The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame probably isn't hip enough to induct these hometown heroes from Cleveland, but Pere Ubu long has held a secure spot on the alternative-rock honor roll. Along with Television and Talking Heads, Pere Ubu emerged in the mid-'70s to fan the commercially invisible dark flame first ignited in the '60s by the Velvet Underground.
Now, alternative rock is a fairly raging fire that makes newer, less-deserving bands incredibly rich. Pere Ubu trundles along with a cult following, putting out smart, idiosyncratic but frequently catchy albums that are conscious not only of the Velvets' noise-pop innovations but of rock's roots in folk, country music and the blues. The "me" in "Story of My Life" is Ubu's singer-lyricist, David Thomas, a man of Jackie Gleasonesque shape and commensurate wit. The "story of his life" here is really the story of a marital breakup. It opens with "Wasted," a sea chantey, of all things--but nautical music is an apt touch when you're introducing the subject of emotional shipwreck. Embarking on a journey through swampy rock ("Louisiana Train Wreck"), an avant-punk extrapolation on the blues ("Come Home") and tumbling Buddy Holly rhythms ("Fedora Satellite II"), the sad story unfolds. But Thomas, an unconventional, theatrically gifted singer, keeps his tongue in cheek at least some of the time. "Where do the brokenhearted park their cars?" he muses in the otherwise haunted "Heartbreak Garage." And, ever the artist in search of good material, he notes in "Kathleen" that "self-pity, it's a terrible thing to waste!"