A song stylist in the truest sense of the word, David Thomas is one of rock’s few truly one-of-a-kind artists. But The Sound of the Sand and Other Songs of the Pedestrians, the Pere Ubu vocalist’s first solo album, still came as something of a surprise. His lyrics and unusual compositions bring strangeness out of the mundane — imparting magic to everyday objects and activities — aided by an eclectic bunch: Richard Thompson, Anton Fier, Chris Cutler, Eddie Thornton, Philip Moxham and others. Each demonstrates hitherto unimagined aspects of their talents, and Thomas’ otherworldly voice — animal noises transmuted into human speech — has never been more expressive. A high point of Thomas’ avant-garde folk-blues-jazz-rock cultural synthesis.
Variations on a Theme, which prominently features Richard Thompson, again mixes a bit of everything — country, jazz, blues-into Thomas’ own unique style. Only two tracks on this musically sedate, almost “normal”-sounding record recall the early Ubu’s general looniness. Throughout, Thomas demonstrates genuine fascination with his subject matter, as well as an invariably novel perspective. A good follow-up, and one indicative of enormous artistic reach.
Winter Comes Home, which gives front cover billing to ex-Henry Cows Chris Cutler and Lindsay Cooper, mixes intellectual stand-up comedy with winning performances, all recorded live in Munich in 1982. Cooper’s bassoon perfectly suits Thomas’ tastefully strident vocal excursions. Most notable is the title track, essentially a shaggy-dog story.
Thomas reunited with Ubu bassist Tony Maimone for More Places Forever. Along with Cutler’s drums and Cooper’s one-woman woodwind section, Thomas has all the backdrop he needs to gather listeners into his hermetic world and cast his spell. He expresses love for insects and sunshine, and, in “New Broom,” follows some dust on its journey. Bonus for Ubu fans — the track for which Song of the Bailing Man was titled.
The band (re)assembled for Monster Walks the Winter Lake is almost an Ubu reunion, with Maimone joined by Allen Ravenstine on synths and Paul Hamann producing. The low-key music moves more slowly than usual, with cello and strangely played accordion often the predominant instruments; the increasingly philosophical lyrics containing recurring monster metaphors. The four-part eleven-minute title track is a real treat.
Blame the Messenger was recorded with much the same lineup that reformed Pere Ubu. One listen confirms that they must have been itching to get back together; the sound and arrangements are more a throwback to the band’s earlier recordings than any of Thomas’ previous solo work, thanks especially to Ravenstine’s electronic keyboards. The lyrical fascination this time is mostly with nature, particularly ironic when juxtaposed with such beautifully unnatural sounds. A great record.
David Thomas, Monster is a five-CD box recapitulating his solo career (Sound of the Sand to Blame the Messenger) with the addition of a 1996 live disc by DT and Two Pale Boys (trumpeter Andy Diagram and guitarist Keith Moliné).