It’s been well over a year since the first Ralph Records release, and frankly I had forgotten about them. If I had been forced to think about Santa Dog, I’d dismiss it as an interesting one-off project, something that wasn’t a serious attempt at starting out in the music business; an artifact from some people with more creativity than business sense.
But here in front of me is evidence that Ralph Records means business: an album from a new artist. As an album, Meet The Residents demands to be looked at before it is even heard. Like the label’s first release, it leads you from the familiar to the unknown, but this time more abruptly and with a single image instead of a sequence of four songs. At first glance it’s Meet The Beatles, but this is definitely a warped version of that iconic artwork. The vandalised photo of the Fab Four is equal parts whimsy and vitriol. I bet John Lennon loves it.
Likewise, the music refuses to gently guide us into this world. The album begins with a rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” but unlike the album cover which starts in the familiar and quickly becomes unsettling, it takes a while to recognize the song The Residents are performing. As for the following half dozen songs on side one, they are intertwined to such a degree that I can’t tell when one song ends and another begins. And I thought it was wild when “Sgt. Pepper” and its reprise led directly into their following songs.
However, once each song is underway it assumes its own identity and becomes recognizable. It is only in retrospect, in knowing what the essence of each song is, that we’re able to tell where they begin and end. The Residents have therefore created a suite that has a first-time effect that cannot be repeated. Once you know how it is structured, you’ll recognize the changes and won’t be surprised again. Maybe you can recapture the experience if you put it away for several years and pull it off the shelf only after you’ve forgotten about it. That seems an awful lot to ask: to engage in an album to such a degree that you actively ignore it in order to experience it fresh once more.
The rest of the album approaches more traditional structures. The songs have definite starts and stops, and sound as if the band is consciously attempting to perform in a number of different, but known, musical genres. In this sense Meet The Residents is somewhat the mirror reverse of Santa Dog. That collection of songs started normal and ended strange. Meet The Residents starts strange and ends… well, it’s still strange, but gets part of the way to normal. But The Residents are not Ivory & The Braineaters by any stretch of the imagination.
And while I’m thinking of good old Ivory… Ralph Records has now introduced us to several bands, and only one seems to have any commercial potential. I am all for artistic expression and doing your own thing, but I hope Ivory has some more songs coming for the sake of Ralph Records. They need a hit generator to keep the business side of things afloat. You can’t leave your finances to the mercy of pure art. Mercury Records can carry the likes of Captain Beefheart because they have a stable full of artists with mainstream appeal. The Beatles could afford to go experimental now and then because they were The Beatles. Nobody bought The White Album for “Revolution 9,” but that song would never exist without the selling power of the rest of the band’s output.
It’s been over a year of silence from Ralph Records, and instead of reintroducing us to their commercial side, they’ve tested the audience. I’m hoping the Braineaters have something out soon. I think I might like the idea of The Residents, but I’m afraid they won’t last long without support.