The album is a farewell to a hometown. It's narrative perspective is from a perch on top of an abandoned warehouse maybe on West Sixth Street with a view of an urban landscape on the eve of a leaving. Under the streets of the city, mice are scurrying along the rails of the transit train tunnels.
References to Cleveland landmarks, "secret scenes in the cracks of the city," appear throughout. Universal Vibration, for example, was painted on the wall of a machine shop to the south of I-90 just past the old Nike Missile base. It could only be seen if you happened to be facing the right direction as you drove by. It could never be spied by looking for it. To see it was an event to be noted to like-minded friends1.
Mixed by Paul Hamann, David Thomas and Chris Cutler at Marcus Studios, London, January 8 - 13 1988, except George Had A Hat, Dream The Moon and The Hollow Earth (alt mix) which were mixed at Suma in November 1987.
Further overdubs were recorded at Suma in December 1987.
Engineered by Paul Hamann. Recorded at Suma November 9 - 30, 1987.
The 2007 re-issue was mastered by Paul Hamann and David Thomas at Suma, January 22 - 23 2007.
Design and photos by John Thompson / idrome.
Band photo by B.C. Kagan.
Re-issue package design by John Thompson / idrome.
Re-issue liner notes by David Stubbs.
The original 1988 Fontana release does not seem to have been mastered. David Thomas and Paul Hamann mastered it January 22-23 2007 at Suma. An alternate mix of Dream The Moon from 1987 was substituted in the running order and five extras were added: the UK b-sides Postman Drove A Caddy and The B-Side, live in the studio recordings of Miss You and We Have The Technology for the John Peel Show (never previously released), and an alternate mix of The Hollow Earth (never previously released). As well, the sound of thunder that was found on the original Suma mix of the tracks was added - there was clearly some intention of including this somewhere for some reason. The packaging has been updated by John Thompson and added are extensive liner notes specific to the album by David Stubbs.
Extras on Mercury Re-issue:
Postman Drove A Caddy and The B-Side.
Recorded specifically as b-sides during the Suma tracking sessions. Released July 25 1988 in the UK as extra tracks on the 12" vinyl release of We Have The Technology, Fontana UBU112 (870-407-1), and the cd single release, Fontana UBUCD1 (870-407-2). The B-Side, as well, was released on 7" vinyl as the b-side to We Have The Technology, Fontana UBU1 (874-407-7).
Miss You (live) and We Have The Technology (live).
Never previously released. Recorded for the John Peel Show. Pere Ubu for this session is David Thomas, Jm Jones, Eric Feldman, Tony Maimone, Chris Cutler and Scott Krauss. Recorded live in the studio for BBC Radio on June 27 1989 at Eden Sound, London, engineered by Mike Engles and produced by Dale Griffin.
Thunder In The Mix.
Never previously released. We found this on the original mix session tape at Suma. There was evidently some intention of putting it on the record somewhere.
Mercury Records 9846251 Apr 16 2007 cd. Director's Cut.
1. Ancient signs were a Cle feature, for example the Elliot Ness For Mayor sign from 1947. After his time as an Untouchable in Chicago, he was Safety Director in Cleveland (1935 to 1947).Go Back
Robert Christgau, Village Voice, 1988
So what's astonishing isn't just the high spirits and good faith, both rare enough on reunions, but the singleness of purpose. Pick Hit: A.
Adam Sweeting, The Guardian, 1988
As if a mountainside had learned to play Mendelssohn... Even when they make no literal sense, Ubu have the alluring and deceptive plasticity of a foreign language.
Edwin Pouncey, New Musical Express, 1988
The Tenement Year is this year's manna from heaven. For the cold initiate about to enter this strange world... hold on and enjoy the ride, you've never heard anything like it. A classic.
Jon Pareles, New York Times, 1988
It's still a band that blithely upends all that's solid and foursquare about rock. At the center of Pere Ubu is a garage band, one that can knock out guitar riffs fit for any frat party... Solid as the band can be, it's also likely to dissolve songs from the bottom up. For all Pere Ubu's uncertainty, the band isn't arbitrary; its music has the off-the-wall unity of a Marx Brothers routine.
Steve Hochman, Rolling Stone, 1988
Who else could not only write a song with lyrics that are just "George had a hat but it wasn't where it wasn't at" but also make it sound like a love poem to humanity.