The Residents have released a DVD collecting all of their music videos, plus newly created videos, plus newly recorded soundtracks to those videos. What could have been a simple compilation of existing material has instead been treated as an original project, and the result is enlightening. What makes this work as a unit is the new soundtrack. The original music is from several eras, and if played straight through this does feel like a typical compilation. But the new music, all recently recorded, unifies their entire history. No longer are these curated moments from various points in the past – this is a single project, the new project, called Icky Flix.
For the past decade The Residents have shown an interest in revisiting and reinterpreting themselves. It began with a jumbled career retrospective, followed by several iterations of their Freak Show concept, then a new album which was changed drastically when taken to the stage, a look back at dogs of Christmas past, and now a different kind of career retrospective to provide another bookend.
Icky Flix is a companion piece to their Santa Dog collection, which also alternated old and new material. In this case the old and new videos alternate, but for old and new music the viewer needs to make an explicit choice from the menu. This is important in understanding the intent. While there is certainly a retrospective element, it’s real focus is the new material. The Residents are aware that, for any of us, our present selves are the culmination of our past experiences and achievements. That is what Icky Flix represents: a history that when summed up gives us the present state. The collected original music reviews the past, the new music reflects where they are now, and plotting the line between them hints at where they are going. Alternating the old and new videos, though, serves as a constant reminder that the past is always present, interacting with and influencing us every day.
As is often the case, The Residents have presented themselves with a creative challenge. Usually, when a musician re-records a song, the new version is wildly different. Perhaps it’s slowed down, or sped up, or changed from a rock beat to a waltz beat, or any number of other ways to shake things up. But because they still need to fit the original video, the songs are confined to the original length, which has forced The Residents to remain somewhat faithful to the original while trying to break new ground. They have met this challenge with several different methods. Having a female vocal on “This Is A Man’s World” is a masterstroke, completely changing the emotional tone of the song. “Constantinople” uses a wildly different vocal style, but it perfectly matches the singing mouth in the video, including the spoken section at the end. In a nice inversion, it’s a delight to see the guitar solo in “Moisture” more closely approximate what the actor is doing on the screen (the original song does not match it at all, being either a mistake or a commentary about the unreality of music video).
But the group broke out of this self-imposed confinement with “Just For You” which bears only a passing resemblance to their rendition of “We Are The World.” Here there was no attempt to match new vocals to the original footage, instead singing of being a fake, a ripoff, and pretentious. Are The Residents speaking about themselves, or are they satirizing Michael Jackson? Maybe it is simply a legal consideration, this being a widely distributed release and more likely to get them in trouble if the title “We Are The World” appears on the back cover.
Whatever the reason, it fits the theme perfectly: The Residents are stepping beyond revisiting and are headed towards new endeavors. I don’t think we will see this kind of introspection again for a while. The future is composed solely of possibilities, and that’s far more attractive than a past of certainties.