David Thomas

Monster: Boxed Set

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David Thomas has been the bizarre and wonderful voice of Pere Ubu since the band's emergence from the Cleveland underground in the mid-'70s. In that capacity, he's attracted critical accolades from every quarter, if not teen idol status or platinum sales -- which isn't completely puzzling, given that he tends to write songs about birds, dinosaurs and hats, that he sings in a sort of strangled warble, and that his early stage name was Crocus Behemoth. If Pere Ubu is obscure, the solo albums Thomas made in the early- to mid-'80s are downright abstruse; until this five-disc set came out, every single one was long out of print. The five studio albums and one live set included here create an entire musical world that is both inviting and forbidding. David Thomas has always been able to surround himself with a shifting constellation of genius -- from Richard Thompson to reedman Lindsay Cooper, drummers Chris Cutler and Anton Fier, and Ubu bassist Tony Maimone -- all of whom have managed, over the years, to serve his singular muse in diverse ways. The horns and rock guitar of "The Sound of the Sand" and "Variations on a Theme" give way to the spare but lovely textures of "More Places Forever," on which Thomas is accompanied only by bassoon, bass and drums. On "Monster Walks the Winter Lake" (which shares a disc with "More Places"), Thomas goads the band into helping him write a song about improvisation and lurches through a song cycle written through the eyes of a monster at various stages of its life. "Don't Blame the Messenger" is a bracing rock record by a Thomas band called the Wooden Birds, who subsequently looked around at each other and realized they were Pere Ubu, just like the old days; four more Ubu albums followed before that particular lineup flew apart again. The last disc is 74 minutes of live recordings by Thomas' latest group, Two Pale Boys, consisting of Thomas, a guitarist and a trumpeter. If it sounds kind of sparse, don't be fooled: the guitar player is all MIDI'd up, and the trumpeter has some kind of machine as well, so they might as well be a marching band at times. Thomas covers himself (Ubu faves "Kathleen" and "Busman's Honeymoon" both appear) and continues to indulge the Beach Boys obsession that first showed itself in the "Sloop John B" cover on his first solo album, back in 1981. There is absolutely nothing here that will convince the unconverted, but this box is a gold mine for some of us.

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