The latest Residents album is not part three of the Mole Trilogy (it explicitly states so on the cover) and in fact has no story or theme at all. It’s a compilation album, but the songs are for the most part unreleased, and the rest were only available on limited releases. The Residents, it is implied, approach every project as a concept. While that can be seen in many of their releases, I wonder what the concept of Duck Stab was. Or Fingerprince. Certainly not a story. Not song length. Maybe some inside joke the band won’t let us in on? Or something in the sound, perhaps?
Sound plays a very important role with The Residents. The song “Boy In Love” here is said to be musically similar to Mark Of The Mole, the album during which it sprung. I have trouble reconciling the song with the album because to me they sound so incredibly different. If I concentrate deeply, I can imagine this song arranged and performed as if it came from that album, but only for fleeting moments. This recording does provide evidence that The Residents were considering emotional depth for the album, and purposefully chose to remove it (which I still disagree with, but perhaps the fact that it still affects me years later is why they did it).
This collection also features songs that were cut from The Tunes Of Two Cities. Indeed, a full third of the songs here are related to the Mole Trilogy, which might explain the protesting disclaimer. Of these, I think “Open Up” is the strongest, but were I to reinstate it I don’t know which song I would choose to remove.
“Ups & Downs” is a song that was adapted to fit with the concept of The Commercial Album. That would place this original earlier than that, and it does bear a similar sound to “The Sleeper” from 1979. I wonder if these two songs, which both have sleeping as a theme, are part of an abandoned project about dreams. In that case, Residue Of The Residents is not just “mop tapes” but also the burial ground for unfinished projects.
“Walter Westinghouse” is quite interesting, and perhaps the standout song on this collection, from its complex rhythms and synthesizer sounds that are both upsetting and inviting, to the tour de force of the lead singer’s vocalizations. But more interesting than hearing him perform in several different voices is the assertion that this song was intended for side three of Fingerprince, which I did not know was originally supposed to be a double album. I suppose their Beatles single (also with a hand motif in its artwork) was slated to be part of side four. This delving into their past is quite enlightening.
However, the song “Saint Nix” is said to have been recorded in mid-1974, and only the vocal re-recorded recently. But the music sounds too modern – I can’t believe it is from the time between their first two albums. It does, however, sound like it could be from my proposed dreams album. The lyrics read just like somebody recalling a dream, after all.
I’m trying to think of a way to sum up this collection as a whole, and I cannot. It really does feel like unrelated leftover pieces brought together to fill the length of an album. Earlier I said I did not know the concepts behind some other Residents albums, but at least I do recognize them as distinct works. Whatever unified them is not in play here. It’s not a bad collection, and could well be used as an introduction, but it just doesn’t feel like The Residents. The parts add up to be less than the whole, whereas a Residents album is usually greater than its contents.
Perhaps the actual concept of this collection is to make a “normal” record. They’ve failed, of course. But in a world with so many normal albums, I don’t want them to succeed in adding another.