The artwork for Duck Stab! returns to the sophistication of Fingerprince, though it is much more sinister. Where before we had an out of focus photograph rendered with inviting sepia tones, here we have a high-contrast image rendered only in red and white on a black background. Though upon closer inspection we see that the content of the image may not be sinister at all – it looks as if Harpo Marx is simply preparing to make his famous duck soup.
“The Laughing Song” leads directly from this. The song has a frantic, almost demented sound, but the lyrics echo the whimsy of Edward Lear. The laughter turns out to be less psychotic than one might initially expect – The Residents are honestly having fun here, something else I was not expecting. They offer silly words dressed in a discordant wolf’s clothing.
The seven songs of Duck Stab! are short and jaunty, almost as if The Residents are embracing something closer to a pop song format. But we shouldn’t believe they are settling. While these songs may mimic one aspect of pop music, they are purposefully avoiding others. Besides the obvious strangeness of the sound, most of these songs lack the traditional verse/chorus structure so crucial to commercial music.
Yet I believe this is a transitional release, and that The Residents are headed for commercial inevitability. Their Beatles record, in retrospect, hinted at this break from their past and positioned as models the group arguably considered to be the pinnacle of mainstream success. It may not happen overnight, but I won’t be surprised if The Residents churn out Top 40 hits before too long.
However, that kind of change may be fleeting. The Residents seem to have an overarching theme of constantly pursuing new sounds and ideas, so it’s not a stretch to imagine they will get their fifteen minutes of fame, but will not complain once it passes. Or perhaps one day they will target themselves in a medley of deconstructed pop songs.