[Jefito’s Note: Now this is an Idiot’s Guide — 33 years and approximately 600 albums of music, all boiled down into a relatively manageable few thousand words (and few dozen downloads) by our pal the Rev. Syung Myung Me. It took me two days just to format this thing, so I can’t even begin to imagine the hours it took the Reverend to write it. Color me impressed. As for the Residents, maybe you’ve never heard of them; if so, your virgin ears are in for quite the bending. Enjoy! —J]
This is The Residents’ first album; it’s rather good, but it’s not really for the first-time listener, which is kind of funny that it’s actually the first one they put out, so there are presumably some Residents fans who started with this one. It’s really rough and sort of a loose collection of recordings; it doesn’t really have a concept, so sometimes it just sounds like a set of inside jokes and stuff, but there are some really great songs. I dig “Infant Tango” (download), “Breath And Length” (download), “N-er-gee (Crisis Blues),” and “Rest Aria” is surprisingly pretty.
This was, according to lore, the second Residents album recorded, although it’s tough to say whether or not that’s actually the case. The story is that The Residents recorded it, intending it to be only released when they had forgotten about it, allowing them to operate under the Theory Of Obscurity, which says that the only pure art is that which is made with no considerations for the audience in mind. Since they never intended to release it (at least releasing it while they remembered what was on it, anyway), they could record it for themselves.
People who argue that the story is true point out that on the back of The Third Reich N Roll, Not Available is teased. People who say that The Residents made it up to have a cool story around the record point out that it’s a bit more polished and the equipment sounds better than that with which they made Meet The Residents and the first half of The Third Reich N Roll with (as that album was recorded in two separate sessions a year apart). I think the general consensus is that they either started Not Available when they said they did and finished it around the time of the second set of Third Reich N Roll sessions, or recorded it all around that time. (Some people even argue that the mention of the missing Not Available second album on The Third Reich N Roll‘s sleeve was a joke that they later recorded the album anyway. I don’t think this is true, though.)
As for the album itself — it’s often listed as Residents fans’ favorite album, but I’ve never been able to get into it. It’s all right, particularly “Ship’s A’Goin’ Down” (download) and “Never Known Questions” (download), but not someplace I’d really recommend starting. But everyone else likes it, so maybe it is a good place to start. I probably wouldn’t have been as into The Residents if this were my first. The album is intended to be an opera, although the story doesn’t really seem to make a whole lot of sense (not that that’s a bad thing).
This is one of my favorites, but it might not be the best place to start. For this album, the Residents put a medley of bubblegum pop hits on one track of an 8-track recorder, recorded stuff over the top to go along with it, and then erased the original track. The album is two suites (each taking up one side of the original LP), “Hitler Was A Vegetarian” (download) and “Swastikas On Parade.” The original album didn’t have a side A and B labeled — it was just “This Side/That Side,” although the recordings do separate themselves clearly into A-and-B-sides.
“Swastikas” has a clear introduction and a less-emphatic conclusion, where “Hitler” has a less-emphatic introduction and a magnificent ending (the wonderful combination of “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Hey Jude,” with the excellent guitar line that perfectly combines the two songs. That is basically worth the price of admission alone, but most of this album is really good. It’s also the source of their first music video (and one of the first music videos in general, and one on display at MoMA), cut together from the “Land Of 1000 Dances” portion of “Swastikas On Parade.” (This is also a good album to put on when you have to get people to go away, particularly people who aren’t expecting such deconstructed wrecks of songs they know.)
The Residents also recorded a teaser single of “Satisfaction” (download) for this album — sort of a concept-distillate that’d fit on a 45; “Satisfaction” is much darker and scarier than any of the actual album, though.
This was intended to be the first 3-sided LP, but while the Residents were busy figuring out how the logistics of this would work, Monty Python released Matching Tie And Handkerchief, both answering the question of how to do it and taking the title of “first 3-sided album,” so the Residents just put Fingerprince out as a standard LP. (The material for the 3rd side ended up being released as a limited edition 7″ called Babyfingers — the CD version combines the two releases and reconstructs the album as it was originally intended.) There isn’t really an overriding concept, aside from both releases having one side of songs and one side of a longer work. Fingerprince has the ballet “Six Things To A Cycle” (which is very, very good, actually, and sketches out the rise and fall of a civilization), while Babyfingers has the long pop-song-format “Walter Westinghouse,” a cryptic song about a husband and wife falling out.
I really enjoy this album; I’m not sure if I’d recommend it as a starting place, but you could do worse. One of the odder things with it, though, is that it does contain the occasional racist theme — “Flight Of The Bumble Roach” (download) has some potentially upsetting lyrics, and “Walter Westinghouse” (download) uses the term “nigger nuts,” a colloquialism in the American South for Brazil nuts. This shouldn’t be seen as evidence that The Residents are racist — I think they’re commenting on American racism, as well as going for shock value and exploring taboos. But still, it might be a little awkward to put this record on at a dinner party.
This is probably their hit album — it’s actually a compilation of two 7″ EPs, one released, one intended for release; the reason for this compilation was that the original Duck Stab 7″ had poor sound quality because it was 16 minutes long, which is a bit much to fit on a 7″ record. So, they put it out as a 12″ with a re-ordered Duck Stab on the A-side and the unreleased Buster & Glen on the flip.
The songs on this record are all very nursery-rhyme like, and it’s the best-sounding of the first albums. The lyrics are intelligible and the instruments sound relatively clear. The Residents were learning album production, and with four albums (plus who knows how many early cassettes) under their belt, they pretty much had it down by this point. They’d also been able to get better equipment (the Residents have always been early adopters, which has sometimes worked against them). This is definitely a good starter album — songs like “Weight-Lifting Lulu” (download) are downright kinda-sorta poppy! This contains the first Residents song I ever heard, actually — “Constantinople” (download) — which made me want to get more of their stuff. This is one of the essential albums. (I also wanted to include “The Electrocutioner” (download), but I couldn’t fit it in the main blurb.)
Eskimo was another “hit” album, and the first to have the famous Eyeball Heads on the sleeve. This was a set of soundscapes that illustrated the written stories accompanying the record. There aren’t any “songs” on this album, but it’s still very listenable and engaging. They later released a DVD with a 5.1 surround sound mix with images to go along with the stories. The mix was good, but the videos are sometimes a little too literal — one of my favorite things with the album is that you can get lost in the soundscape, but if you read the story along with it, you can hear the events — the people coming up on the walrus during “The Walrus Hunt” (download) and it being speared, etc.; with the video, it becomes a little more obvious. However, there is a lot of bonus material on the disc, and the video is neat to see sometimes (and, if you’ve got a 5.1 receiver, you can just turn off the TV).
One other thing with this album — since they realized it could be seen as a bit of a pretentious project, to combat that, the Residents also released a single version of Eskimo called Diskomo, which were some of the poppier elements of the album re-recorded with a danceable drum machine beat, and this actually became a bit of a hit in its own right (there are stories of the Residents going into clubs where a bootleg had been pressed under a different name, “Even Now” by L & O, credited to Luk Devrieze) — so they bought a box to send their publishing company after them for plagiarism, though nothing really came of it.
The Commercial Album (1980)
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This was the album that caused the critical backlash — just because, well, it seems folks don’t like it if a group gets TOO critically acclaimed. It’s actually a very good album — perhaps a little repetitive with some of the musical themes — and one of my favorites. This is another I could see someone starting with.
The idea behind it is that pop music is basically a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus, and the themes of the lyrics are usually pretty repetitive as well, so you could just cut the fat out of a standard 3-minute pop song and have a 1-minute song that gets in, says what it has to say, and gets out. So, the Residents recorded their own Top 40, 20 on each side, and released it as The Commercial Album (punning on both the commercial nature of pop music and the fact that, at the time, most radio spots were 1 minute long (now most are 30 and 15 seconds — and even shorter! — but you still have some minute-long ones). In fact, to promote this album, the Residents bought 40 one-minute spots on KROQ, which prompted an article about payola in Billboard magazine.
Like a lot of commercial music, this one features probably the most of their collaborations with known artists. “Margaret Freeman” (download) is sung by XTC’s Andy Partridge, and “Picnic Boy” (download) features Lene Lovich.
In 2004, they put out a DVD of a bunch of videos (including the original four One Minute Movies consisting of “Moisture,” “Perfect Love,” “The Simple Song” and “The Act Of Being Polite,” which are also on display at MoMA) made by the Residents and other people for each of the songs, including the two songs only released on the The Commercial Single. Not all of the videos are great (I can’t stand the three or so by the guy who just taped his baby daughter), but some of them are outstanding, and the navigation is both fun and maddening (though the Residents were polite enough to include an easy navigation menu as well).
Part one of the Mole Trilogy, or, rather, the first Mole Trilogy, sets the stage for the story of the Moles (underground workers) and the Chubs (Bourgeois Leisure-Types); the Moles’ world is flooded, and so they must come up to the world of the Chubs where they face discrimination; the story is a metaphor for underground culture versus mainstream culture, and it’s a much darker album than the Residents typically did at the time. It was recorded out of frustration with being seen as “Pop Music Pranksters” (as a result of albums like Duck Stab and The Commerical Album, and to a lesser extent Eskimo) and, as such, it didn’t have any elements that could really be seen as amusing.
It’s a really good album, but I have to admit, it’s not one I go back to a lot — it tends to be one of those albums I like in theory, and when I go back to listen to it, I go “yes, this is a very good album!,” but I just don’t seem to think to put it on very often. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that it’s not indexed by song, but by suite, which makes cueing songs up a bit more difficult. “Final Confrontation” (download) features some of the catchier material on the album, though.
The recent CD reissue pairs it with the outstanding Intermission EP. As you can possibly gather from the name, it’s the intermission music for the Mole Show. “Shorty’s Lament” (download) and “Would We Be Alive?” (download) are absolutely outstanding.
The Tunes Of Two Cities (1982)
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Part two of the Mole Trilogy compares the music of the two cultures. The Chubs’ music is typically re-worked swing songs, made bright and plastic sounding, while the Mole music is darker and more primal. I tend to actually prefer the Mole parts of the album like “A Maze of Jigsaws” (download), although the Chubs’ “Smack Your Lips (Clap Your Teeth)” (download) (or, as you might know it, “In The Mood”) is pretty cool. This is basically an instrumental album, and I wouldn’t really recommend starting here. It can work as its own album, but it helps to have the background of Mark Of The Mole.
Title In Limbo (1983)
In 1983, the Residents collaborated with labelmates Renaldo & The Loaf for this album, which ended up sounding not much like either band (though it’s more Residential than like R&TLian). This one is hard to find now, unfortunately — half of it was released as bonus tracks on the first (now very out-of-print) ESD reissue of Not Available; later, Ralph America released the entire album in a run of 1000, but those have been sold out now for a long while. It’s worth checking out, though, if you stumble across a copy. The Residents have been known to put some of the songs in later projects and live shows — especially “Mahogany Wood” and “Monkey And Bunny.”
This was the first Residents tour; the band lost loads of money and half their management team left over it. This was a stage show illustrating the first part of the Mole Trilogy Story, with Penn Jillette narrating (and interacting with the story and the performers). The sound quality on this CD is not so hot, but it’s a pretty good introduction to the Moles (Penn’s narration definitely helps people understand the story). The encore of “Satisfaction” (download) is pretty good, and a nod to the standard rock show operating procedure of ending with your “hit.”
There was a VHS release, too, but it was awful.
A collection of “mop tapes,” what the Residents call tapes of songs that didn’t fit on albums, experiments, one-off songs and miscellaneous stuff. It’s actually pretty good; it’s a bit uneven, as B-side/rarities compilations typically are, but it’s better than a lot of bands’ real albums. “Saint Nix” (download) is an early experiment that I really wanted to like (particularly considering my interest — if that’s the right word — in Nixon and Watergate), though “Whoopy Snorp” has some outstanding sounds and lyrics. In the late 1990s, the Residents released an expanded version of this album called Residue Deux, with later rarities added on, including some stuff from the Uncle Willie fanclub CDs, like “Daydream In Space” (download), their tribute to/cover of Sun Ra.
This is the first album of the American Composer Series (followed by Stars And Hank Forever), and one of the worst things the Residents have recorded. The ACS was intended to be a series of something like 20 LPs, made up of covers of songs by two different American composers that influenced the Residents, split along the A- and B-sides. Unfortunately, they only recorded two albums in the series, because the new CD format was causing royalties to skyrocket and they couldn’t afford to buy the necessary rights. (Also, since the CD only has one side, it cramped the style for the whole “one-side-for-one-composer-the-other-for-another” thing.)
This one pits George Gershwin against James Brown. The Gershwin side is basically similar to MIDI files of his songs, and the James Brown side is a shortened cover of the Live At The Apollo album, done in a growling, groaning, unintelligible style. (The single “This Is A Man Man Man’s World” does NOT appear on this album; in fact, if the James side had been closer in style to that, it would have actually been pretty good.) It’s pretty boring, actually — there’s very little to hang on to and the album just sounds sort of lazy (coupled with the hideous cover art as well; one gets the impression that the Residents weren’t really expending all the effort they could on this one). Sadly, since each side is so same-sounding, there aren’t any real standout tracks, so here’s one random one (“I Got Rhythm” [download] and “I’ll Go Crazy” [download]) from each side. Just put each one on repeat for about 20 minutes and you got the record.
The annoying thing for me personally is that for a long time, this was only available in Japan, so I actually bought the Japanese import, only to find out that not only was it awful, but that about six months to a year later, it was being released domestically.
Assorted Secrets (1984)
The Residents have said they hate this release, but actually, it isn’t that bad. It’s re-recorded versions of their older songs, taken from a rehearsal for the 13th Anniversary Show; it wasn’t ever intended to be released, but they needed to make some quick money to cover the tour, so they quietly released it on cassette only. It’s kind of low-fi, but considering its intended audience, it isn’t so bad. The arrangements are kinda cool, and it’s kind of neat to hear, say, a Resident count off a song — it’s one of those things that brings them a little bit of humanity, in a weird sort of way. This was finally re-released on CD by Ralph America, but it’s out of print as well. It’s not really something to seek out, necessarily, but neither is it nearly as bad as everyone says. I like the version of “Constantinople” (download) from this one, and “Godsong” (download) is pretty cool too.
This is the soundtrack to the VHS cassette version of “Whatever Happened To Vileness Fats,” which filled out the second half of the abominable Mole Show video. The soundtrack’s better, but still not really great, or an essential release, but it’s decent. The CD comes packaged with the new songs the Residents recorded for The Census Taker, which actually provides the best tracks, “Where Is She” (download) and “Hellno” (download) (which borrows from a Jell-O jingle from the time!). This was originally going to be the first for a “Film And TV” series of their soundtrack work, but this was the only disc that ever materialized. (Which is too bad, since a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse disc was supposed to come out at some point, too:)
The Big Bubble (1985)
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Part IV of the Mole Trilogy. At some point, the Residents decided that instead of just doing a straight trilogy beginning with The Mark Of The Mole and The Tunes Of Two Cities, they’d rather do two trilogies, one based on the culture (which The Mark Of The Mole would start) and one based on the music of the two cultures (which The Tunes Of Two Cities would start). This is part of the second trilogy. It takes place after the two cultures have intermingled and interbred — though there’s still discrimination towards the Moles, and the original Mole language, Mohelmot, has been banned.
However, there was an anonymously released single called “The Big Bubble” (download) that was sung in Mohelmot — it became not only a hit single, but also a Mole-Identity Rallying Cry, and the anonymous group (now named “The Big Bubble” after their single) was tapped to record an album.
The Big Bubble is this album, and it’s a collection of pop songs recorded in Mohelmot — a fake language that’s basically sung as gibberish. On this album, the gibberish vocals were recorded first and the musical tracks were built around them. This is one of the least popular Residents albums; I don’t think it’s as bad as all that, but I don’t really enjoy it much either. I liked it much better the first time I listened to it than I do now. This isn’t really an essential album; worth picking up at some point, but there’s a reason it’s one of the forgotten Residents albums. “Cry For The Fire” (download) is pretty awesome, though.
13th Anniversary Show: Live In Tokyo (1986)
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Where the Residents’ live videos are typically lousy, their live albums (and their live shows themselves) are excellent. This is one of my favorites — it’s a retrospective show, with new arrangements of their songs, typically a couple from every album, along with a few covers, a few side projects (some stuff from Title In Limbo and a Snakefinger song shows up) and whatever else they felt like putting in the show. It’s recorded pretty well, and they’re good arrangements. I’ve heard rumors that Mark Mothersbaugh was a Resident for this tour — there’s a little musical quote from “Jocko Homo” in the synth part to this version of “Eva’s Warning” (download), which I’ve always thought was a little nod to that. This is definitely an essential release, and a pretty good starter, actually. It’s also from this era that the arrangement of the “Hello Skinny/Constantinople” (download) medley Primus covers comes from.
Stars & Hank Forever (1986)
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The American Composer Series actually was a cool idea, and this album is much, much better than the first one. (It’d be hard not to be, really — though this album is actually good.) The first side is Hank Williams, Sr., and has perfect covers of “Jambalaya” — taking a happy, upbeat song and turning it in to a swampy song about the death of the singer’s beloved and the wake — and the really dancy “Kaw-Liga” (download), which was another one of the Residents’ dance floor hits (an EP consisting of remixes by The KLF was released). The other side is John Philip Sousa (labeled “Sousa-Side,” versus the “Hank Side”), and takes the form of a marching band performing the songs, with applause and crowd noise taken from the Residents’ concerts. I prefer the Hank side, but the Sousaside is really good as well — “Stars & Stripes Forever” (download) is well done, and Python fans might appreciate “The Liberty Bell.” It seems pretty clear that they learned from the misstep of George And James.
I think this was actually my first Residents album, aside from the Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Huddled Masses collection. It’s one of my favorites, though it’s one of the most different. It’s a long spoken-word piece about two Siamese Twins with healing powers and liquid gender, and their promoter/manager who falls in love with one.
There are some really beautiful parts, and I recommend this album to everyone, Residents fan or no. And, hey, how many times do you get an album that incorporates themes from both the hymn “Holy Holy Holy” and “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” by the Swingin’ Medallions? There’s a 2-CD version that combines both the standard version of the album with the Instrumental “Soundtrack” release — it doesn’t really matter if you get this or the standard album; both versions are good, and the instrumental release is pretty cool, too, but for me, the story is where it’s at.
A remixed version of “Kiss Of Flesh” was actually released as a single, and “Their Early Years” (download) is probably one of the tracks that can act as a stand-alone vignette. “Loss of a Loved One” (download) is another vignette that combines the beautiful, touching and sad with sly humor that relieves some of the emotional pressure while still underscoring the truth of the feelings evoked.
Urgh. This isn’t the worst thing the Residents have done, but it’s not very good.
This is all Elvis Presley covers, combined with a few tracks of story about the Baby King. Unfortunately, the sound is really flat and the arrangements are lazy; part of the reason this album is so poor is that the Residents had never recorded an album in a “real” recording studio before and figured they should give it a shot, just to see what it was like. Unfortunately, recording studios cost money, so they didn’t have time to experiment or perfect the album, and it shows. There are some interesting ideas in there, and some of them are kind of cool, but for the most part, it’s too long and not interesting enough. One amusing thing — when I bought my copy of this one, it was the Enigma release, rather than the Restless release:despite the fact that Enigma had been dead for quite a number of years. By the way, I bought my copy new. Not exactly a high seller.
Remember how bad I said The King And Eye was? Well, as bad as that one was bad, the remix album King & Eye:RMX is good. It’s about half the original album, maybe a bit more, with some really cool remixing work done by Paralyzer which adds interesting flourishes, covers errors and blemishes and, well, just makes it really cool and fun. If you thought the idea for The King And Eye sounded interesting despite me trashing it, pick this one up; this is what it should have been. It makes a good companion to WBRMX. Check it out! Compare — “Viva Las Vegas” (download) and the RMX (download).
Stranger Than Supper was released to stores to promote the band’s fan club, UWEB (or, Uncle Willie’s Eyeball Buddies). It’s a best-of for the Uncle Willie CDs that had been put out at the time. For the most part, I won’t be hitting on the Uncle Willie discs, since they’re so rare, and for the most part, only interesting to hardcore fans. A couple years ago, Ralph America put out an updated best-of of the Uncle Willie stuff called Land Of Mystery. I think that one might still be available if you’re curious. A couple of tastes, though — “God In 3 Persons’s Over” (download) and their cover of Frank Zappa’s “King Kong” (download).
The live show that was based off of The King And Eye — it’s “The History of American Music in 3 E-Z Pieces,” the three pieces being “Buckaroo Blues,” American Cowboy Music, “Black Barry,” American Negro Spirituals and “The Baby King,” American Rock’n’Roll up to the point of the British Invasion.
The sound on this release leaves something to be desired, but the music is pretty good. It’s too bad the Residents claim no satisfactory video footage exists of this show, though, because it strikes me as something that would be really cool to see. “The Baby King” is much better than the studio version, though — they’d had time to work on the material a bit more and flesh it out. I love “Devil In Disguise” (download) and “Bury Me Not” (download). The “Black Barry” stuff kinda left me cold, though.
Freak Show (1990)
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Another really essential album; this one takes place in a freak show (oddly enough) and all the songs are about the various Freaks; there’s “Harry The Head,” a head in formaldehyde, “Benny, The Bouncing Bump,” a man with a large growth in the middle of his chest; “Herman, The Human Mole,” an albino with poor eyesight who lives in a trailer covered in dirt, and “Lillie” (download), the freak who freaks the freaks out — and is in the audience. This spawned an award winning CD-ROM game and a really awesome graphic novel omnibus. This is one of my favorite Residents albums as well; the songs are well developed and some of the lyrics are just beautiful. This album contains my favorite Residents lyric of all time, from “Nobody Laughs When They Leave” (download):
“We are only equal in the grave and in the dark,”
Said a man whose head was halfway eaten by a shark.
“Now if you ask me why I would continue on like this,
I doubt that I would know so I could only make a guess:
Half a mouth may not be much but it’s still half a kiss.”
It’s rare to find a greatest-hits album that’s for fans only, but the Residents made one. Instead of doing a straight greatest-hits for their 20th anniversary, they did an album where all the songs were combinations of their older songs — music from one or two, lyrics from two or three others. It’s a pretty interesting album, and some of it works just as songs (like “Kick A Picnic” [download], which they have been known to perform live and later appeared on Icky Flix and “Ship of Fools” [download]), but some are more interesting as games of “Spot The Source.” It’s not really an essential album, nor a good starter, but it’s a fun game for those who have all the albums (including Title In Limbo, a frequent source).
This was originally a hybrid CD-ROM/CD, although most copies are just CD versions. And, well, it’s not really that good, sadly. There’s a concentrate (download) on Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Huddled Masses and Icky Flix, and those are both outstanding, but the album tends to wear out its welcome. It’s all based on one musical theme, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s, well, intended to have video material alongside it, so without that, it tends to get a little boring, since it’s waiting for you to click on something that doesn’t exist.
Speaking of soundtracks, this was the mostly instrumental soundtrack CD to Bad Day on the Midway, the Residents’ first stand-alone CD-ROM game. It’s not too bad, but it’s not something I really listen to. Again, it doesn’t really stand up on its own without the visuals to support it. The concentrate on Icky Flix isn’t as fun as Gingerbread Man‘s, just because there’s more to click on that you can’t on the DVD. This is more of a fans-only release.
Wormwood is a collection of songs about the darker, stranger stories of the Bible. The songs are typically in the pop/rock style, but I didn’t really like the production of this album. However, I must give it some credit, because it actually helped me out in one of my religion classes. Because of the Residents, I knew the “Bridegroom Of Blood” story, and I was able to write a paper on it. So, hey, thanks, Residents!
Roadworms is a short CD of some of the Wormwood songs recorded in a Berlin studio in their live arrangements. This is the Wormwood project to get, really; some of the best songs, with really good arrangements. “Burn Baby Burn” (download) and “God’s Magic Finger” (download) shone on the original album, but here they glow.
Also — you might see the Wormwood DVD in stores. PASS ON IT. It’s recorded from a webcast. Not, like, say, the same source footage that was used in a webcast, but blocky and fuzzy. What the hell, Residents?
For the most part, I’m not listing the various rare CDs, the UWEB or the Ralph America releases — like I said earlier, those are mostly fans only: however, this one is NOT. This one is amazing. It’s a compilation of all the various “Santa Dog” recordings the Residents have made, from the first 2Ã7″ release (download) that was the first thing they ever put out (even before Meet the Residents), to a 2000 version (download) recorded for the website and expanded upon here. It’s cool. It’s also out of print, unfortunately.
The Residents’ video work is typically amazing (particularly their earlier, live-action stuff), especially since they were all amateurs at it and taught themselves. And hey, this has a bunch of stuff that’s on display at MoMA. And, since the Residents don’t like to just release old stuff, they re-recorded an alternate 5.1 soundtrack of different versions of all the songs (of course, the originals are also available), and loaded it down with Easter eggs.
A CD was released of some of the new versions of the songs, as well; it’s cool, but less essential, although the new “Kick a Picnic” (download) is outstanding. The DVD, however, is a must-have. This is an updating (of sorts) of their 20 Twisted Questions laserdisc (with more material, but oddly, with the “Don’t Be Cruel” video subtracted), but this is worth getting even if you already have that release — even if you don’t like the new audio versions, the picture’s remastered and much, much clearer. (I couldn’t tell that was a nail in the “Hello Skinny” video on the LD version.)
Demons Dance Alone (2002)
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One of the Residents’ finest albums, and easily their best since Freak Show. This was written in the aftermath of 9/11, although very little actually deals with that explicitly; there are a few songs that address it metaphorically (like “The Weatherman” [download]), but for the most part, it’s an exploration of feelings of loss and confusion (like “Life Could Be Wonderful”) and guilt (“The Beekeeper’s Daughter” [download]). Just some achingly beautiful work on this album. Ralph America released a 2-CD version, featuring instrumental versions and outtakes in a deluxe package. Both versions are good; I enjoy having my 2-CD edition, but the one-disc version is just as great. Don’t hold out for a particular version! Just get it!
Unfortunately, while the album is astounding, and the actual live show blew me away when I saw them here in Seattle, the DVD is best avoided. In fact, the Demons Dance Alone show was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. By anyone.
However, when I saw it, I was not a hand-held camera, wandering around backstage, staring at the back of the guitar-playing-Resident’s guitar neck, and looking around randomly. Also, the sound wasn’t muddy at my show.
The DVD is one of my most hated Residents releases, because it should have been the best, but they released something awful. Lousy sound, lousy camera work, lousy picture quality. It’s such a waste. I suppose I can understand their wanting to do a non-traditional concert film, but, um, why not do that for a show that’s not the best thing you’ve done at least in a decade? I would have been okay with it if they wanted to pull this shit for Disfigured Night, but this should have been a straight three-camera job.
Kettles Of Fish On The Outskirts Of Town (2003)
This is the exception that proves the rule to the “Residents Cannot Release A Live Video To Save Their Lives” thing. This comes with a DVD, where there are little bits of each tour, shot in a really nice way that lets you see what’s going on, and is basically really cool. This is what pretty much all of the other live video stuff should have been. It’s a pity none of it is complete when it comes to shows. The other stuff in here (it’s a 4-disc box: 3 CD, 1 DVD) are live recordings taken from all across their career, and are pretty cool, but the DVD is the main thing for me. It’s awesome.
The CDs of live matierial are pretty keen, though. The release covers live concerts from The Mole Show, 13th Anniversary Show, Cube-E, Icky Flix, Ty’s Freak Show/Prague Freak Show, and miscellaneous one-off stuff. Here’s “Loss Of Innocence” (download) from Ty’s Freak Show!
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This is a brand new remix of an album that was recorded (and sent to Warner Bros. Records) before Meet The Residents was released. (In fact, I think it may predate even “Santa Dog ’72.”) And this is really, really good. There’s enough of the old sound to bring back memories of how cool and noisy and experimental The Residents used to be, but enough of the new sound to make it sound nice and glossy and it’s actually:danceable. Kinda. It’s really cool. I’m not 100% sure if it’s essential, but it’s damned close. I love “Maggie’s Farm” (download).
Animal Lover (2005)
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Sadly, after getting me all excited, the Residents followed up Demons with something not as good. Unfortunately, it seems that they only half-formed the concept for it (the concept was “Human Sex/Love/Relationships As Seen Through The Eyes Of Animals”), and filled it out with some tracks that only sorta fit. There are a few that are clearly in the concept, but a lot (“What Have My Chickens Done Now?,” for example — which isn’t even from the point of view of the chickens!) seem sort of “Well, we had this lying around, and it kinda fits, so, let’s stick it on to pad out the album”-like to me.
More importantly, the songs aren’t quite as good, either. Animal Lover seems much closer to Wormwood than Demons Dance Alone, which is really too bad. It’s not a bad album, but it doesn’t feel like it’s the Residents fulfilling their potential. I do like “On The Way (To Oklahoma)” (download), which I think may have been the first song written for the album, since it’s the most closely aligned with the stated concept. Not really something to start with, unfortunately — even though it’s currently the most easily obtained.
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Happily, the Residents have again returned to form: Tweedles tells the story of a sex addict’s various relationships, most of which are purely physical, but some in which he actually tries to emotionally bond. It’s a strangely moving album — not quite as good as Demons Dance Alone, but that’s a pretty tall order. I’m fond of “Mark of the Male” (download) (at least partially because of the title) and “Keep Talkin'” (download).