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The Residents Freak Show album cover
2.85 | 34 ratings | 4 reviews | 9% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1990

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Everyone Comes to the Freak Show (3:02)
2. Harry the Head (2:55)
3. Herman the Human Mole (3:57)
4. Wanda the Worm Woman (4:37)
5. Jelly Jack the Boneless Boy (5:56)
6. Benny the Bouncing Bump (6:07)
7. Mickey the Mumbling Midget (4:28)
8. Lillie (6:58)
9. Nobody Laughs When They Leave (5:47)

Line-up / Musicians

The Residents / everything

Releases information

-Released in 1990 on LP-PIC, CD and cassette by Ralph
-Released in 1990 on CD by East Side Digital
-Released in 1990 on LP, CD and cassette by Torso
-Released in 1994 on CD and Gift Box with merchandise by EuroRalph
-Released in 1995 on CD by EuroRalph
-Released in 1995 on CD by East Side Digital

Thanks to Retrovertigo for the addition
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THE RESIDENTS Freak Show ratings distribution

(34 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(9%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(18%)
Good, but non-essential (47%)
Collectors/fans only (24%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

THE RESIDENTS Freak Show reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by thellama73
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars As with most Residents albums, this one has its good moments and its bad ones. I love concept albums, so I was immediately attracted to this release, and freaks seem a worthy subject for the Residents' brand of quirky music. However, the album largely fails to deliver anything of substance. Most of the synths are one dimensional and sound really dated, and the ongoing parade of "guest vocalists" with strange accents become very annoying very quickly. That is not to say there aren't any good tracks. I quite like Harry the Head in particular, but in the end the songs are all similar enough that the album seems repetitive and pointless long before the end. I find it difficult to listen to the whole thing in one sitting, even though it's less than 50 minutes long. There are much better Residents records out there, so save your money unless you're a collector.
Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars This is the album The Residents' always seemed destined to record. Throughout their career, they made a living out of writing songs about outsiders, people who are different in one way or the other. You know, freaks.

The music is quite spacious. The guys really know their way around the digital synthesizers. But that's also a negative. Every sound is identifyable as a synth patch, even the percussion. It makes me miss the days when you could barely identify most of the sounds that made up The Residents' music.

But still, the songs are all eerily weird, like most of these guys songs, and document the travails of various freak show attractions. The songs, being very lush and full sounding, may be the closest to tradition prog that the band has ever come.

Another side note, at the time this was released, The Residents also release a CD, one could explore the freak show, visiting the show and individual trailers of some of the characters. It's adds more background to the music. Maybe that's another reason I like it so much.

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Freak Show" is a 1990s Residents album and by this time they were exploring very different concepts. This is a definitive concept album about a circus show of freaks and one of the most disturbing albums I have heard. Definitely not to be played at night.

'Everyone Comes to the Freak Show' opens proceedings with an announcer "roll up rollup and welcome" and some dissonant music to add to the feeling of dementia. 'Harry the Head' has a gorgeous female singer and some repetitive chanting about poor harry and his head. On my 2006 version this is followed by 'Herman watches TV' which is a couple having sex while watching TV it sounds like, and then a crowd applauses. 'Herman the Human Mole' is a low key nasal vocal similar to that heard on most Residents albums, and lots of synths droning.

'Wanda does her act' is an addition on the 2006 version, an announcer with repulsive glee introduces the slug woman; this is grisly stuff and the music is ascending synths layered over. 'Wanda the Worm Woman' is a narrative as Wanda hypnotises the crowd, with her "Mona Lisa smile", and dances up a storm and picks off her worms to some disturbing music. The female voice is again a nice touch breaking up the usual male nasal intonations.

'Jack amuses the crowd' is another addition to this release, basically an announcer, crowd laughter and weird samba music. 'Jelly Jack the Boneless Boy' has an oddball chant and some jelly like vocals warbling. The boy lives inside a jar, people stare, "eyeballs in a pool of flesh surrounded by some hair." Jack wishes he was a cowboy and we hear his thoughts about a possible life, but he is stuck in a jar. He wants to "look down and laugh at all the silly humans as they trudge around". However every night he realises he is entrapped in his jelly form. The pitchy choir that sings has a nursery rhyme feel, but this is certainly one of the more disturbing songs from Residents. A voice speaks, "Sucking sections of my soul, salivate and drool and press against itself."

Brrrrrrrrr...I need a break from this.

OK I am back and listening to 'Benny Bounces', yet another addition, the announcer and some circus music are heard. It is quite funny really when the jaunty rhythms of 'Benny the Bouncing Bump' come in. this is a long 6 minute piece of mirth. The lyrics are still unsettling about Benny who is just a lump of flesh and has to bounce to move around and people laugh at him and "stood and stared". Benny collects girly magazines, "he kept them all in plastic bags and everybody said that Benny talked to them at night before he went to bed". The music moves into a atonal synth and eerie flourishes. The high pitched voices are disturbing, then a gruff Louisiana accent is heard, a parody of Americana.

'Mickey the Mumbling Midget' is announced next and then very odd music with dramatic bass and drum is heard. The music lurches into a rhythmic Samba percussion sound, and more high pitched voices echoed by a narrator.

'Lillie' is a 7 minute track, and I wondered what was her freakish problem as it is not stated in the title. I soon found out. Little Lillie grosses out audiences by regurgitating things such as coins. Her face is "too white, like a corpse in sunshine". We hear Lillie talking about all sorts of nonsense and then there is a rocked up section as heavy as Residents get as far as tempo. She sounds deranged and screams out her hatred.

'Nobody Laughs When They Leave' closes the Freak Show with a statement shrouded in a metaphor "life is a lot like a freak show as Nobody Laughs When They Leave". I can guarantee that sentiment too with this album. This is as chilling and demented as it gets.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars Anyone familiar with The Residents knows that you can always expect strangeness and crazy themes as a constant in their music. Sometimes they can do the strange thing very well and other times they fall flat. So, when they came along with a concept album about a bunch of circus sideshow freaks, it just had to be a great thing, because if any one would be able to do that concept, it would be The Residents, right? Yeah, that's what I thought. Well, this album leaves a lot to be desired.

This album is the first album to be evidence of The Residents reliance on computer technology and pretty much most of the instrumentals is done completely with the MIDI, even the percussion. So, you get that terrible plastic percussion sound through the entire album. You also get nothing but synthesized instruments. Fortunately, the changing of voices and the use of female vocals along with male vocals keep things from getting totally stagnant. The songs are interesting enough and have their share of rhythm, thematic and meter changes. With actual instruments, this could have been one of their best albums, I believe. But the fake percussion is annoying and the instrumental sections have a clinical feeling to them.

The album starts out fine enough, even with the faux instrumentals. The first track "Everyone Comes to the Freak Show" shows promise in the vocals, the delivery and the progressive elements. The 2nd track "Harry the Head" is upbeat and full of humor, so you start to think you might have a good album on your hands here. But, after that, the songs tend to drag, starting out with interesting themes at first, that tend to ramble on too long before changing to another theme or idea. The lyrics are dark and humorous at least, but the music itself just isn't interesting enough and I keep finding myself wondering if I am getting to the end yet whenever I listen to this. Not a good sign! The last half of the concluding piece "Nobody Laughs When They Leave" is the only other highlight of the album as dramatic music starts to fill in, but it's too little too late to save anything.

Yes it's funny and weird, but it just doesn't live up to the better Residents albums, and this would be the case with a lot of the albums to come along for a while because of their fixation with technology. Yes The Residents usually use a lot of minimalism and synthesizer all of the time, but it's done much better. Complacency seems to be setting in during this period of their discography, but they were able to prove later that they still had some better music to come. The expectations for this album should be high, but unfortunately, the album does not live up to those expectations this time. 2 stars only.

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