I must be a glutton for punishment. Why do I keep deciding to review albums by The Residents when they’re nigh on impossible to categorise?
Back in 1974, the band released their debut album, Meet The Residents, complete with its deliberate riff on the similarly titled Beatles US record, but of course bearing no further resemblance. The only thing I could feasibly compare it with is Beefheart‘s Trout Mask Replica. Not that it sounds similar; it certainly does not, but you know how, when you first hear TMR, you think “What the FUCK was that?“, and then you play it again afterwards and think exactly the same thing? And then so on, until you finally realise, around your 25th listen, that there IS a structure to it after all, albeit a frighteningly elaborate one?
Well, Meet The Residents feels a little like that, except the difference here is that, while you listen bewildered upon your first run through, the songs actually become almost soothing within a few spins. This ought to be nonsensical, but it’s like they’ve magicked some kind of magnetic force inside your cerebrum to make these baffling vignettes somehow appealing. Hence ‘Numb Erone‘ and ‘Smelly Tongues‘ are the sole purveyors of impact on play number one, the former being a rather screwy but hypnotically infectious 81 second ruse, while the latter is almost two minutes of commercial jingle with nightmarish flute background accompaniment. You wouldn’t play this to a Robbie Williams fan, believe me. Although maybe you should. They bloody well deserve it.
Really, it’s one of the most creative pieces of its time, if not THE most creative, and there are moments here that suggest a certain Tom Waits was paying attention during his celebrated purple period between 1983-87. Ostensibly the soundtrack to the most surreal of dreams, this version of the much reissued album includes upon its second disc a wealth of bonus tracks, including several previously unreleased terrors, while disc one contains the fantastic Santa Dog EP. You might even think The Residents were a commercial band (of sorts) if the latter release’s ‘Fire‘ were the first song you heard by them.
Fast forward to 1976 and the band have put out a covers album, but Pin Ups this most definitely isn’t. The Third Reich ‘n Roll effectively comprises two song suites (Swastikas On Parade and Hitler Was A Vegetarian) of mostly well known compositions ranging from the sublime (‘Telstar‘ works spledidly in this context, as does ‘96 Tears‘) to the ridiculous (‘Light My Fire‘ now sounds like a man riding a galloping horse through the bowels of Hell). I’m pretty sure if you fell asleep listening to this album, you’d wake up in a padded cell where a flame haired clown was trying to force feed you a donut. Despite its conception as a kind of satire on American pop culture at the time, it is really quite intense, though there are certainly times when you simply cannot help but burst out laughing.
Again, there are outtakes, live sessions and a treasure trove of unreleased material, the best of which is a set of wildly off kilter instrumentals, each titled ‘German Slide Music‘ and assigned a ‘part’ from 1-6, but in true Residents fashion, not bothering with part 3.
These are remarkable creations, make no mistake, but listen to the whole shebang in one sitting, as I just have, and try not to feel at least a little bit nauseous at the end, if not a little closer to insanity. See? You can’t do it, can you Hector? Mwahahahaa the gerbils, the gerbils! Must pick up some clouds tomorrow, ready for ironing.
The reissues of Meet The Residents and The Third Reich ‘n Roll are out now on Cherry Red.