The Residents seem to have wasted no time in producing their follow-up to River of Crime. But this is no rush job, and supports what I have long suspected: most Residents projects take years to complete, and several are in progress at any given time. It just so happens that the last two were finished close to one another. Now I wonder if more will come shortly or if there will be a dry spell. I don’t think they’d make two releases so close together unless they had the next one already well along its way. But there’s no benefit in such speculation.
The new release is called Tweedles, and though it follows neatly with River of Crime, it is very much a successor to God in Three Persons. Both tell the tale of a man who is so self-absorbed that he compulsively hurts others. The difference is that Mr. X believes he is a good person, while Tweedles holds no such delusion.
The press release explicitly outs Tweedles as a kind of vampire, but so was Mr. X. So was Silly Billy from Disfigured Night. Vampirism is a common theme with The Residents, popping up from time to time in individual songs or spanning over entire projects. The River of Crime narrator was also a vampire of sorts. Now I’m wondering if Tweedles actually is a sequel after all. Could it be that, after the discovery of his father’s demise, the narrator broke away from having normal healthy relationships? He definitely didn’t want to be a criminal himself, and the actions of Tweedles are pretty much as bad as you can get while remaining just on this side of the law. Maybe these projects being released so close to one another is not pure happenstance. I’ll need to consider that possibility more fully someday.
I do have an issue with the artwork, but it’s not what one might expect. Yes it borders on vulgarity, but it’s art. Not to mention the cleverness in the slipcase cover – much could be said about perception and how that changes once all the facts are revealed, or about the gleeful subversion of having this image on prominent display in record stores. My problem with the cover artwork is that it gives the game away. Right away we suspect this is an album about a sexually deviant clown. What should, in the course of the story, be a climactic reveal ends up being a confirmation of what was expected (granted, it’s not quite as literal, but close enough to take away the intended shock). I’m hard pressed to think of any cover for a concept album that reveals so much about the contents. Tommy only showed us a surrealist globe; The Wall just showed a wall.
Though perhaps giving so much away is the intent. If nobody has done it before, then of course it’s worth trying. It’s a mystery novel approach, whereby all of the elements are laid out, and slowly the reader is given the connective tissue to build the beast (“oh, so that’s why there’s a clown on the cover”).
Is it successful? It is in the sense that they did it, and it can always be argued that no experiment can be considered a failure. I would have liked not to have the clown imagery hanging over this album on my first listen, though I suppose it is the best theme to use in the artwork. They rarely go with something completely abstract.
Musically I find this album beautiful, and it’s a shame I get so easily distracted by the spoken words and artwork. Incorporating a film orchestra as raw material (there’s that novel take on remixing again) is brilliant and gives The Residents a lush palette they haven’t had before. But I can’t focus on it enough to fully appreciate it. I hope they release a soundtrack version (like they did with God in Three Persons); this album definitely deserves that kind of special treatment.