Pere Ubu – 20 Years in a Montana Missle Silo

My faith in Pere Ubu as an ongoing entity was rebooted by their June 2016 EARL show. Touring behind a pair of box sets spanning their fertile 1975-82 period, the motley fivesome (Ubu Roi David Thomas being the only remaining founding member) delivered something verging on a theater piece, retaining the heart of the originals while leaving them plenty of room to breathe.

When that same touring band entered the studio – with the addition of a third guitarist – there seemed reason to hope they’d harness that same spirit, fire up the pistons in the Avant Garage, and release the first Pere Ubu record I could give a shit about since 1995’s Ray Gun Suitcase.

Is that what happened on 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo? The short answer: Yes, but don’t get too greedy.

Thomas revisits an old trick on “Funk 49,” appropriating the title of a chestnut to which his own track bears little or no resemblance (remember the James Gang, before Joe Walsh opted for the soft life with Eagles?) Riding an arrangement that feels like an updating of “Humor Me” from Ubu’s classic debut, Thomas pontificates over two minutes of fractured agitpop, including some ingenious vocal editing. I can’t think of a better Ubu track since at least 1991.

“Toe To Toe,” which essentially serves as the title track, is a hard-charging workout that delivers on the garage promise, while two other standouts – “Prison of the Senses” and “I Can Still See” – follow Dub Housing’s winningly woozy template.

Fifteen minutes of high quality is all we should reasonably expect from Pere Ubu at this point, though – and that’s all we get. Opener “Monkey Bizness” serves as a garage rock statement of intent, but lacks a decent hook to sell it. And a title like “Howl” is a pretty clear indicator of the abyss Thomas is about to enter. Missile Silo has a few of those plodding dead ends, but not nearly as many as recent outings.

Pere Ubu recently got a welcome bump when three of its tunes were featured in American Horror Story episodes. Thomas once claimed the most he ever made from one of his songs came when it appeared on the inane ’80s sitcom Alf, so it’s good to see that indignity addressed. It’s also hard to imagine playing 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo start-to-finish very often, but it’ll sure be nice to update a Best of Pere Ubu playlist that doesn’t stop cold in the mid ’90s.

Pere Ubu
20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo
[Cherry Red]