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The Residents



3.96 | 114 ratings

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5 stars Like The Residents, I'm a subscriber to the Theory of Obscurity. In a nutshell (and is there anything about this band not in a nutshell?) the theory says any act of creativity, whether music or painting or poetry, is immediately compromised when considering a possible audience. The purest forms of artistic expression are therefore always selfish, and can only be produced in a commercial vacuum.

It was the guiding principle behind what may or may not have been their second studio album, supposedly recorded in 1974 and never intended for public exposure, but released four years later when their ambitious "Eskimo" project fell behind schedule. That's the official version of the story, but like a lot of Residential legends it sounds more like a marketing ploy.

The Theory itself is still valid, of course. And obviously attractive to a band without an audience to begin with. If nothing else, their total lack of commercial appeal liberated the group to make what still stands as their richest, deepest, and weirdest album ever, quite an accomplishment for a collection of misfits with a musical yardstick already positioned at such an obtuse angle.

And on top of their typically bizarro style it's a concept album too: a four-act avant-rock opera of sorts, relating the enigmatic Pilgrim's Progress of a girl named Edweena, someone's Uncle Remus, and a porcupine named Knowledge (among other equally obscure characters). One of the reasons given for deliberately mothballing the finished tapes was because the narrative was "too personally revealing", according to the Residents' own web site: yet another example of their performance art leg-pulling. Nothing (repeat, nothing) about this thing is revealing, even with a lyric sheet, not available (so to speak) with the album itself, but easily accessible to motivated web spiders.

As for the music, it's "guaranteed to shake you up", as the pathetic narrator whimpers in "The Making of a Soul". Newcomers might not get past the oddness of it all, but listeners on the same aberrant wavelength will find the album a haunting, perplexing, perversely funny experience, striking a fine balance between the band's more sober avant-garde aspirations and the comic eccentricity favored by a lot of their fans.

Ideally I should have filed this review someplace where it couldn't be read until I had forgotten all about it. But, in the immortal words of the mysterious porcupine, "is firm corn merrier under gifts of less important love? We wonder..."

Neu!mann | 5/5 |


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