Overlooked Gems of My Lifetime

Credit is given where credit is due regarding the overlooked gems of my lifetime.

Friday, July 14, 2006

David Thomas and the Wooden Birds, Blame the Messenger

Blame the Messenger, by David Thomas and the Wooden Birds, is the album that preceded the 1988 reunion of Pere Ubu. In fact, it would be a preview of the reunited Ubu to come, featuring all but one of the band members who would play on and tour in support of the strong comeback album, The Tenement Year: Thomas, synth/noisemaker Allen Raventstine, bassist Tony Maimone, guitarist Jim Jones, and elfin drummer Chris Cutler. Only Ubu longtime beatkeeper Scott Krauss was missing.

What I love about this album, following the sometimes sketchy early-80s releases by the band proper (eg, The Art of Walking) and the nutty, impressionistic batch of solo Thomas albums that led up to this one (Monster Walks the Winter Lake is a particular winner among this category), is its feeling of purpose and propulsion and the way it balances the competing, reckless impulses of early Pere Ubu the way no Ubu release had done since the release of their underrated (among Pere Ubu fans, that is, because anyone else doesn't care) New Picnic Time.

Blame the Messenger starts off with the jaunty, concertina-based "My Town", a song that wouldn't have sounded out of place as the opening cut on any of Thomas' previous solo releases. The second song, "A Fact About Trains", introduces more Pere Ubu rock action (a special type of rock action, to be sure) than what hearty fans had been accustomed to hearing from the big man in many moons. Years after being almost taken out of the equation on the band's interesting Song of the Bailing Man album, Allen Ravenstine's analog synth is once more given room to roam, a welcome trend that would continue and then end, at least within a framework of relative song structure, with The Tenement Year. Things really get interesting for me, though, with "King Knut", which picks up where Dub Housing's "Ubu Dance Party" left off. (Hey, if you own no other Ubu-related release and you've got the stomach for what I'm posting here, run out and grab a copy of Dub Housing, one of my essential rock albums.) The rest of side 1, "When Love Is Uneven" and "The Storm Breaks", madly flows together just so, the way only old-fashioned vinyl album sequencing could allow.

OK, I've said too much about an album I don't intellectually grasp. I can't give you any helpful backstory regarding Thomas' biography at the time or literary references. I wish you were with me in 1988 to see the reunited Ubu that night at Philadelphia's old, marble sailor's church turned club Revival. I dragged an Ubu skeptic along, and he was sold. The return of Krauss, laying down his Neanderthal beats under the sort of proggy Cutler fills you'll hear on this album, was magic. This David Thomas and the Wooden Birds album was the shape of things, briefly, to come.


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