Yearly Archives: 1985

The Two Spirits Met And Intertwined (The Big Bubble)

Before the bubble burst, oversized bowties were all the rage.First of all, we need to ask: who are these people on the cover? Are they The Residents? They obviously can’t be, but on the other hand, why not? This group has a strange look about them, but only strange in the sense that they don’t look like typical professional models. If you were to hire people to pose as your fake band, wouldn’t they be movie star beautiful? These look like normal people, which is abnormal in the modeling world. But of course The Residents would think of that and act accordingly. There’s no way to tell if this is a bluff, or a double-bluff, or even a step or two beyond that. My feeling is (and I have no way to prove this) that one of these men is a Resident, but no more than that. The temptation to include an actual band member in this scenario is just too strong.

But more telling about the artwork is the presence of the eyeball-headed figures, returning from their stint as a pure marketing image to resume their role as social commentators. They lurk in the background of an album by another band, The Big Bubble, and offer a different perspective. While the liner notes from The Big Bubble say their lead singer was arrested for using a forbidden language, the liner notes from The Residents clearly state that this arrest was a publicity stunt. We have two views of the same situation, and The Residents, by definition outside observers, more than likely are reporting the truth, despite this all being a fiction.

This album is, interestingly enough, part four of the Mole Trilogy. I don’t recall a part three, nor do I remember trilogies containing four parts. Is three an unlucky number for The Residents, forcing them to skip it like the 13th floor in a building? Their liner notes refer to the story of part three taking place many decades later, with the two cultures living in uneasy peace. Perhaps they have recorded but not released it – yet another “not available” album, to be hinted at for years before finally being revealed.

The songs are sung in a mixture of (difficult to understand) English and (impossible to understand) Mohelmot, the traditional language of the Moles. The music employs the most traditonal of rock lineups – guitar, bass, drums, keyboard – yet still retains a “Residential” sound. It’s not just the vocals that set it apart; the twists and turns the music undergoes likens the composition more to opera than pop music, and the juxtaposition mirrors the uneasy peace of the story.

At first I thought the Mole language was another new development in the story, but I returned to The Tunes Of Two Cities and recognize it in use there, though it was not explicitly highlighted. But now that the language is playing a leading role, there’s something else that strikes me I had completely overlooked before. Assuming a symmetrical structure to the storytelling, I’ve been expecting part three to be from the Chubs’ point of view. But if the Moles speak Mohelmot, and the Chubs speak English, then Mark Of The Mole is told by the Chubs. There’s even a hint of a Chub song (“Happy Home”) played at the very beginning of that album to underscore the point.

Or perhaps it is better described as a fusion of the two perspectives. The Mole story, translated and presented by the Chubs, for the Chubs. A parallel to the appropriation of black music by whites, perhaps? It’s a backhanded compliment, in that while it is saying “we acknowledge your contribution” it also says “we think we can do it better than you have.” Or have the Chubs entirely stripped the Moles of their culture? That would make the only true examples of Mole music the field recordings collected on the anthropological part two of the trilogy.

Regardless of the answers, we have solved one mystery: Mark Of The Mole is part three of the Mole trilogy.

The Movie Was A Comedy But I Didn’t Laugh (The Census Taker)

Gonna get me a shotgun...The album’s cover doesn’t have a lot to endorse it. Simple but not elegant, it prominently features a picture of Garrett Morris who is only in the film for a brief time. Granted, this was not released through Ralph Records and didn’t have their art department, but surely something can be done here – even a standard publicity photo of the band would suffice. The message conveyed by the cover is: the movie alone will sell this music, The Residents will not. Which would be reasonable for a hugely successful comedy such as Ghostbusters, but I only heard about this film when the soundtrack arrived at my favorite record store.

Curious about a movie that would hire The Residents, I inquired at my local video store. Daniel, the owner, appears to have a bottomless knowledge of all movies ever made. For a brief moment I thought I had found the bottom, because he was unaware of a recent movie called The Census Taker. Telling him The Residents did the soundtrack understandably did not help. He did know of a recent Garrett Morris picture with a different title (Husbands, Wives, Money & “Murder”), and a bit of research revealed a synopsis concerning a census taker. He placed an order with his distributor and it arrived the next week.

The movie starts off promisingly enough, with an extended homage to Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? complete with inserting Bette Davis into the husband’s confused line, where in the original it was a Bette Davis film that was referenced. It sets up a tradition, hoping that a future film will do the same, with the wife referring to this movie, and the husband mistaking it for an Elizabeth Taylor film. But that’s never going to happen because this movie is not memorable. I can appreciate that satire is being attempted, which explains the casting of Greg Mullavey in what is essentially a reprise of his Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman role, but that show didn’t impress me either. It has awkward pacing, either due to the direction or editing or both, and I really wish somebody were on set to tell the cast the correct pronunciation of “verisimilitude.” I’d normally let something like that go, attributing it to a character choice, but the word was used so often and by every character that it seemed the screenwriter had just learned it and was excited to include it.

But enough of the movie.  What’s interesting is how it came to my attention: the soundtrack. There’s a growing interest in using electronic music in film scores. Chariots Of Fire is probably the film that legitimized its use, and ever since then filmmakers have been looking to reproduce that success. Recently I’ve heard the Beverly Hills Cop theme played on the radio a handful of times, which makes up in catchiness what it lacks in epic grandeur.

The Residents lie somewhere between those two, which may be bad news for everybody. The music doesn’t sweep and carry the film, and in fact almost intrudes upon it, though this could be due in part to the editing. With their previous project, The Residents have demonstrated that they can write a successful film score, and much of this sounds like it comes from those sessions, so it’s an issue of pairing the right film with the right music.

If The Residents are trying to market themselves as film composers, this is an unfortunate entry in their portfolio. The new music is very good, as are the old tunes reworked for inclusion, but they do not form a cohesive whole. In all likelihood, the band was rushed and simply pulled old recordings off the shelf to meet a deadline. Or perhaps the filmmakers specifically requested particular pieces. Whatever the case, it hurts the overall image of a band that is doing something truly original with music. And maybe they are aware of that, and requested the cover not feature them and display an incorrect (but better) title.