What does it sound like?:
There will be someone for whom these reissues are vital additions to their collections. That they have always been missing the mono mix of Meet The Residents, the Santa Dog ep or those always thought lost outtakes. I am not that person, though I have known who the Residents were, and even had purchased copies of Eskimo and Third Reich and Roll for myself. So, I am not able to either comment on the mono/stereo distinctions or the place of the outtakes in Residents lore (and boy is there lore).
Meet The Residents is their first official release, though there are eps and tapes from before. Let’s approach the out-takes first. From what little can be gleaned of their biography, the group were possibly artists or maybe just people who by virtue of ending up in San Francisco in 1966 were at a uniquely powerful cultural epicentre and thus becoming musicians was a natural idea. If you imagine the ‘learn a guitar’ section from 2112 re-enacted by four-year olds ransacking the music cupboard in an early seventies infants school then you are in the zone for these out-takes. They are, if you are a Residents nut/completist, essential; for everyone else it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to hear these more than once. Much the best thing about these, scattered after the mono and stereo mixes of the album, are the titles, an early example of their rather lugubrious wit: Spotted Pinto Queen; 1-0 (with a touch of 11); Numb Erone.
Onto the album proper: it opens with a ‘radical deconstruction’ of These Boots Were Made For Walking, reduced to a finger-click and chant. It’s as if some remote tribe had made a cargo cult based around a piano dropped from the skies and once-heard sixties pop track. Better than basing it around Prince Philip that’s for sure. One can see where the Flying Lizards got their ideas from; Guylem Bardot could have been performed by an incarnation of Frank Sidebottom. The next few short tracks all segue into one another, prefacing later albums side-long tracks, chanted and mumbled vocals keep a spooky tribal vibe up. Anything that is not tuned (some kazoosih wood windy things) appears to have been picked up and played for the first time in the track itself. In track like Smelly Tongues and Rest Aria ( another awful pun) one can hear rudiments of melody emerging from the music cupboard sessions.
In Spotted Pinto Bean suddenly things come together: deliberately childish lyrics, ethereal vocals and a kind of barrel-house piano figure that – shock – shows glimmers of conventional musical phrasing. Infant Tango gathers up some wah-wah guitar and horn stabs to approximate blaxploitation style funk. If there’s one track that betrays their early vision of music as soundtrack to film its this one. Seasons Greetings is even better – what I can only describe as a Christmas version of the Coronation Street theme filtered through what by this point in the album is emerging as their trademark ghostly skeletal arrangement: ‘haunted dancehall’ as Andy Weatherall memorably coined. By N-Er-Gee, the epic closer, the point of it all: American popular music being not just covered but dissected and put back together in strange shapes, appears clear.
Part two to appear shortly: Third Reach n Roll. Oh those minxes.
What does it all *mean*?
I won’t pretend this album is an easy listen. It’s not. A lot makes more sense when you realise the Residents at this time were trying to make films – there are fragments of 14-hour unreleased black and white home movie epic Vileness Fats online. Fun fact: they shot the whole thing in their house, built sets that were too small for people to stand up in, so designed costumes that people could wear while waddling on their knees. Originally conceived as soundtrack perhaps, this album by the end points the way to how the Residents would put their filmic ideas into albums and live performances: the closest thing the USA has come, and twenty years earlier, to the KLF. Or is the KLF the closest thing we’ve come to the Residents. Did The Residents ever get to the Grammys?
Goes well with…
Sees I don’t know. Making your own avant-garde home movie?
Might suit people who like…
The Residents, Laurie Anderson maybe, they really are quite singular.