Yearly Archives: 2006

Glue It Down You Dripping Clown (Tweedles)

Smile!  You're on Lurid Camera!The Residents seem to have wasted no time in producing their follow-up to River of Crime.  But this is no rush job, and supports what I have long suspected: most Residents projects take years to complete, and several are in progress at any given time.  It just so happens that the last two were finished close to one another.  Now I wonder if more will come shortly or if there will be a dry spell.  I don’t think they’d make two releases so close together unless they had the next one already well along its way.  But there’s no benefit in such speculation.

The new release is called Tweedles, and though it follows neatly with River of Crime, it is very much a successor to God in Three Persons.  Both tell the tale of a man who is so self-absorbed that he compulsively hurts others.  The difference is that Mr. X believes he is a good person, while Tweedles holds no such delusion.

The press release explicitly outs Tweedles as a kind of vampire, but so was Mr. X.  So was Silly Billy from Disfigured Night.  Vampirism is a common theme with The Residents, popping up from time to time in individual songs or spanning over entire projects.  The River of Crime narrator was also a vampire of sorts.  Now I’m wondering if Tweedles actually is a sequel after all.  Could it be that, after the discovery of his father’s demise, the narrator broke away from having normal healthy relationships?  He definitely didn’t want to be a criminal himself, and the actions of Tweedles are pretty much as bad as you can get while remaining just on this side of the law.  Maybe these projects being released so close to one another is not pure happenstance.  I’ll need to consider that possibility more fully someday.

I do have an issue with the artwork, but it’s not what one might expect.  Yes it borders on vulgarity, but it’s art.  Not to mention the cleverness in the slipcase cover – much could be said about perception and how that changes once all the facts are revealed, or about the gleeful subversion of having this image on prominent display in record stores.  My problem with the cover artwork is that it gives the game away.  Right away we suspect this is an album about a sexually deviant clown.  What should, in the course of the story, be a climactic reveal ends up being a confirmation of what was expected (granted, it’s not quite as literal, but close enough to take away the intended shock).  I’m hard pressed to think of any cover for a concept album that reveals so much about the contents.  Tommy only showed us a surrealist globe; The Wall just showed a wall.

Though perhaps giving so much away is the intent.  If nobody has done it before, then of course it’s worth trying. It’s a mystery novel approach, whereby all of the elements are laid out, and slowly the reader is given the connective tissue to build the beast (“oh, so that’s why there’s a clown on the cover”).

Is it successful?  It is in the sense that they did it, and it can always be argued that no experiment can be considered a failure.  I would have liked not to have the clown imagery hanging over this album on my first listen, though I suppose it is the best theme to use in the artwork.  They rarely go with something completely abstract.

Musically I find this album beautiful, and it’s a shame I get so easily distracted by the spoken words and artwork.  Incorporating a film orchestra as raw material (there’s that novel take on remixing again) is brilliant and gives The Residents a lush palette they haven’t had before.  But I can’t focus on it enough to fully appreciate it.  I hope they release a soundtrack version (like they did with God in Three Persons); this album definitely deserves that kind of special treatment.

A Mere Excuse For Letting Loose (The River of Crime)

The slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.The latest Residents project has a whiff of old time radio about it.  That’s a bit of a misnomer; I don’t believe radio drama ever went away, but it’s definitely less prevalent these days.  And what better place to do something niche than on the Internet?  Podcasts are simply radio shows done online, but they’re mostly bored teenagers talking about themselves.  It’s a medium ripe for creative exploration, and I’m glad The Residents have dipped their collective toe into it, even if it’s only to show everybody else what they could be doing.

The River of Crime is presented in serial format, though it’s more of an anthology series with a common narrator than a single story.  It works well, though.  The problem with traditional serials is that the story stops and starts with each episode and is often padded to make each part fill the time.  The benefit with these self-contained stories is that they eliminate the continual arbitrary cliffhangers that plague a serial.

Of all the episodes, I like “The Beards” best.  There’s a special kind of horror in being caught in a situation that, from an outside perspective, looks criminally suspicious.  Child molestation is no joke, and to be merely accused of it is highly damaging.  Even if a person is proven to be innocent, that stigma will be carried forever, because a court’s decision is far outweighed by the public’s gossip.  Of all the stories in this series, this one seems like it will affect the narrator the most over time.

Scripts have been provided with each episode, perhaps to allow interested listeners to stage their own productions.  But in reality it gives us a tiny glimpse into how The Residents operate.  In the first script there is a note for two voices: “Already exists as archive recording; will use that or re-create.”  From this we learn two things: The Residents have done research and gathered real materials for this project, and they were open to the possibility of casting new actors late in the game.  The reasons to not use the archival recordings are likely due to how they’d fit (either sonically or in their pacing).  That they didn’t update the script before letting the public see it is a bold move for a group that banks on its mystery.  Or maybe they just forgot.  It happens.

Though a radio play at heart, the music of the series is very strong with many catchy melodies woven throughout.  Overall the sound seems closer to Demons Dance Alone, so it makes the path of the group’s movement a bit confusing.  It seems that they stepped forward with their remix projects, veered off another way with Animal Lover, and then went back again for this.  It does keep up the excellent use of other voices, though they seem to be taking a backseat once again.

At the same time, their interest in remixing continues, and is spread throughout the Internet.  On MySpace they have been releasing more songs under the RMX moniker (some of which are included as bonus material for River of Crime), and on YouTube they have a series of videos that take old educational films and add new soundtracks and narration, often funny and sometimes disturbing.  I suppose River of Crime is also a remix of sorts too, though it’s more in concept than content – it brings new technology to an old form.

Will there be more crimecasts?  I’d like to think so, and that is the implication.  But these five episodes form a nice arc and the only way forward would be to repeat the formula with another character (which is redundant and boring) or have the current narrator branch out into committing his own crimes (which is what other people would have done in the first place, so unoriginal and therefore boring).

No, I think the way forward is something new, but will retain the strong narrative element and remix sensibility we’ve seen with the last couple of releases.