Graded on a Curve:
The Residents,
Residue of the Residents

Those of us requiring a dose of daily weirdness will always reserve a special place in our twisted little hearts for San Francisco via Shreveport, Louisiana outfit the Residents. Lifelong oddballs dressed up like tuxedoed eyeballs, this marvelously bent bunch has been an active concern since way back when the FBI took their orders from the jowls of Nixon; decades later their stuff still hangs way out there on the edge. Require proof? Well, get thee to a copy of Superior Viaduct’s outstanding 2LP extension of the 1983 compilation Residue of the Residents and prepare to be enveloped with beaucoup unusualness.

While I do love them like a mother, over their long existence the Residents have released so much music that attempting to think about its entirety can at times deliver a substantial burden upon the consciousness. To elaborate, the handy website Discogs gathers up 78 separate items under the heading of Albums, with that tally excluding 39 that are designated as Compilations. There’s also 41 entries listed as Singles & EPs.

In Residential terms, I’ve found the easiest way to counteract any nagging discographical fatigue is to simply refocus upon the absolutely essential documents from inside that vast oeuvre. And I’m surely not alone in holding a deep affection for their early material; ‘74’s Meet the Residents, ‘76’s masterful The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll, ‘77’s Fingerprince, ‘78’s double kick of Duck Stab/Buster & Glen and Not Available, ‘79’s Eskimo, and ‘80’s amazing collection of 40 one-minute songs Commercial Album, the LP that served as this writer’s introduction to the group’s warped brilliance.

Arriving after Trout Mask Replica (with Beefheart’s four-sided monster one of the Residents’ only tangible, though ultimately not all that discernible, influences) but prior to the entrenchment of the left-field underground music scene that eventually championed them, the work above forms a major artistic statement from the midst of rampant musical conformity, with this same environment helping to produce the onslaught of punk rock. But the Residents’ weren’t defiant, they were just fascinatingly different, and rather than taking things back to basics they were operationally expansionist.

Naturally, this initial period encompassed more than just full-length LPs, with their debut (when still known as Residents Unincorporated) being “Santa Dog,” a magnificently befuddling 1972 2×7-inch credited to four fictitious bands; Ivory & the Braineaters, The College Walkers, Delta Nudes, and Arf & Omega.

“Santa Dog’”s original pressing of 500 copies obviously didn’t make it to the sleepy East Coast suburbs, so I and many others first heard it after it was tacked onto the ’88 CD version of Meet the Residents. This makes Superior Viaduct’s first-time vinyl reissue of “Santa Dog” a genuine cause for celebration, but even better is their stunning expansion of the comp Residue of the Residents.

Appearing in 1983, Residue of the Residents’ 12-track incarnation was largely intended to satisfy their growing fanbase as the band completed the ambitious Mole Trilogy and took it out on the road. Touring resulted in an increased profile; there was definitely mounting interest in the group’s rarities and unreleased stuff. And opener “The Sleeper,” described as inspired by the film composer Ennio Morricone (specifically his “Magic and Ecstasy,” the theme from John Boorman’s terrifically bonkers Exorcist 2: The Heretic), delivers a gorgeous hunk of heavily tweaked art-pop.

“Whoopy Snorp,” which first appeared on the ’77 Los Angeles Free Music Society compilation LP Blorp Esette, is instrumental save for a passage spoken in an occasionally rhyming croak that’s similar to the cadence of Old Bull Lee. It’s a doozy, and they follow it with “Kamikazi Lady,” an abrasive collage rescued from their pre-Residents era, deriving from the legendary Baby Sex tapes of ’71 vintage. By comparison “Boy in Love,” recorded circa ‘81’s Mark of the Mole is relatively sedate.

Next to almost anybody else however, it’s still wondrously strange. “Shut Up! Shut Up!” is a fairly catchy one minute number with the bonus treat of Fred Frith on guitar, while the elaborate instrumental “Anvil Forest” comes from the sessions for The Tunes of Two Cities (Mole Trilogy part two), and in fact was added to that album’s ‘88 compact disc. “Diskomo” takes sonic threads from Eskimo and then discofies them to the best of their abilities, and the nautically swaying ’82 cover of “Jailhouse Rock” substantially forecasts their somewhat underrated ’89 rumination on Elvisness The King & Eye.

The Residents’ status as early adapters to new technology often lends their music a (not unappealing) quality of datedness, but to these ears the ambiance of “Ups & Downs” sounds a decade (or maybe more) ahead of its actual conception. Of course the vocals, which are always a point of contention with this crew, do situate the cut as springing from within their immense bag.

And I’ll admit that the group’s adoption of affected voices has influenced a whole slew of unfortunately smarty-pants art-making, but the knowledge that the Residents actually originated in Louisiana helps the bumpkin-esque vocalizing of “Walter Westinghouse” go down pretty easily. But “Scent of Mint” is sans words, instead loaded with vibes and drunken horns. “Saint Nix” finds them in rare topical form with a song directed at Nixon’s resignation, and “Open Up” features top-notch guitar from Phil “Snakefinger” Lithman.

Side two ends with “From the Plains to Mexico.” It delves into their later-era storytelling mode, frankly a hit-and-miss style, but this example works quite nicely. Truly welcome is the nervous aura of the excellently titled “Loser = Weed” from the flip side of the classic ’76 single “Satisfaction.” Yes a Stones rip from the same period as Devo; in fact Residue of the Resident couples very well with Superior Viaduct’s pressings of the early Spud Boys.

“Death in Barstow” and “Melon Collie Lassie” both hail from the “Babyfingers” EP (originally slated as the third side of Fingerprince), with each suitably nursery rhyme-like in nature. The next four cuts derive from Ralph Records’ marvy ’79 comp LP Subterranean Modern, with “Dumbo the Clown (Who Loved Christmas)” and “Time’s Up” bringing the ears additional first-rate string strangling from Mr. Frith.

The cover of “Daydream Believer” manages to be at once irreverent and respectful, and it makes me wish there’d been more than two volumes in the band’s American Composers Series (in my estimation George and James, which concerns Gershwin and Brown’s Live at the Apollo, and Stars and Hank Forever, a tackling of Williams and Sousa, are ‘80s classics). Closer “Daydream in Space” is a swank tribute to fellow traveler Sun Ra, but sandwiched between it and The Monkees are the three gloriously whacked sections of “Safety is a Cootie Wootie.”

Opening with piano a la John Carpenter soundtrack (or maybe I’m just thinking of Halloween), then a mid-section lullaby of sorts, it ends with some spectacularly off-kilter chants, and the whole ten minutes illuminates exactly why The Residents remain such a special and unique entity. As a compilation, one might expect a lack of flow, but things hold together and move rather well. And while they did subsequently encounter a variety of quality issues, there’s really no noticeable drop-off here (streamlining yes, but that’s all but inevitable).

As it collects a bevy of tracks either unreleased or downright impossible to find, for those with a healthy interest in this singular band I’d rate Residue of the Residents (after due consideration) as a necessary purchase. Smart cookies will snap up Superior Viaduct’s bundle offer, which combines this, “Santa Dog” and a poster for a very affordable price. The Residents stand as one of the great fringe byproducts of the second half of the 20th century, and this 2LP easily testifies to their enduring importance.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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