Though Pere Ubu's tenure on Mercury lasted one record, their departure for their unlikely home of Chrysalis (at the time the label of Jethro Tull) resulted in Dub Housing, widely considered their masterpiece. Darker and more difficult than The Modern Dance (indicated by the cover's darkened apartment complex and stormy Cleveland skyline) with plenty of bleak soundscapes (e.g., "Codex"), Dub Housing also includes "Navvy"'s bouncy burble (featuring Thomas yelping "I have desires!"), and "(Pa) Ubu Dance Party"'s surreal big beat. Make no mistake, as much as Ubu indulged in arty dissonance and mucked about with song structure, this is very much a rock & roll record, albeit one made by a band interested in pushing the envelope when it came to sound, song construction, and performance. As much as this is a band effort, the guitar of Tom Herman and the synthesizer of Allen Ravenstine frequently stand out. Herman's strong, polished playing veers from assertive riffing to assaultive noise; Ravenstine, who may be one of the all-time great synth players, colors the sound with ominous whooshes of distortions, blips, and blurbs that sound like a sped-up Pong game. But, as is often the case with Ubu, it's David Thomas' singing (here at its most engagingly unrestrained) that is front and center. Part comic foil, part raging madman, Thomas utilizes all of his limited range in a whacked expressiveness built around hiccups, yodels, screeches, and, sometimes, singing. Dub Housing sold next to nothing and signaled the beginning of the end of Ubu's relationship with Chrysalis, but it remains an important and influential American rock record.
Dub Housing Review
by John Dougan