Pere Ubu – Non-Alignment Pact

The first track from Pere Ubu’s first album (1978’s The Modern Dance) and it’s still, after the many great things they’ve done, possibly the greatest thing they’ve ever done. Best of all, it’s the ideal introduction to their music because while it’s recognisably rock ‘n’ roll, there’s enough strangeness going on to suggest that there’s something a bit special about the band. It eases you in to their world despite there being nothing much that’s easy about it.

The opening, and ominous, feedback is overridden by some cracking rockabilly guitar that quickly gives way to a bass-led riff that’s both uplifting and a bit sinister. As it starts to chug gloriously along, we’re suddenly hit by the whiny weirdness of David Thomas’s voice: scary, geeky, authoritative and vulnerable all at the same time. The lyrics are similarly multi faceted, being a declaration of love that needs more than just the singer’s declarations to make it happen – he demands that it’s also ratified by heads of state (“sign it!”). This is followed by his claim that the object of his affection goes by many different names (some of them obvious names from popular songs) which may mean that he’s basically offering himself to all women – or, as is more likely, to any woman who will take him.

At the time this song was released, there was loads of experimentation with the familiar rock ‘n’ roll form. Punk had revved it all up and made it exciting and vital again, but bands like Pere Ubu (and Joy Divison, Wire, The Fall, PIL etc.) mixed it up a bit more in an attempt to create something that was genuinely different while still recognisably ‘rock’. They seemed to want to reach at least some kind of an audience, rather than just artfully paint themselves into an unlistenable avant-garde corner.

For me, Non-Alignment Pact is one of the most successful examples of that kind of experimentation. It’s clever and jarring and odd – but it also kicks ass, as they say. Marvellous.

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About Paul Saxton

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