In retrospect, The Tenement Year was clearly a transitional album for Pere Ubu. Reuniting with his band after a six-year hiatus, leader David Thomas is still hip-deep in post-industrial weirdness: Whether celebrating the existential dependability of fashion head wear, observing that the zoo is a bad place for bears and penguins, or expressing cautious optimism about technology, Thomas always sounds completely comfortable in his own wholly individual skin. And the band (performing here in its classic lineup with bassist Tony Maimone, drummer Scott Krauss, and synthesist Allen Ravenstine, among others) manages, as always, to stay solidly in the pocket even when pushing the boundaries of song structure and harmonic propriety. But as weird as they get, there are clear portents of the poppier sound to come: "Talk to Me," with its surf guitar bridge and downright singable chorus; the undeniable hook on "Say Goodbye"; and, above all, the sweet-tempered ballad "We Have the Technology" all point to themes and moods that would recur in the following year's Cloudland, an album that yielded not only a borderline hit single but also (gulp) an MTV video. What does it all add up to? The most accessible Ubu album that snobs can enjoy without feeling guilty. And astoundingly, given Thomas' public pronouncements on such matters, there's even a lyric sheet.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson