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Retired Admin
4 stars Excellent radio play and adaptation of the story "Der Sandmann" by E.T.A. Hoffman. Major improvement from their album "The River Of Crime" which was also spoken word oriented in episode format.

I like to think "Voice Of Midnight" combines the best elements from their previous encounters with storytelling; the story is almost as good as "God In Three Persons" but the singing Resident narrator is ditched in favor of the "River Of Crime" format of radio play where characters play out the scenes, but the music isn't nearly as minimal as that of "God In Three Persons", with characters sometimes singing verse, a lot of room for instrumental themes that catch attention and are not just background for dialogues. Some of this music will get heavily reworked and made into "The Ughs" album in 2009, which would be an drastically altered soundtrack. I rated them similar but I do prefer "The Ughs" though, instrumental album has much more reason to replay for then the story one. No to mention that the "Eskimo" feel on "The Ughs" is a bit lost here since with all the talking and sounds it brings up more of an urban and industrial feeling. Basically if you're up for an horror/thriller story, get it.

It's fairly easy to follow the plot, as here are some points from the original story without any spoilers: Nathaniel as a child is exposed to death of his father who dabbled in experiments with alchemy, which might have been just an chemical accident or the fault of father's friend Coppelius who was with him at the time. Coppelius's identity is since then in Nathaniel's mind combined with the character Sandman from bedtime stories. The version of folk stories about Sandman that Nathaniel heard are quite different from ours though; Sandman pours sand in the eyes of children just so they could bleed out of their heads and be carried away to his children on the moon as food (which is the cover of the album, Sandman holding his beaked child with an eye in his hand). The story on the album begins in Nathaniel's college years when his Sandman obsessions, fears and illusions are triggered by an encounter with a man in a shop who looks very similar to Coppelius, which puts strains on his relationship, his studies and mind in general.

THE RESIDENTS updated a story with small details, changing some of the names, what use to be a written letter is now a one sided conversation or over the phone etc. The plot is still the same and it works. Definitely recommend it more than some of their too abstract story albums, like "Tweedles" for example.

Report this review (#640928)
Posted Saturday, February 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars 'The Voice of Midnight' is a soundtrack play by The Residents and a very unique album in their extensive catalogue. It is studio album number 32 and their only release in 2007. The vocals are as weird as ever for this band, ranging from male growls, strangled cries, falsetto melancholia and a gorgeous female consciousness. All of these characters are introduced in the first song The Sandman clocking 8 and a half minutes. The chilling story concerns the fears of the Sandman and how this morbid tale to scare kids to sleep is a real creature that sprinkles sand in children's eyes causing death. This idea comes from E.T.A. Hoffman's "Der Sandmann" but you don't need to know about that to understand what is going on.

It plays out more as a theatrical production than other Resident's albums with characters singing and speaking lines. The music is strange synths and percussion on screwball melodies and dissonant sounds. On Mental Decay there are some quirky odd violins and singing that is repeated phrases along with a narration 'I look away, I look a way I've never looked before'. In Claire's Response she retorts 'you're disgusting!' and then sinister vocals state that the sandman is coming. The minimalist lead guitar is classic Residents and then an Oriental musicscape enters. Claire's vocals are off kilter and warped amidst the irregular music. The protagonist Nathaniel renounces his belief in the sandman and apologises.

In the Dark has a jarring phone call opening it with some noise on the line and a ghostly siren 'my apartment's on fire!' Lots of expletives are heard as he realises all his stuff is being burned. The guitar is mournful and there is an ominous string synth heard. A creepy voice is heard 'she slips in the shadows, she slips in the dark.'

We hear in Professor Caligari (based on the German Expressionist film perhaps) Nathaniel's dad has conducted experiments in alchemy. His father's friend Coppelius was with Nathaniel's dad during a chemical accident and the identity of Coppelius becomes submersed within Nathaniel's subconscious combining this with the Sandman folklore, they become infused as one and the Sandman is envisaged as a creature that pours sand in children's eyes and they bleed from their heads. The Sandman then carries these victims to the moon and they are devoured. Not exactly bedtime listening.

In The Telescope Nathaniel buys a telescope and then becomes possessed to ponder on the Sandman's deeds. Nathaniel receives an invitation to a party from Olympia, a girl who will sing and play piano. Her singing and piano playing is then heard as a ghostly apparition in Nathaniel's mind. On True Love, She sings a warped version of Beautiful Dreamer that is barely recognisable, in a high pitched register. There's a cool guitar lead break that is one of the best moments on the album.

Seven Cats has a purring sound and some half decent singing and a narration about heaps of cats doing all sorts of things. Nathaniel sees all these cats and is amazed there are so many doing all these things. He sees a hunched up character coming up the street 'slinking from shadow to shadow' and we can assume it's the guy who sold the telescope. He breaks into the professor's basement and Nathaniel shouts 'I've got to stop him!' He goes in and demands the box from the thief, the box's contents are eyeballs, and Olympia's body without eyes. Then to his horror he sees all these heads on the shelves and the Sandman comes in, perhaps the most disturbing moment on the album; the creature screeches 'eyeless souls and they can't look back at all'. Nathaniel is going mad seeing seaweed, eels coming from a cloudy mass, 'that became a blister bursting open and revealed a dark and luscious liquid that became my favourite meal.'

Catatonia is next, a girl speaking of how she feels about the professor's psychotic behaviour is heard. Nathaniel is now catatonic 'sometimes he wakes up but there's no one there.' We hear inside Nathaniel's head, the sandman is in his mind imploring him to sleep 'just like a rat'. The Proposal has a happy Birthday song sounding as bleak as The Birthday Boy from another Residents album. The boy is recovering; 'it's almost a miracle!' The Sandman warns 'they live for a while then they wander away,

Nathaniel asks for Claire's hand in marriage and in The Tower the dialogue between them is uneasy as to where they could be married. They go to climb a tower, and the foreboding atmosphere signals disaster. The Sandman is still appearing and I can only assume Claire will be thrown off the high tower. Nathaniel says its peaceful looking down at the world. Claire tells him to look at the hill 'does it remind you of something round and full?' She is pregnant and going to have twins, wonderful news but Nathaniel is furious. He accuses her of having sex with the Sandman; 'you want to have his babies, snip snip snip!' He moves her to the tower and threatens her, then he goes stark raving mad 'I'll kill him!' and in an act of sacrifice he throws himself off to rid himself of the Sandman and the torture forever.

His mangled body lies at the foot of the tower and Sandman torments him even in death. Epilogue completes the dark tale with a piano, monotonous synth and some creepy chants. I was surprised at the contents of this album that tell such a coherent story. The characters are well performed, and the irony of the ending when granny Claire tells her boys to go straight to sleep or the Sandman will come and eat their eyeballs is one that is unsettling. It all makes perfect sense for once, unlike most of the other Residents' concept albums.

The horror story will appeal to many but it is creepy throughout and not designed for young ears. I was really delighted with this album as it has a compelling story and is definitely one of the scariest albums from The Residents, one of the better albums in this era of the band, recommended for those who love a good concept album.

Report this review (#1073032)
Posted Wednesday, November 6, 2013 | Review Permalink
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars So, after a few fairly good albums, The Residents put out this album. 'The Voice of Midnight' tells the story of a boy named Nate (played and sung by Corey Rosen) who thinks The Sandman is out to kill him like The Sandman killed his father. He has a girlfriend named Claire (played by Gerry Lawler) who he alienates when she discovers he has feeling for a mannequin or a robot, not sure which, named Olympia (played by Carla Fabrizo). All of the actors, or players, worked with The Residents previously on 'River of Crime' and 'Tweedles'. Vocals are both sung and spoken, as in a play or drama.

The first track 'The Sandman' is the track that tells the backstory of this whole drama. The main character Nate, is telling his girlfriend Claire on the telephone, just what his problem is with The Sandman. The music in the background is quite chaotic and noisy as Nate gets frantic and calms down when he's not. There is a lot of noisy guitar in this track among other cacophony. Later, Nate sings, and his voice is vulnerable and nervous, like you would expect in this character. The music calms down here, but remains eerie and strange, with synths, guitar and strings providing instrumentals. The regular vocalist for The Residents provides some processed spooky vocals. The other characters sing/speak during their parts. The music gets dark and heavy at the end.

This first track, lasting over 8 minutes, is a good example of what to expect in this album. The music is definitely avant-prog, and goes along with the text and lyrics of the story. This was The Residents forte during this time of their long existence. Telling dramatic stories to music and spoken parts. Yes, the stories are strange, funny and just plain weird, but if they weren't, this wouldn't be The Residents. The albums of this era of the collective had, thank goodness, moved onto more developed music, where real instruments were involved, and not just the annoying amateur sounding synthesizers of their albums from the middle of their discography.

Now, here's a spoiler alert. The rest of this review deals with the story as it goes through the scenes, or tracks of this album. Remember, this is a story by The Residents, so consider this your warning. Some images can be disturbing.

In the next track 'Mental Decay', Nate is on a picnic with Claire and he writes her a poem to get on her good side. It's a stupid poem and Claire chides him for believing that The Sandman is out to get him. 'Claire's Response' is when she tells him to get lost and he tries to apologize but to no avail. 'In the Dark' tells how Nick's friend Brad calls him and tells him his apartment is on fire, but not to worry because Brad rescued all of his stuff in time and now Nick can live with him. Nick lives there and discovers that his Biology professor lives across the street, so he goes over to talk with him. In 'Professor Caligari' he talks to his professor and asks him about his daughter that lives upstairs that he spotted petting a white cat. In 'The Telescope' Nick buys a pocket telescope that he can use to spy on the professor's mysterious 'Daughter'. The Sandman entices him to go watch the girl with the white cat who he becomes obsessed with.

Later, in 'True Love' which lasts over 11 minutes, Nate receives an invitation from Olympia (which is the 'daughter's' name) to come to a party. Olympia sings him the song 'Beautiful Dreamer' with altered lyrics and with the melody changed to a minor key sounding really hypnotic and spooky. After the song, heavy and dark guitars play the altered melody, then a synthesized chorus sing the refrain. This part is actually quite clever. After that, things get really bizarre as the Sandman gets into Nate's head. My guess is that Nate gets memerized and hypnotized and sees the Sandman feeding his children eyeballs and thinks, 'Hey, they gotta eat too.' So all of this is to make him feel empathy for The Sandman and to lure him in.

'Seven Cats' tells how while Nate is watching Olympia through his telescope, she is not there one night but there are cats everywhere. The man that sold him the telescope is walking up the street and picks the lock on the professor's door. Nate goes over to stop him and finds Olympia's body on the floor without eyes and there is also a box that the person dropped that is full of eyeballs. He is also in some kind of laboratory with heads on the shelves and then he is captured by creeping seaweed.

In 'Catatonia', Nate has been captured by the police and they are questioning Claire as to why he was found in the professor's laboratory hugging a mannequin with a bunch of mannequin heads all over the ground. Meanwhile, in Nate's mind, all is not right as the Sandman continues to lull him to sleep. In 'The Proposal', it seems like all has returned to normal as Nate sees everyone celebrating his birthday, Claire is there and has forgiven him now that Nate is better and is ready to marry him. But the music and The Sandman's voice alludes to the fact that everything is not alright.

'The Tower' tells how Nate takes Claire to the top of a tower to watch the sunset. While there, Claire tells him she is pregnant and Nate goes crazy and says the babies belong to The Sandman. He tries to kill Claire claiming she slept with him while she pleads to him that it's not true. As he almost kills her, he looks down and sees The Sandman. As he goes to attack The Sandman, he goes over the railing of the tower and falls to his death.

'Epilogue' fast forwards to the future where Claire is talking to her children and tells them she is going out for a little while and she leaves them with her grandma, who proceeds to tell them the story of . . . . ''The Sandman.

Okay, just so you know, no one can tell a spooky story like The Residents, especially one that is as wacky as this. The album has plenty of odd melodies, sounds, and avant-prog-ness to keep everyone interested, but chances are, you will be entranced by the story. It's not their best, and after the first listen, it loses it's charm, but it's fun and interesting if nothing else, and might be a good Halloween story for you to share with your friends, that is, if you are into that kind of entertainment. But, everyone will probably just look at you funny. Oh well. There's always a place for us weirdoes, isn't there?

Report this review (#2044217)
Posted Saturday, October 13, 2018 | Review Permalink

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