Yearly Archives: 1982

If You Come Back It’s Better Than It Was Before (Intermission)

Not since Jimi Hendrix has the use of toothpicks been so radically redefined.Last month The Residents performed a series of concerts in California called The Mole Show. All I know is that it’s based on Mark Of The Mole and it is the first time The Residents have performed live. From those facts alone I can surmise that it is not a standard rock and roll show. Usually bands play a selection of hits, and mix it up a little night after night. All indications are that The Mole Show is more of a theatrical production, with sets and actors and the like. I suppose it would be better defined as a musical, albeit with songs that won’t be heard on Broadway or in a film from MGM.

I hadn’t thought of it before, but Mark Of The Mole really would benefit from this kind of presentation. I previously thought that the album lacked clarity and emotional depth (and still do), but if it is placed into the context of a play – in which scripted scenes convey the plot and songs emphasize the established emotion – then it could work quite well. From a practical standpoint, it would be no different from most existing musicals: take a collection of songs that almost (but not quite) tell a story, add those to a play that is too short and melodramatic to be taken seriously, and now you have something people might pay to see.

The Intermission EP describes itself as extraneous, but it fits with the album fairly well. (Maybe they actually meant “extra” and they’ve added extraneous letters to the back cover to fill the available space.) The voices are more natural here, which I find to be an improvement, and the music is clearer overall, but it carries the same texture of the original album. The tracks are helpfully subtitled so that we know where to place them should we want to recreate the full show at home (Processional, Side A, Intermission, Side B, Recessional). However, these can’t simply be songs that were cut from the original album. They are definitely hole-worker style, but there is vast improvement over that album. What The Residents have decided to do is rework Mark Of The Mole into a slicker compact form. One song, “The New Hymn,” is re-recorded from the album to emphasize this point, and the rest of the songs are new, yet they remain familiar.

The cover also states that this is not part three of the Mole trilogy. Part one didn’t identify itself as such, and if part three is going to be a mirror of it, then it too will be unlabeled. Either part three is forthcoming, or it already exists and hasn’t been identified – I would not put it past The Residents to release the albums out of order. The obvious candidate for part three is The Commercial Album, as it sounds most like the non-hole-worker songs from part two. However, that record doesn’t tell a story, nor does its artwork follow the pattern established with the identified Mole trilogy albums. Not Available comes closest artwork-wise, but not close enough, and the sound is all wrong. No, the final piece of this trilogy is still yet to come.

These days I’m not much of a concert-goer. I saw Paul Simon a couple of years ago, and would love to see him with Art Garfunkel now that they’ve reunited, but something tells me the vibe of those shows is quite different from that of a Residents performance. But I am interested, if only to see what an artistic rock band’s take on staged theater would be. And if it is a stage play then it will have to follow a certain set of rules or risk alienating the audience, so on the one hand it will be palatable while on the other we get to see how The Residents reconcile their independent leanings with a well established popular art form. And besides, how often will I have the opportunity to see an anonymous band perform live?

Our Ideas Of Love Are An Infinity Apart (The Tunes Of Two Cities)

I know about The Residents of the Puppet Motel.The cover art for The Tunes Of Two Cities is similar to Mark Of The Mole. Indeed, this is intentional, for the back cover copy states that this album is part two of a trilogy. Part one of course did not know it was a trilogy, but has been retroactively placed into one (much like how the standalone movie Star Wars now has a second installment and a third is said to be coming). With the title of this album I was expecting an attempt at retelling Dickens, but the Residents have eschewed straightforward storytelling altogether with this (mostly) instrumental album. The conceit here is that two cultures clashed in the first part of the trilogy, and now we are taking a step back to examine each of those cultures through the music they produce.

It’s a common enough format to tell a story (follow a character to a crisis, have a flashback to explain how it began, then return to the crisis point and head for resolution), but to follow both sides of the origin is fairly untrodden territory, and to do so with only character evidence even more so. This album intends to give equal time to both cultures, and does so by alternating the selections, so that by the end they are seen more or less as equals.  This means that when we return to the crisis point, we may be uncertain who’s in the right.

There are the hole-workers who left their homeland. Their side of the story is told in the first album, and they are represented by the rougher-sounding tracks that feature complex tribal-like rhythms. The other culture sounds like extended versions of songs from The Commercial Album. We’ve not heard their story, but we have their light, friendly, inviting music. I predict that, in lieu of finishing the story, the third album will tell the same story we’ve heard, but from the other point of view. It will be a demonstration of order bias. The three albums can be listened to in order forwards or backwards, and that order should affect which culture the listener sides with.

If they wanted to conduct this experiment correctly, of course, they’d release all three albums at the same time. Since that didn’t happen, a further bias is given to the hole-workers due to the familiarity of their take on the story. However there is something to be said for having the most recent telling being foremost in one’s mind.

But on to the music itself. I described this album as mostly instrumental, but voices are used throughout the hole-worker tracks, though they are buried deep within the music. And when they can be heard they are wordless sounds. Apart from a voice-like “la” sound in one selection, the other songs are entirely instrumental save for the very last, which has clear vocals that proclaim “people must be left alone unless they have a happy home.” It’s a strange way to order the words, and lends to two interpretations. The first is to join people who are happy (inversely, that we should not disturb unhappy people). The second, more sinister interpretation is to bother happy people, which is arguably what the Residents’ music has been doing for years.

There’s another difference I sometimes find between the two cultures, though it doesn’t hold up 100% of the time.  The hole-worker songs focus on percussion over melodic instruments. This is clear in the composition and performance, but also in the production. Drum sounds are generally mixed in the center, and melodic sounds are placed to the right or left. The opposite is (generally) true of the other tracks. Each culture holds one aspect of music in high esteem, and pushes what the other culture loves to the side. I understand there’s a way to combine stereo recordings into mono that essentially eliminates whatever is in the center; were that done with this album, I wonder if the two cultures would realize how similar they really are.