space is provided to let the music breath. Every song here
has plenty of room to let a listener in. Even the fast paced Peter
Laughner-penned Life Stinks displays this quality. Perhaps this is
why so many Punk oriented writers pay Ubu lip service but fail so
often to write about their amazing sounds? Inside said spaces one is
treated to bass and drum lead tunes that rarely veer into
tunelessness, despite the atonal Allan Ravenstine synthesizer washes and Tom
Herman's deliciously noisy guitar squall. Carducci described Scott Krauss
and Maimones' rhythm section work as "meat and potatoes", and this
works up to a point. There is a kind of simplicity to this rhythm section. That said, these two MAKE this record, with a really
Rocking (as opposed to Rockin'?) swing that moves the tunes.
Listen closely to how well Krauss's drums are tuned, his sweet cymbal
beats, and the patterns that arise around them on the drums. Street
Waves in particular sounds almost as if Elvin Jones had been hanging
around with the band in 1977, trying to keep pace with the wild
Clevelanders assembled therein. Maimone's bass carries most of the
melodies, but let's not blame him for later bands' somewhat weaker
adaptation of this approach in Ubu's wake. His clarity of playing
gives focus to the listener, and, presumably to the players as well.
Herman's guitar runs have a very focused and melodic jumping off
point from which to spray paint. This leaves David Thomas. Yes,
he's prickly. Yes he's fat. Put aside the sociological stuff, and
consider just one stanza:
If it's a joke, mon/then Humor Me!
I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a better summation of the
tension inherent within creative endeavors in America. Especially
post-Punk, but presumably pre-Punk as well. The man can write, and with insight. The drum and bass fueled melodies help him too. It would seem that if Ubu relied on more traditional tonal approaches to provide the melodic lines, the VERY untraditional approach Thomas takes would be at best hindered.
The more I write here, the clearer it gets that the Modern Dance is pretty much a bottomless well of great sounds. The 1960’s reminiscent keys on the title track, the “industrial” percussion, Thomas’ pained yelping, etc. I can only scratch the surface. Neither do I doubt that, given a chance, Dave Thomas would most likely tell me to leave my baloney on some other man’s bread. Still, I urge anyone who listens to this one to go in as deeply as is possible. Great treasures await the perception there.