A few months back The Residents released their greatest work. And they’ve been expanding it with additional offerings, each illuminating a different aspect of that work. First there was the single for “Double Shot,” the song whose riff was liberally borrowed for God In Three Persons. Scheduled for release is another remix single, but what we have right now is a soundtrack version of the original album.
It is important to note the use of the word “soundtrack.” They’ve been dabbling in legitimate soundtrack work recently, but this release takes that concept a bit further. This isn’t the soundtrack to a film, but rather to an album. However, this is not merely an instrumental version. Indeed, many of the Greek chorus elements remain. But the monologue that tells the story has been stripped completely. It’s a new voice for The Residents. Not in the sense that a different person stepped in front of the microphone, but in the sense that a new character was brought to life. We’ve heard plain, unprocessed speaking before with The Residents, but never to this extent. Never the character of Mr. X Indeed. Never The Storyteller.
The Storyteller took center stage, and in only a few minutes became the definitive voice of The Residents. But the group, well aware of where attention would be focused, took steps to strike a balance between their new star player and everything else that constitutes the collective. They released a single of one song they borrowed, to emphasize the influence. Likewise, I expect “Holy Kiss Of Flesh” will prominently feature “Holy Holy Holy,” and – though not yet on the release schedule – there will probably be a release of “Ooo Baby Baby,” finishing out the trilogy of borrowed melodies that The Residents wish to properly credit.
And even on the original album, the first track is dedicated to naming their collaborators. Not only those who participated in the recording, but also the photographer. On the one hand this demonstrates that the full package is considered as the artwork – there is no delineation between what is recorded and what is seen. (And it’s also notable that the mere existence of a soundtrack to an album asks for the piece to be considered as one would consider a film.) But on the other hand – and I think this is the stronger reason – The Residents wish to open up more.
The album contained a brief note about Phillip “Snakefinger” Lithman, who died tragically, suddenly, before he could participate in the recording. Losing him is a terrible blow to The Residents, and I believe the more prominent list of credits is a direct result of that. The Residents want to make sure they publicly express appreciation for their collaborators while those same collaborators are still alive to see it. As much as The Residents are a mysterious amorphous entity, there are in fact real people that create The Residents, and those real people hurt, and love, and fear, and celebrate just as much as anyone.
This is a turning point for the group. Many artists have what can be called an early period and a late period, and The Residents have just crossed over. They will never be the same, and they are going to lose fans. But just as importantly, they are going to gain new fans as well.
The music of God In Three Persons is precise, clean. In that respect it hearkens back to their version of “It’s A Man’s World,” but unlike that effort this one maintains a strange and experimental nature. The Residents have discovered they can have it both ways: they can make innovative and bizarre music while keeping a sheen of mainstream pop sensibility. It is a wonderfully subversive way to package their product. The back cover reveals that the project was originally conceived as a theatrical piece. Whether that will ever come to pass, I don’t know. It could be amazing or it could be terrible. But it would definitely be interesting.