Pere Ubu

St. Arkansas

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No band has sustained as much alt-credibility as long as Pere Ubu. While St. Arkansas doesn't divert from the paths the bandmembers have already traveled, it's worth remembering that these guys started this trip 27 years prior to this album, and noting as well that their lyrical and musical creativity is undiminished by time. Recorded dry, with a boxlike ambience, David Thomas's vocals gnarl like a weed, repulsive yet irresistible, in a garden of broken glass. While the band scatters shards of pointed sound around him, Thomas tells cryptic, twisted tales; on "Slow Walking Daddy" his strangled bleat transplants a Willy Loman character into shadows of vague but looming doom. For the song "Hell" he switches to a smoky mumble and reflects, with odd detachment, on finding himself in perdition -- a place depicted musically by a muffled, lurching drum motif, some keyboard wheezes, and a distant out of tune piano. The closing track, "Dark," wraps up the theme of the album -- tragic self-delusion in a world filled with indifference; Thomas' delivery of the key line, a hopeless mantra to "AM radio," is a masterful bit of expression. On each track he presents himself as more of an actor or a performance artist than a singer, an assumption of identity that would challenge almost any band's approach to accompaniment. In this sense, as well as in his poetic integrity and superb connection to his musicians, and in the dark majesty of his declamation, Thomas casts a dangerous spell with St. Arkansas and reaffirms his stature as a peer of Tom Waits.

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