What does it sound like?:
The Residents have managed to make a living playing their surreal songs, producing bizarre films, creating art constructions and destructions, computer games and other ephemera for well over forty years. This anthology, curated by The Residents themselves, brings together 80 tracks on to four CDs, spanning their entire career, starting with their first single from 1972.
Anonymity is an essential ingredient for what they do. The Theory Of Obscurity, to which they subscribe, says that remaining unknown removes audience expectations and allows the artist to be free to do whatever they like. They only ever appear disguised or in masks, their signature being a giant eyeball helmet combined with top hat and tails. They revel in their mystery and rebuff all attempts to expose them.
Their albums are themed. Some deconstruct a famous artist, such as The Beatles or Hank Williams. They generally put together a collage of sounds and styles within an overarching concept. They sampled before sampling existed. Their Commercial Album from 1980 consists of forty one minute tracks, each the length of a commercial (The Residents love a double meaning). George And James juxtaposes James Brown with Gershwin. Third Reich Rock & Roll in 1976 seemed post-punk before punk really got started. Eskimo is an album of chanting over home-made instruments and synthesiser noises, its companion, Diskomo, a remix you can actually shake a booty to. Not Available is an exercise in group therapy, so personally revealing it was kept in the vaults for four years. The King & Eye is a string of Elvis songs interspersed with narration describing his motivations throughout his career. Tweedles tells the story of a sexual predator from the first person perspective. Gingerbread Man included cartoon graphics when the CD was played on a computer. The cover art, the texts to the songs and publicity materials are a world of entertainment in themselves. They’ve released over sixty albums, all of them entirely different to each other, the polar opposite to The Fall.
This collection puts singles, album tracks, soundtracks, live performances and rarities altogether non-chronologically. It’s dizzying in its eclecticism, a kaleidoscope of left-field weirdness. These are ‘orphans’ because they have been torn from their family home, the concept albums where they feature, and placed in an unfamiliar setting. The only way for the listener to cope is to lay back and let it bewilder as it intends to do. There are plenty of hooks, sometimes several within one song and the performances are often deliberately shambolic, so much so it’s easy to perceive Residents music as just crazy noise with some talking in between. Their music sounds better on the page than in the ears. Four CDs and eighty tracks is hard work. It’s best to dip in, no more than one disc at a time. Then, The Residents can be a lot of fun. As an alternative, there is always the Ultimate Box Set—a 28-cubic-foot refrigerator that contains the first pressings of every Residents release as well as extras, such as an eyeball mask and top hat, priced at only $100,000. Cherry Red Records are only charging thirty quid for this.
The Residents are absurd, brimful of ideas, annoying, intensely moving, brilliant and utterly daft. 80 Aching Orphans is a perfect representation of their work.
What does it all *mean*?
Who knew it is possible to have such a long career satirising the commercialism of rock music?
Goes well with…
An inquisitive mind. Less than halfway through disc one, you may find yourself wondering, “Is this art? Or rock? Both? Or neither?”
Might suit people who like…
Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Tracey Emin, Damien Hurst.