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"I got the N-R-G crisis blues!"
|Starting Period:||The Interim Years|
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If you thought Pink Floyd was weird, you have to listen to Frank Zappa. If you thought Frank Zappa was really weird, you have to listen to Captain Beefheart. If you thought nothing in the world could be weirder than that, well then your next (and arguably last, because, frankly speaking, my mind is limited enough to be able to tell what comes next) stop is the Residents. The Residents have always been an underground band, since their having formed in the late Sixties in North Louisiana or somewhere; even the exact location is not thoroughly certified, because they are often referred to as a California band, much to the chagrin of Quicksilver Messenger Service, I think. More than that, they have always been anonymous - nobody knows what their names are, and nobody will probably know. Look at the photo above: this is perhaps the most clear and obvious image of the Residents that you'll ever be able to get, unless they decide to open their secret on their deathbeds ("their" - we have to assume that there's more than one Resident, although that remains to be proven). More than that, they have always been tremendous mystificators: every single fact you'll encounter about them on the Net or elsewhere bears the 'allegedly' tag, and you have to take every bit of information about them, whether it looks credible or not on the surface, with a bag of salt.More than that, the Residents aren't actually a music band. Well - to a certain extent they are, as long as you share the global conception that equals music to every 'unusual sonic experience' ever created. But the Residents often billed themselves as an 'anti-music band', and that definition fit them far more than, say, the Sex Pistols. Their main principle is musical deconstruction: believing (sincerely or not - that's up to you to decide) that pop music in general is a cunning plot to substitute true artistic rebellion for an easily accessible, 'lulling', becalming surrogate, the Residents spent their entire career ridiculing the very essence of pop music in all its forms and subgenres. Thus, they are the artists that could define the very term of 'alternative' - and yet I wouldn't call them that, because if the Residents are 'alternative', then nobody else is. Nobody. Frankly speaking, I should have left most of their albums unrated, because this is so much different from your usual (or unusual) musical experience that I'm almost at a loss. And yet, the Residents' music is neither true avantgarde (because it is deeply rooted in traditional forms of music) nor average noise-making (there sure IS a lot of noise on these records, but it's not crucial for understanding them). Rather it is a projection of pop music onto a very twisted and ironic state of mind - pop music driven to absurd and relative cacophony by emphasizing those sides of it that are the silliest, the most embarrassing and... you know the rest. You know how many people tend to detest pop music because it's so stupid and vulgar and shallow, right? Simply because the basic values of good pop music do not fit into their category of what they consider to be 'great'. Well, the Residents supposedly put themselves in the position of those people and just ridicule pop music. I will probably make a very bold statement here - I think that the Residents actually love pop music, because they manage to capture its essence so well at times. Somebody who really detests that stuff will never be able to make a record as brilliant as Third Reich'n'Roll, or demonstrate such a vast knowledge of various styles and subgenres as on Duck Stab. However, loving something does not necessarily exclude making fun of that very something, just to remind the public that nothing should be idolized or prayed upon. The Residents' main function is to remind us that pop and rock music is made by humans, not by gods, and that it is always possible to make a special kind of 'meta-music' that would be able to emphasize rock's stronger and weaker points, as well as inject a certain streak of venomous humour that was originally lacking. This second point is, in fact, even more important. The Residents' main message: 'Don't Take This Stuff Too Damn Seriously! Get A Life!'. I agree, of course. What sane person wouldn't? Unfortunately, the Residents weren't always consistent. Oh sure, they were consistent in that they never sold out - they started out as an underground band whose first album sold on a two-figure number basis, and up to this day they're known exclusively in 'elitist' circles and have no hope of becoming anything else (although, to be frank wid ye, I don't see how the Residents might be less popular than Captain Beefheart, for instance). But they weren't that consistent in making their music interesting. Their classic stuff was for the most part recorded in the Seventies, when they successfully experimented with marrying their penchant for twisting 'classic pop motives' with avantgarde and, er, experimentation with instrumentation, but from the Eighties onwards, they got stuck with their 'ghostly synth' sound, producing records that were significantly weaker and rather pointless. Plus, they seemed to have been caught in a time-warp: basing their work on Fifties' and Sixties' sounds, they never got around to digging into the sounds of the Seventies and Eighties, not to mention Nineties, and so had a pretty limited base for the last twenty years or so. And seeing as the Residents' catalog is really huge, I have to warn you - be sure to check out you're buying the right stuff if you really want to get into these guys from the correct angle. Most of their Seventies stuff will do (Eskimo, Third Reich'n'Roll and Duck Stab are particularly recommended).
Listenability: 0/5. Well,
I guess that's the point, isn't it?
Resonance: 1/5. Well, I guess that isn't the point.
Originality: 5+/5. Hmm, while absolute originality without enough listenability and resonance is not always appreciated, this is one of those cases where I HAVE to give 'em extra points.
Adequacy: 2/5. They often go overboard, particularly in later years; stick to classic Seventies releases.
Diversity: 4/5. Could be a 5 except the essence of the Residents' music (or, for some people, the lack of essence) is really always the same.
Overall: 2.4 = * * on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Deconstructive madness in full flight. Very much recommended for those that can't stand music.Best song: N-ER-GEE (CRISIS BLUES)
Track listing: 1) Boots; 2) Numb Erone; 3) Guylum Bardot; 4) Breadth And Length; 5) Consuelo's Departure; 6) Smelly Tongues; 7) Rest Aria; 8) Skratz; 9) Spotted Pinto Bean; 10) Infant Tango; 11) Seasoned Greetings; 12) N-er-gee (Crisis Blues).
Meet The Residents is a clear spoof of Meet The Beatles (the Fab Four's first American LP), and the four pictures on the album cover confirm that hint even further. Actually, the cover was one of the reasons why the record never sold that much - either the Residents were sued for it or the record was just pulled off the shelves almost immediately, I don't remember which. (It also spawned a rumour that the Residents are the Beatles! Hah hah!). In any case, legend has it that the record only sold 40 copies in its first year of release. I can certainly believe that. Later on, the record was re-released with another picture, that of the four Beatles standing in their regular suits but with fishheads replacing the usual moptops, while the band members are identified as 'Paul McCrawfish, John Crawfish, George Crawfish, and Ringo Starfish'! The CD re-issue actually combines both covers, so everybody's gonna be happy.The liner notes tell us a happy story about how the Residents teamed up with their favourite guitarist Snakefinger and 'The Mysterious N. Senada who had developed a complex musical system based upon phonetics' and took their cue from these guys. 'Listen closely to the album', the liner notes tell. 'Let the strangeness wear off through a couple of plays. Soon you too will whistle the merry tunes and wonder along with the Residents who that old man N. Senada really was'. Well, to tell you the truth, none of these tunes are whistlable even after half a dozen listens, and if the strangeness of this "music" wears off of you, you're in big psychologic trouble. No, the Residents haven't yet hit their creative peak on this thing, but this is definitely one mind-boggling album. You are first greeted with a series of rapidly changing 'jingles', all linked together and none exceeding two minutes. Dissonance and craziness abounds, but remember, this is not avantgarde: this is spooky deconstruction. Yes, it begins with a snippet of Nancy Sinatra's 'Boots'. But what is that snippet? A strange organ/brass hum, a guy who cycles through the lyrics in a wheezy, whiny tone, and stupid 'pa-bam pa-bam' vocal harmonies out of nowhere. And to make matters worse, the vocal melody just starts looping around in a couple of seconds. Then it goes away, replaced by a music-hall melody that's seemingly played on out of tune electric pianos with abnormal fuzz levels. 'Guylum Bardot' is hilarious - your ears will bleed as somebody plays that trombone, because it's drastically out of tune, and what about those exaggerated nasal twangs in the vocals? See, the guys are playing and singing melodies - the only thing is, they twist these melodies so much that they turn to complete absurd. Perhaps the funniest of these little snippets, though, is the pseudo-psychedelic send-up 'Smelly Tongues', which first encodes Latin rhythms and then moves into an ominous sound loop while the Residents chant 'Smelly tongues looked just as they felt' in a prime Jim Morrison intonation for a dozen times. Okay, maybe not Jim Morrison, but substitute your favourite 'serious' rock hero from the Sixties here and you'll get the same impression. Later on, though, the 'songs' become longer - the one-minute snippets gradually fade away, making way for the lengthier experiences, and these are in some ways even more enjoyable. 'Rest Aria' sounds like a cross between an extract from some Chopin suite and a grim dirge; it is arguably the most 'listenable' of the numbers on here, because the piano rhythms are stable and rather normal, yet even so, all the extra instrumentation still gives the passage a bizarre feel. 'Spotted Pinto Bean' spoofs Broadway or something, I'm not exactly sure. 'Infant Tango' I could take as a parody on the Residents' immediate predecessor - Captain Beefheart, with a hoarse, ragged vocal like the Captain's, and a series of jerky, paranoid 'funky' rhythms that the Magic Band was so capable of. 'Seasoned Greetings' is absolutely hilarious - a perfect choice for putting on at Christmas if you feel the guests are overstaying their welcome. It rocks pretty hard, with huge emphasis on unlistenable fuzz amounts again, and culminates in a very ominous Christmas greetings from the band, until it smoothly flows into the album's climax - 'N-ER-GEE (Crisis Blues)'. You should really hear the Residents going 'no no no no no' as they launch into a great echoey boogie performance, and then, as they go 'nobody can do the shake like I do, nobody can do the boogie-woogie like...', the record loops and they repeat 'boogie-woogie... boogie-woogie... boogie-woogie...' for ages, with all kinds of hellish astral noises descending down and the whole thing finally crashing down like the Empire State Building, right on the listeners' heads. You ain't never heard anything like it, that's for sure. You ain't never heard anything like the 'We got the en-er-gy crisis blues' line stomped out by somebody from the band, either. Simply put, if you haven't heard this record, you can't even imagine what it actually sounds like. You may not like it at all, but you just gotta hear it. Man! Like I already said, this is not the Residents at their best, though. While most of the five-minute compositions are pretty good, I also feel they have no particular reason to go on for five minutes - few of them say anything more than the rest of the numbers could say in just one minute. And not all the grooves are really all that involving; plus, when the novelty factor (but not the strangeness, of course) wears off and you kinda get used to the overall sound, it's... ehh... well, not all of it is as funny as it was on first listen. Still, 'N-ER-GEE', 'Guylum Bardot', 'Seasoned Greetings', 'Smelly Tongues', these are all classics, and the album rates pretty high in my book anyway. I love a good amount of spoof and irony. Don't you?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
One thing I can swear - you have never heard the Fifties/Sixties guys covered like that, and you hardly will again.Best song: I really don't wanna be kiddin' ya...
Track listing: 1) Swastikas On Parade; 2) Hitler Was A Vegetarian.
The Residents' masterpiece? Very probably so, yet one must also hold in my mind that the things they were doing here weren't that complicated or revolutionary. The basic idea behind the two lengthy 'suites' is that rock'n'roll, as such, is just a Nazi plot (metaphorically speaking, of course) to mellow out the brains of the younger generation and to make money, and so the cover faithfully pictures Dick Clark in a Nazi uniform holding a carrot to tempt the younger generation with. All the swastikas on the sleeve naturally cost the Residents some trouble, up to the album being completely banned in Germany, but then again, the Residents were probably used to causing and be caused trouble, weren't they?The suites themselves are all consistent. They contain brief snippets of several dozen pop/rock songs - the first side concentrates more on doo-wop, rockabilly and surf standards, while the second tackles garage rock and some true Sixties' classics, but they're interspersed nevertheless - all ground through that perverse, formally unlistenable grinder that is the wicked mind of the Residents. Now the very idea of destroying 'classic' material might not be that new (it was already put to use by Frank Zappa several times before), but the manner of doing that is, of course, pure Residents, and it's killer. The only problem is that unless you really spent your childhood in the Sixties listening to the radio all the time, the actual humour and irony of these 'performances' will only get to you partially; me, for instance, I'm more often just sitting around, impatiently waiting for them to get to mutilating 'Light My Fire' or 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' or at least 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' and not paying close attention to all the rest, because I've never heard the originals. In short, this is an album where the listener (not to mention the reviewer - shame on poor little me) should really have done his homework before putting it on. Since a full description and 'review' of all the snippets would require a book, I'll just give a sample by telling you how it all begins. It all begins with a sample of Chubby Checker's 'Let's Twist Again' sung in German (true to the album's title and concept); in fifteen seconds, though, the sample cuts away and is replaced by creepy whooshing synth sounds and a wild echoey percussion beat against which the Residents start singing the famous 'na-na-na-na' of 'Land Of A Thousand Dances', after which a hoarse, exaggerated voice shouts out the actual lyrics accompanied by 'pseudo-brass' which sounds like a cross between a sax and a train whistle. Then everything bar the echoey percussion beats dies away, and they launch into the old standard 'Hanky Panky' with distorted electric piano, evil distorted vocals and schizophrenic drumming. Did that make sense? Probably not, or if it did, all you'd be thinking by now is that this is just silly self-indulgence. Nadah. It sounds so darn funny that the only question is: why did nobody think of something like that before 1975? Perhaps the main brilliancy of this album lies in its subtle grotesque. I'll try to explain: what the Residents are actually doing, not always, but much of the time, is finding out the weak, or potentially weak spots within the actual songs and exaggerating them to an absurd state. For instance, when they take on 'Pushin' Too Hard' by the Seeds, supposedly a garage classic I've never heard, they pick out the 'pushin' pushin' pushin' too hard' refrain and repeat it for a couple dozen times, making it even more stupid than it actually seemed like in the first place (actually, it may never have sounded stupid, according to the common music philosophy, but that's not what the Residents think). When they take on 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida', they pick out Doug Ingle's booming voice and parodize it to the point of insanity - it almost seems as if Juppiter has had one too many and is sexually harassing Juno. And, of course, the classic moment arrives when they extrapolate the riff of 'In A Gadda-Da-Vida' onto 'Sunshine Of Your Love', after which they brilliantly combine 'Hey Jude' with the woo-woohs of 'Sympathy For The Devil', making a hint at the uniformity and routineness of pop music as we know it. Hilarious! And to a certain extent - pretty damn true. That said, I'm still not able to rate this higher than a 12, for one simple reason: The Third Reich'n'Roll is, before all, just a gimmick, a pseudo-musical joke that's more valuable than just any joke, of course, because it raises some pretty serious and solid questions in itself; but a joke is a joke, and you can't get away from it. For one, I can't imagine anybody want to listen to this album more than once or twice, apart from occasions when you'd want to freak somebody out with the record, of course. If you want to hear the Residents play 'music', pick up Meet The Residents, or Duck Stab, or Commercial Album if you're that paranoid. This is a great, grandiose and meaningful joke. But I suppose that next time I pick this up from the shelf and actually use it in its proper way will only be after I've procured myself some of these originals the record parodizes. Just to compare. Oh, and one more thing! Don't forget to listen to this one in headphones. The number of tricks the guys play with the channels nearly exceeds the number of tricks they play with the instruments.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
The Residents are making pop music! Err... not exactly...Best song: LAUGHING SONG
Track listing: 1) Constantinople; 2) Sinister Exaggerator; 3) The Booker Tease; 4) Blue Rosebuds; 5) Laughing Song; 6) Bach Is Dead; 7) Elvis And His Boss; 8) Lizard Lady; 9) Semolina; 10) Birthday Boy; 11) Weight-Lifting Lulu; 12) Krafty Cheese; 13) Hello Skinny; 14) The Electrocutioner.
Start here with 'em Residents if you're not completely whacked out already. (I probably am. Heck, I oughta go buy some Stockhausen tomorrow morning. Lord help me keep my sanity!) This release combines together songs from two obscure EPs, released - or unreleased? - at the end of 1977, and actually marks the, ahem, commercial peak of the Residents: it sold something like 30,000 copies (no mean feat - the debut album sold about forty in total, remember?) and earned them a few positive critical reviews. It's not terribly difficult to guess why: Duck Stab has the Residents at their most accessible, writing short, relatively easy-going, sometimes even catchy 'pseudo-pop' compositions that don't even sound particularly dissonant. Actually, to my ears this stuff doesn't sound dissonant at all, not after Meet The Residents, at any rate. That's how goofy I have become. (What if my mother saw me now? Ooh, Lord... there I go again...)Okay now. I never thought I could say that, but for me, the album's main flaw is that it is way too short and has way too much filler on it - I could easily live without four or five of these tunes, while the rest combine to make something like the best 20 minutes of Residents music ever written. I don't really know who or what the Residents are poking fun at on this record, but something tells me it isn't really that important: Duck Stab is more like a series of inoffensive goofy avantgarde-pop collages rather than an intentional mockery of something or somebody. So I take it for what it is and just sit back and revel in the album's wicked, goofy and funny sound. What else can I do? 'Constantinople' opens the record on a really high note - imagine a slightly whacked-out pseudo-ethnic beat backed by a simplistic synthesizer riff and occasional distorted chords from Snakefinger's guitar, against which an occasional distorted Resident chants 'Here I come Constantinople here I come Constantinople here I come'. What's that supposed to mean? Nothing. Is it genius? Absolutely. 'Sinister Exaggerator' (indeed) has the scariest melody on the album... yes, you heard - I said 'melody', because there's plenty of melodies on here. The ominous ringing synth is almost 'goth' in its spookiness, even if it's all heavily tongue-in-cheek, of course. And a patented goofy drawl. 'The Booker Tease', I suppose, is supposed to suppose a supposed parody on all these unimaginative 12-bar instrumentals by British Invasion bands that used to fill up early Sixties' LPs. Why is the guitar sounding so dreadfully out of tune? Why, because it is out of tune, silly! That's what makes 'em Residents so great. How would the Residents have sounded were they not out of tune? Like shit, I reckon. 'Blue Rosebuds' - more of that cheeky pseudo-goth, with a wonderful falsetto reciting of absurdist poetry bits. But the album's true masterpiece, from beginning to end, is the fantastiwastic 'Laughing Song'. The Mephistopheles-like laughter is only one of the song's merits; I'm even more amused by the 'so dumb you gotta hear it' strings-imitating synth riff and, of course, the "singing Resident"'s guy exaggerated vocal delivery. Oh, if you're actually interested what a typical goofy Residents poem sounds like, I'll gladly give you one verse: 'An oily ole egg with a red peg leg/Thought a porquepine was his daughter/But he soon found out that she had the gout/And often would wink underwater'. Mind you, though, that this comes packaged together with an unimitable accent (don't ask me which one - I'm not a specialist on English dialects!), and a short 'puff' after every two lines as if the singer were a crooked old dude suffering from asthma. You also get your little funeral groove in 'Bach Is Dead' (not a favourite of mine, but quite idiosyncratic all the same), and a totally fucked-up piece of 'boogie' in 'Elvis And His Boss'. And that's just the first EP - there's seven more ditties like that. Favourites on the Buster & Glen thing include the hilarious 'Semolina' (with the unforgettable refrain of 'se-e-e-e-moli-i-i-i-na loves the seashells, at the shore she loves the seashells'), which probably owns a lot to classic Fifties' doo-wop, but don't quote me on that; the equally whoppy 'Birthday Boy', culminating in a very paranoid chanting of 'happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me'; and the scary tale of 'Hello Skinny' ('Skinny was born in a bathtub/And grew so incredibly thin/ That even the end of an eyedropper/Sucked him in/Skinny never knew any questions/And Skinny never looked at lights/But Skinny sold something/Every single night'). And is it just me or do I hear 'disco' elements in 'The Electrocutioner' or is it just an example of the Residents' apocalyptic vision? Whatever. Forget I asked that question. Questions are useless when you're dealing with the Residents. Maybe I could even rate this one higher than I did, but, like I said, it's just way too short and a few of the tunes don't do as much for me. Plus, the record still lacks the 'epic' and over-important character and nature of Reich'n'Roll; you could, of course, argue that Duck Stab is actual songs as opposed to the 'non-songs' of Reich'n'Roll, but hey, whoever cares if the Residents write 'songs' or 'non-songs'? These are the Residents, goddammit! Their output is continuous and can't be taken as separate artefacts! (Kinda like Frank Zappa). And Reich'n'Roll was their conceptual peak, whereas this one is just amazingly consistent and, overall, amazingly listenable. Now I won't be giving the highest rating to the 'most listenable' Residents album, would I? That would be like awarding the highest rating to the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
The least politically correct artistic statement ever in the history of Arctic minorities.Best song: go ask Nanouk!
Track listing: 1) The Walrus Hunt; 2) Birth; 3) Arctic Hysteria; 4) The Angry Angakok; 5) A Spirit Steals A Child; 6) The Festival Of Death.
In case you weren't informed, this is the Residents' most critically and commercially (100,000 copies in 15 years!) successful album ever. Why? You'd have to start work on a thesis to establish the objective reason. Hardly due to the album sleeve, I guess, which introduced the Eyeball Costume, since then as much a trademark of the Residents as the lips-and-tongue thing is for the Rolling Stones. Hardly due to the "music", since Eskimo just about happens to be one of the least "musical" albums put out by the band - and you'll have to keep that in mind, because normally the Residents actually do play music, even if it's sometimes hard to guess, yet on Eskimo they mostly don't, which is why I certainly wouldn't recommend this as the one perfect introduction to the band. Nor would I signal it out as the "quintessential" Residents' release, because it isn't. It just isn't. (What is, though?).Anyway, backstory. Well, no, no backstory - go read it on the Residents web for yourself. I'll just satisfy the initial lust for knowledge stage with a definition: Eskimo is a complex performance, embracing elements of music, stage show, 'sonic pantomime' (whatever it might mean) and pseudo-ethnologic research, that pretends to deal with the everyday life, as well as a few unordinary events, in the life of a certain Arctic people known to the Western World as "Eskimoes"; to be more exact, that most archaic branch of that people known as "Polar Eskimoes". Now the big question is: what on earth could prompt the Residents to hammer together a thing like that? Now, it is little secret that in that Western world, especially among the American sector, there is a rather old tradition of using the concept of an Eskimo (often vulgarized and trivialized) for providing shots of cheap, racist laughter, set in the context of everything from an oral anecdote to an animated cartoon. This appalling tradition obviously stems from the shameful colonial, imperialist past of the White Oppressor, and is vastly due to the common practice of denigrating, belittling and ridiculing something one cannot understand because of insurmountable background-related differences, be it the Eskimo people, Chinese folk music, or The American Idol. Alas, even today ignorance and superstition still rule this world with an iron fist. Doubtlessly, it is this cartoonish vision of the noble Eskimo that the Residents are so shamelessly exploiting in this album. Today, their dirty work might have triggered a befitting response from the liberally minded population; who knows, we might even witness a public burning of the record at the gate of every respectable Institute of Ethnography there is. But in 1979, most ethnographers were still sitting on a budget that was way too limited to allow them to secretly procure a second copy of the album once they'd publicly gotten rid of the first one, so there was no action taken - and the reins were given to the musical press instead, who, instead of anathemizing the band for stimulating racism and promoting a thoroughly false, grotesque image of a several thousand year-old cultural tradition, ended up running the green light up their thumbs, if I might be allowed to combine two metaphors that-a-way. There, that was my obligatory politically correct reprimand of the day. Now that I've safely pocketed my check from the New York Times, I can go back to real business and say this: Eskimo is... cool. (And I didn't mean this to be a pun, no). It is particularly cool for an album that consists of fifty percent white noise, thirty percent sped up/slowed down recordings of vocal gibberish, and twenty percent one or two note melodies that are quite rudimentary even judged by the Residents' usual standards. But the entire album was run through the prism of just one central idea: to create a semi-realistic atmosphere of the living and working environment of a half-real, half-imaginary people with the aid of a set of new-fangled electronic instruments within the confines of a studio. (Well, I guess that sentence was way too long to represent 'just one central idea', but I'm an inclusive sort of guy). And guess what, when all's been said and done, it's a success! It won't be much use concentrating on all the tracks, so I'm just gonna take one - the introductory one - for an example. 'The Walrus Hunt'. First - and most naturally - you have a bunch of white noise imitating wild Arctic winds battling with each other. Realistic? You bet your life it's realistic. Then, out of nowhere, there comes a solemn, monotonous horn melody, aided by slow, lethargically thumping drums, sort of like the kind of "ethnic" music you're likely to hear in one of 'em ethnographic documentaries (where the music itself usually gets composed by people who have nothing to do with the filmed natives themselves, mind you). Mutated vocals and water splashes slowly tear through the wall of wind and horns, like a real bunch of singing Eskimos rowing in unison in their kayaks. (Would real Eskimos sing while walrus-hunting? Before walrus-hunting, mayhaps. But who cares?). This goes on for some time, then... ...yes, the walrus has been spotted. A nasty-sounding synth loop imitates the slinging and harpooning action - and then there's something that might seem like an asthmatic overweight guy flushed down a gigantic toilet to you, but supposed to actually represent the captured walrus trying to dive underwater, fruitlessly tugging at the rope and making lots of bubbles and stuff. Eventually, it all calms down and the Eskimos just sort of drift away quietly in their kayak. End of track. That's just the intro - there's much more happening later on, with Eskimo women giving birth, Eskimo shamans ("Angakoks") praying for the breakup of impeding ice, evil spirits prevented from stealing children, and huge collective rituals (during one of which the "Eskimos" are supposed to be chanting 'Coca-Cola is life!', although I personally wasn't sharp enough to have noticed that). As a musical experience, this isn't valuable at all; I do admire the Residents' ability to impersonate ripples of tribal music from time to time, but they're merely ripples, and besides, the Residents don't have a monopoly on thinking up faux-ethnic music. But as a big all-embracing "happening", it's got plenty of fabulous moments, and surprisingly few unlistenable ones - surprisingly, given the Residents' usual penchant for intentional ugliness. In fact, I think the only moment which I actively disliked was on the aptly called 'Arctic Hysteria', where the pitch of the wind was raised higher and higher, shriller and shriller before it reached an almost ultra-sonic level and then got lost with one last "cluck". That part made me physically ill. Then again, it was supposed to represent a person's loss of contact with reality through acute arctic illness, so at least I can't accuse them of being inadequate. In the general sense of things, I suppose that this was indeed a big step forward for the Residents. While at the core of the album they were still taking subtle shots at Pop (this time, Pop as represented by common ethnic stereotypes rather than "popular music"), Eskimo has them drifting away from the "hit music as seen through the looking-glass" style of work and starting to create fantastic worlds all their own, not necessarily 'spoofing' something born in the bowels of the record industry conveyer belt. You could even say they were getting more serious with this thing (although, granted, it's a little hard to apply the word "serious" to an album like this). That said, I'd like to break my principle here and leave the album unrated after all, at least, not until I've lived with it for a few more years. This is, after all, a pseudo soundtrack to a pseudo ethnographic pseudo documentary, and I don't have that much material to compare it against in order to decide on the grade. And lastly, I can't help reiterate once more that the huge (by the Residents' own standard) success of the album still baffles me. Given that Frank Zappa's Apostrophe', also dealing with (pseudo)Eskimo culture, was rated pretty high as well, I'll just have to assume that whenever you mention an Eskimo, success is guaranteed. That's why Paul McCartney's 'Junior's Farm' was a big hit, too - didn't it have the 'I was talking to an Eskimo' line in there? And don't you get me going on 'Quinn The Eskimo', either.
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Year Of Release: 1980Record rating = 8
Perhaps one of the most conceptually interesting albums ever made - unfortunately, the material doesn't quite match the concept.Best song: doesn't work on here...
Track listing: 1) Easter Woman; 2) Perfect Love; 3) Picnic Boy; 4) End Of Home; 5) Amber; 6) Japanese Watercolor; 7) Secrets; 8) Die In Terror; 9) Red Rider; 10) My Second Wife; 11) Floyd; 12) Suburban Bathers; 13) Dimples And Toes; 14) The Nameless Souls; 15) Love Leaks Out; 16) Act Of Being Polite; 17) Medicine Man; 18) Tragic Bells; 19) Loss Of Innocence; 20) The Simple Song; 21) Ups And Downs; 22) Possessions; 23) Give It To Someone Else; 24) Phantom; 25) Less Not More; 26) My Work Is So Behind; 27) Birds In The Trees; 28) Handfull Of Desire; 29) Moisture; 30) Love Is...; 31) Troubled Old Man; 32) La La; 33) Loneliness; 34) Nice Old Man; 35) The Talk Of Creatures; 36) Fingertips; 37) In Between Dreams; 38) Margaret Freeman; 39) The Coming Of The Crow; 40) When We Were Young; [BONUS TRACKS:] 41) Shut Up Shut Up; 42) And I Was Alone; 43) Theme For An American TV Show; 44) We're A Happy Family; 45) The Sleeper Boy; 46) In Love; 47) Diskomo; 48) Jailhouse Rock; 49) This Is A Man's Man's Man's World; 50) Hit The Road Jack.
See, I was a wee bit disappointed here, and in fact, this is where the Residents start losing their golden touch. The concept this time around is just brilliant. In the liner notes, the Residents remind you that pop music is essentially repetitive - 'a repetition of two types of musical and lyrical phrases, the verse and the chorus'. So, if we 'cut out the fat', a true pop song is, in fact, not more than 1 minute long, just the usual length of a commercial jingle (and therefore, 'jingles are the music of America'). Therefore, a pop album of 40 minutes can include up to 40 'pop songs' of that kind, and this is exactly what the Residents are supposedly presenting to us. 'This compact disc is terrific in shuffle play. To convert the jingles to pop music, program each song to repeat three times', they conclude.Now I'll be the first to admit that the concept is brilliant. Unfortunately, the music itself on the album doesn't exactly stand up to this brilliancy. You'd expect the Residents to try and record 'jingles' indeed - or at least, the usual 'frigged out' jingles that they already had earlier. But these forty songs in question were a real disappointment in that respect. First of all, they aren't really even vaguely reminiscent of 'pop' - they don't usually have a verse and a chorus (only occasionally). Sometimes they only have a verse, sometimes they only have a chorus. Sometimes they don't have neither, being just purely instrumental. Is this supposed to be in agreement with the preamble? Guess not. Second, the sound itself isn't that nice. Not only will you not be finding a full band sound anywhere on here, you won't even be finding any instruments outside of just a couple (maybe just ONE!!) synthesizer, that programs everything from the real keyboards to the drumbeats. And this makes sitting through the entire record a really tedious chore, because you can't even distinguish one song from another. Of course, I realize that composing forty entirely different melodies and cramming all of them onto one record is a task worthy of a musical Hercules, but at least they might have escaped this problem with a little bit of instrumental diversity. Eh? Where's Snakefinger and his weird guitar twirls? Where's the distorted electric piano? Where are the hilarious samplings? That said, it is still not a bad recording, and after one or two listens during which you'll get incredibly disappointed you'll probably want to come round to forgetting the actual concept and just concentrating on the 'weird sounds' of the Residents. That is, returning to the notes on their debut album, 'let the strangeness wear off after a few listens'. And then it becomes obvious that the Residents are still quite good at making fun of pop music! They are just not so blatantly obvious about it. This record is so dang quiet, in contrast with the loud, abrasive, sometimes ear-destructive sound of their previous albums, that it's very hard to concentrate on any one given tune. But if you do, you'll find, for one thing, that The Commercial Album really lives up to its name in a few respects. For instance, unlike its predecessors, the record hardly has any dissonance on it! The Residents just bang out some rhythms on their keyboards - real pop rhythms, in fact (although it's not that they're always pop; some of them, I'd say, are more 'progressive' than 'poppy'), and add up some staccato solos or some frigged out vocal melodies that are nevertheless totally in accordance with the main musical theme. Of course, the bastards still make sure that all of these melodies sound weird and almost paranoid; true to their essence, The Commercial Album doesn't sound like a collection of jingles at all, rather like a collection of vague, mystical creations of somebody's deeply disturbed mind. It might give you nightmares, in fact, but ain't that cool? Heh heh heh. I won't be really discussing the individual titles, because once you start, you'll never end. The titles won't tell you anything, although it's not true that they are not in any way related to the actual tunes (thus, 'Phantom' really has a very ghostly sound to it, from mock-church organ to these ominous synth whistles in the 'chorus' section - then again, pretty much everything on here sounds ghostly. And pale); and the actual melodies are for the most part catchy, but unmemorable. See that? That's not a contradiction! They're catchy but unmemorable! And this, in fact, is where the main weakness of the Residents' philosophy really lies - three minutes of repetition for a pop tune are absolutely necessary for it to produce any kind of serious artistic impression on the listener, and not just an effect of the song's basic ineptness. Of course, one could argue that jingles are one-minute long in the first place, but you're supposed to be hearing these jingles continually, whereas I doubt that you'll want to be continually hearing The Commercial Album... In any case, it ain't half-bad. Perhaps I should have taken the band's advice and programmed each song to play for three times in a row. Try that. I just don't have enough time or good will. There's only so much time to tell you that the CD re-issue of the album brings the track number up to fifty by including a couple tracks from The Commercial Single that came out at the same time ('Shut Up Shut Up', in particular, is a dang rock'n'roll classic and louder and boppier than almost anything else on here! And it has some really cool distorted guitar, too!), an incredibly cool mock-remake of the Ramones' 'We're A Happy Family', a few tracks that made it onto the Residue album later on, and all kinds of crap like that. How unbelievably cool.
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Year Of Release: 1981Record rating = 8
This is, what, a SERIOUS project from these guys???Best song: MIGRATION
Track listing: 1) Voices Of The Air; 2) The Ultimate Disaster; 3) Migration; 4) Another Land; 5) The New Machine; 6) Final Confrontation; 7) Lights Out/Shorty's Lament; 8) The Moles Are Coming (intermission); 9) Would We Be Alive (intermission); 10) The New Hymn (recessional).
This album and all that goes with it has a long history. In retrospect, it can probably be called a "turning point" for the Residents. Whatever be, most of their output from 1973 to 1980 seems to have essentially been parody - granted, a parody that usually went beyond the limits of parody by exploiting new sounds and new levels of recording technique, but a parody nonetheless. It all culminated in the release of The Commercial Album which, as the official Residents site tells us, was not at all happily received by musical critics; all of a sudden, liking the Residents was somehow no longer the ultimate cool thing, maybe because some people just got tired of their schtick and others switched their attention to all the really new crazy sounds of the Eighties.And so the Residents decided to change their ways. Mark Of The Mole initiated a set of firsts. It was announced as the first part of a 'trilogy' that was supposed to describe the life of two different communities, the Moles and the Chubs, in a weird sci-fi universe - a friggin' rock opera, in fact! It also preceded the totally baffling decision to go on tour, first time ever in the Residents' history; a tour that ended in total financial disaster, with the Residents' company, Ralph Records, nearly going broke and - as rumours have it - even in the splitting of the original band. For the first time, people got to see the Residents in person, although, of course, it wasn't much use seeing as how they were all wearing their eyeball masks. Most importantly, though, Mark Of The Mole is the first Residents album that is totally unfunny. If they are parodying something this time, I don't have the least idea what that is. Granted, the plotline of the "trilogy" doesn't look particularly thought-provoking: the Moles, who are driven away from their homeland by a series of devastating floods, arrive in the land of the selfish and decadent Chubs who use the Moles as cheap labour force, after which tension between the Chubs and the Moles slowly, but gradually grows to the brink of a real war; but not even a war can solve anything, so the situation is kinda canned. Well, we probably are supposed to take this thing tongue-in-cheek, but if you expect to see the Residents' usual sense of perverted humour at work, don't. There's nothing funny about this record. It's, kinda, you know, humourless avantgarde music. That set me aback for the first couple of times I heard it, but eventually Mark Of The Mole starts growing on you. The crucial point is that the Residents have changed, but the Residents are still progressing; one should consider how unique this record sounds even for 1981. Mmm, perhaps the basic ingredients of the band's music - dirty disgusting synthesizer passages that woo you over through their catchiness and atmosphere anyway - are still the same. But when taken within an entirely different context, that of a lengthy conceptual album with long tracks and an overall plotline that glues the pieces together, this style produces a seriously different effect as well. It's... well, if you're a prog fan, it's like your average prog rock conceptual thingy sifted through the weirdest interpretation in the world. It's like a classy, brawny deconstruction of prog rock, done by a bunch of competent guys who have the class to pull it off. Funny that in spots, this stuff actually reminds me of Magma, the whacky French band that took sci-fi noises to an extreme. And on other occasions, this stuff reminds me of Can's most extravagant improvisations. But nothing on here is improvised, it's the Residents, and they like their thing well-oiled. So what's the music like? Well, the music itself is just your average Residents. Mostly just synthesizers, with synthesized drum machines and just a bare minimum of guitars and other instruments (I think I've even heard a harmonica a couple of times!) throughout, and the Residents singing parts of the story with the usual weird Resident voices (other parts of the story were actually told in spoken interludes during live shows). 'Voices Of The Air' pre-announces danger, with a radio voiceover telling of the coming storm (funny Resident-related people insist on Grapes Of Wrath influences here); 'The Ultimate Disaster' is actually dedicated to the storms and floods themselves, with quite an evocative "synth impersonation" of the disasters; 'Migration', with its haunting 'we're marching to the sea' chorus and grim comments from 'The Observer' as the tired Moles proceed to invade the land of the Chubs, is my personal favourite on here; and so on and so on until the end. It's a bit tiresome to pick out the "outstanding" moments because the overall sound is so quiet (I mean, when you're just using a bunch o' hi-tech synths to get bloopy grizzly noises out of them, you bet your life the dynamics is fucked), but like I said, the music grows on you with repeated listenings. Keep going! Granted, all the repeated listenings never gave me the time of my life; and the interminable, monotonous, super-quiet 'New Machine' was a bit too much even for somebody who thinks the Residents are, like, cool shit, but in general, I'm able to get a positive reaction from this stuff. It also helps that my CD edition tacks on the Intermission EP with four more tracks at the end - the music that didn't make it onto the original studio records but was regularly played on live shows. These four tracks are every bit as terrific as the best stuff on the album itself, particularly the gruesome-sounding 'The Moles Are Coming' and the apocalyptic sounds of 'Would We Be Alive' with these shrill siren-like half-synth-half-guitar-like riffs. In fact, I highly recommend programming out 'New Machine' and playing these four cuts instead. This makes up for all the nerves you're going to lose.
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Year Of Release: 1982Record rating = 9
A bit boring at times, but nevertheless... a unique depiction of a culture clash, eh?Best song: none! these aren't songs! they're atmospheres!
Track listing: 1) Serenade For Missy; 2) A Maze Of Jigsaws; 3) Mousetrap; 4) God Of Darkness; 5) Smack Your Lips (Clap Your Teeth); 6) Praise For The Curse; 7) The Secret Seed; 8) Smokebeams; 9) Mourning The Undead; 10) Song Of The Wild; 11) The Evil Disposer; 12) Happy Home (Excerpt From Act II Of "Innisfree").
For some reason, this 'second part' of the 'Mole trilogy' isn't usually given as much acclaim as its predecessor. Some say the production was rushed; others would say that this was the first album where the Residents started using samplers and thus 'degraded' their classic appeal; still others say it's just cold-sounding and that's that. I wouldn't know - I certainly rate this puppy as the best Mole-related album ever.See, this time around the Residents didn't really need to come up with any particular 'plotlines'. In fact, they didn't even need to come up with lyrics, for that matter: the only vocals you'll hear scattered around is Mole ritual grunts and murmurs, plus a little bit of heavenly Chub chanting in the very last track. Where Mark Of The Mole concentrated on the, er, questionable plotline, Tunes Of Two Cities is true to its name and just concentrates on depicting the 'static' culture oppositions of the Moles and Chubs. Half of the twelve tracks on here are 'Mole' tunes, and the other half are 'Chub' tunes, and they're cleverly interspersed with each other so that a Mole tune follows a Chub tune which follows a Mole tune, and so on (one major exception is that the order of sequencing on the two sides of the LP was reversed, so that on the recent CD edition you get tracks 6 and 7 as both Mole tunes - keep that in mind while following the music, because I didn't get this at once and uh man, did that really throw me off balance!). And while I can't call any of these musical ventures masterpieces, the album as a whole is remarkably imaginative. The Chub tunes are the 'lighter', 'happier' tunes of the bunch, since the Chubs happen to be far more culturally advanced. They often consist of deconstructed old jazz tunes from the Twenties and stuff like that, although I confess I haven't done any research in that area. But 'Serenade For Missy' which opens the album certainly sounds like a deconstructed old jazz tune - with a totally murdered tempo and instruments that don't really sound simultaneously with each other but actually take turns (so that every time the 'sax' steps in the piano immediately disappears, etc.). Same goes for 'Mousetrap'... occasionally when I listen to those songs it reminds me of the good old days of the PC Speaker when one had to resort to emulating complex melodies in computer games with this series of high-and-low bleeps and bloops. Boy, it was good. I sure enjoyed that. These guys probably enjoyed it too. The funniest of the lot, I guess, is 'Smack Your Ups (Clap Your Teeth)', which is totally undescribable. A boogie without the boogieline? With cute little synthesized 'las' and a wild freaky guitar solo? Whatever. But anyway, while the Chubs are busy diddling with their goofy 'elegant' music, the Moles are busy working in their caves or whatever and performing dark dreary rituals that essentially sound like a cross between the emerging industrial music of Einstürzende Neubauten and tribal rhythms. The idea here was to go for "spooky", and, well, that's exactly what they got. Deep rumbling percussion notes, like somebody pounding on rocks ten thousand feet under the earth; whooshing swishing white noise; low gurgling synths imitating some kind of imaginary mythical music instrument (some HORRID music instrument, no doubt); and all the vocals, which truly sound like they're coming from people who haven't seen the light of day for centuries. I mean, some of these tracks, like 'God Of Darkness', for instance, is perfect goblin music. I wouldn't recommend anybody to play that track out loud late in the evening - or if you do, turn it off near the middle, before those freaky wailing noises come in. What are these? Agonizing screams of slaves? Or more of those whacky 'Mole instruments'? The song titles are very telling, too - 'A Maze Of Jigsaws' (referring to the Moles' way of life?), 'God Of Darkness', 'Praise For The Curse...'. In fact, by listening to Mark Of The Mole you probably could never tell the Moles were that disturbed a nation. There was nothing that even came close to the evil sounds on this album. No wonder the Chubs were afraid of those bastards. If there's an analogy to be found here, it's certainly the introduction of Voodoo to America, with the "enlightened" white people scared shitless of all the dark scary rituals of the "primitive" black people. Maybe the Residents didn't have that exact analogy in mind when they were working on the concept, but I guess they were certainly referring to such a kind of opposition. In this respect, when you come to think of all the analogies in the real world, Tunes Of Two Cities immediately takes on a whole new guise - it's not just some freaky guys inventing a ridiculous world of their own (which, essentially, had been the situation with Mark Of The Mole), it's a clever presentation of the existing contradictions between two systems that can certainly be seen in our own world. Hey, maybe I'm reading too much into this kind of thing, but that's the way it looks to me. And while none of these tunes are memorable in the least, that don't bother me none - I'm just too excited with the whole idea of this album to notice the possible musical shortcomings. Good work!
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