Graded on a Curve:
The Residents,
The Third Reich ‘n Roll

Before we get around to plumbing the infamous depths of The Residents’ 1976 LP The Third Reich ‘n Roll, let us pause for this news bulletin: Hitler Cancels Comeback Tour

According to his record label, Adolf Hitler has decided to cancel his planned worldwide “2017 I’m Back! Tour” due to poor ticket sales. We caught up to the former Nazi dictator and Arista Records recording artist at his compound in remote Bolivia. Here’s what he had to say.

So what happened?

AH: I’m not going to lie and say I’m not disappointed. I could feed you a line of BS about how this will give me the opportunity to explore the limits of my talents in more intimate settings. No. I played the beer halls of Munich and I’m not going back. Let that washed-up hack Mussolini go rinky-dink. My ukulele-heavy sound would blow the windows out of your average Rathskeller, that is if Rathskellers had windows. I need arenas. Nuremberg Rally size arenas.

Have you given any thought to joining Josef Stalin and Idi Amin on their “Monsters of History” tour?

AH: Anyone who knows me will tell you I would never compromise my dictatorial credibility by joining such a circus. I am an artist and I will not perform alongside a cannibal. That said, I rather liked Stalin’s most recent release. I think his take on “Ventura Highway” stands up to the version by America.

Do you want to go on record regarding Benito Mussolini’s much-publicized claims to have invented Fascist Rock?

AH: He did invent it. But he lacked the artistic sensibility and pitiless vision necessary to explore its terrifying possibilities. It took a strong Aryan musician and dictator like yours truly to ruthlessly expand the limits of the unspeakable.

Okay. How do you respond to those who say you made a mistake by ditching long-time lyricist Josef Goebbels, who was the Bernie Taupin to your Elton John?

AH: We had artistic differences. His vision of the future included adding synthesizers. Can you imagine? (Hitler’s voice rises and rises.) Synthesizers watering down our heavy-metal oom-pah sound? Madness! Next he’ll want to dispense with the Blitzkrieg tubas! And he wanted to bring in guest vocalists like Ed Sheeran! Mein Gott! I’m in love with the shape of you? That song’s even worse than the one where the guy sings about his lady friend’s body being a wonderland. No, that is not my vision of the future of rock’n’roll. My vision of the future of rock’n’roll involves Lebensraum, scorched earth, and death.

Word is you’re considering working with Rick Rubin.

AH: I adore Rick. I really loved his collaboration with Neil Diamond. Neil is a consummate performer and close personal friend.

He’s Jewish, you know.

AH: Is not.

Is so.

AH: Do not push me. I could have you shot.

Okay. Let’s move on. So the Rubin thing is a go?

AH: It’s in the talking stages. I will use diplomacy first, as a ruse of course, before brutally forcing him into my orbit as a puppet state. But in a very politely brutal way of course.

Any songs ready?

AH: Yes, I’ve been writing a lot of stuff along the lines of the Grateful Dead. I always loved their song, “Box of Rain.” It’s a very paranoid song, you know? (Singing) “Well it’s just a box of rain/I don’t know who put it there.” (End of singing.) It makes you glad the Gestapo’s around. They would find the person who put the box of rain there in a Munich minute. And I would, without the slightest pang or spasm of remorse, order the person’s immediate execution.

Well thank you. That’s been very frightening.

AH: Thank you. Auf Wiedersehen. And keep on Reichin’!

That out of the way, let us return to the Residents, a semi-anonymous art collective founded in Shreveport, Louisiana that has, since the early seventies, specialized in deconstructing popular music, amongst many other more esoteric pursuits. The Third Reich ‘n Roll features two songs each of which are approximately 18 minutes in length, “Swastikas on Parade” and “Hitler Was a Vegetarian.” Both are seamless musical constructs composed of short snippets of popular hits as performed in deliriously demented fashion by the unhinged members of the Residents. Rock crit Robert Christgau summed up the Residents’ madcap cut-and-paste compositions as “the kind of vanguardy post-pop pastiche Frank Zappa might be putting together if he hadn’t left his brain in the bank in 1971.”

The Third Reich ‘n Roll does not make for easy listening. I first happened upon it years ago, but immediately wrote it off as annoying. That said, if you pay careful attention to what’s coming out of the speakers you can spend an entertaining evening playing name that tune with the fragments of the many songs the Residents have tossed into their musical blender. “Swastikas on Parade” includes snippets of varying length of at least 15 songs, while “Hitler Was a Vegetarian” comes in at 14 snippets long.

Hey, you may say. It’s “A Horse with No Name!” Or, they’ve combined “Hey Jude” with “Sympathy for the Devil” just like Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre would do ages later on “Straight Up and Down!” I will say I prefer their Captain Beefheart-like version of “Hanky Panky” to the original. And I like the way it slowly segues into the “la la la la la las” of “A Horse with No Name,” which in turn segues into an airplane-engine-obscured take of “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love).” Also to die-for: their brief mistreatment of “Gloria” and “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida.” And that’s just a tiny sample of the classic pop tones desecrated by the nefarious Residents on Third Reich ‘n Roll.

Hell, the cover alone is worth the cost of the album. It features a beaming Aryan Dick Clark wearing a Nazi uniform complete with Swastika and holding a carrot, surrounded by clouds on which various people (including one Adolf Hitler) are dancing. In terrible taste? Yes. A vile mockery of incalculable human suffering? No more so than the Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday in Cambodia” or the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s 2012 LP Pol Pot’s Pleasure Palace. The Residents are on the side of the angels, and are guaranteed to irk their seraphim allies no end.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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