Shadowland purports to be the third part of a trilogy, based on the theme of life in reverse. The evidence presented is the subject matter of the song and story selections. Well… that works for some of the content, but certainly not all. The concept seems to have been brought into play late in the game, but that’s nothing new for The Residents (and I have great respect those who can successfully alter continuity in a retroactive fashion). But there is another way in which the shows can be perceived as running backwards, and that’s to look at the protagonist, Randy.
In Talking Light, Randy is replaced by a mirror person, and we don’t see him come back. Naturally one would think we’ve had mirror Randy ever since, but that doesn’t jibe well with the Randy we see in Wonder of Weird or the ongoing RandyLand series. Mirror Randy is cool and confident while the Randy we see afterwards is the same as before: excitable, distracted, and potentially dangerous. If we reverse the performance order, then in Shadowland Randy hardly talks at all (which aligns with the classic persona of aloof Resident), then in Wonder of Weird he must speak out of necessity in order to share the history of the group and is interrupted by a personal crisis, then by the time of Talking Light he has fallen into full blown paranoia that ends in either a vindication or a psychotic break. Thanks to the reverse concept, we can explain what is otherwise a discrepancy as a future event we’ve backed away from. Whether that event is inevitable or has been avoided is a discussion for science fiction fans; I’m just happy there’s a way to find coherence in it.
This also means the group has not been pushing us away (from the living room to the front lawn to the shadows), but in fact inviting us in. This is consistent with their growing social media presence, though that remains separate from the show narrative (otherwise Randy would not discuss the trilogy concept in his videos). Still, it’s very tidy for those who want the group’s story to make sense.
In the background to these proceedings, Charles Bobuck has announced his intention to leave the touring group and take on a kind of Brian Wilson role in the studio. Indeed I am writing this on the day of his final performance. As someone not interested in attending live shows, this doesn’t upset me much at all. I’ve read several online comments from people bemoaning the end of The Residents. I can only assume they are so young as to only know them as a touring group, unaware that the first quarter of their career was spent exclusively in the studio. There used to be a very vocal segment of the fan base who were adamant that the first ten years were the best, sometimes going so far as to refuse to listen to anything past 1982. I’m always fascinated by such shifts in popular opinion. At a macro level, it looks like the fans have changed their minds, but we know people are too stubborn with their beliefs. The truth is that the old fans are gone, replaced by a new crop with new opinions. It’s how paradigm shifts happen everywhere; you don’t change a person’s mind, you outvote him with others like yourself. The Residents, not being individuals but a collective concept, are able to mirror these kinds of changes – always moving on, sometimes forward, sometimes backward, but even a misstep is a step, and they are more excited about the journey than the destination.
So I expect them next to emerge from the shadows with a new perspective to share. With Bobuck’s return to the studio and a dedicated touring group, I think we’ll see a renaissance of high concept albums with their accompanying staggering live presentations in the near future, perhaps with a greater drive, determination, and focus than we’ve ever seen before.