Having released two albums, The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, in 1978, which have gone on to achieve immortal status in post-punk history (despite Ubu being pre-punk), Pere Ubu were at the top of their game in 1979, the height of their unique powers.
Everything about New Picnic Time suggests a group pushing upward, Allen Ravenstine’s abstract synthwaves and Tom Herman’s nerve-shredding guitars chasing the heights of David Thomas’s wobbly, exploratory falsetto. ‘These are the best times of all’, sings Thomas on Kingdom Come; however, it’s a declaration drenched in irony. The recording sessions for the album had been fractious, apparently, and guitarist Herman left, taking with him Ubu’s strongest connection to the rock world.
He was replaced on 1981’s The Art Of Walking by Mayo Thompson, whose playing was less serrated, more zig-zag, Beefheartian. This gave more space for Thomas’s lyrical peregrinations and, shadowed by the synaptic burblings of Ravenstine’s synthesiser, and a more arrhythmical approach, many critics felt that Ubu had washed up on the remote island of whimsy.
When 1982’s Songs Of The Bailing Man came out, it was caustically dubbed Songs Of The Boring Men by NME. They were wrong, and it’s only now that we can see Thomas was just beginning to establish a vast, existential lyrical heartland of his own, which he wanders to this day. With a disc including live outtakes and priceless B-sides, this is an essential collection.