Thursday, November 14, 2019

THE RESIDENTS/pREServed titles reviewed!


(2CD pREServed Edition)

(2CD pREServed Edition)

Available NOW!

If you’ve never heard The Residents, then I can guarantee that you have NEVER heard any band quite like them.  Words cannot describe them, but a quick spin of their music doesn’t do them justice either: they are a band that needs to be LISTENED to instead of just merely ‘heard’.  In fact, they are a band that needs to be absorbed into one’s system.  They are a band that constantly challenges the listener, sometimes even confusing them, but they are also a band that rewards the listener with music that is both dark and brooding as well as warm and inviting.  They are as childish as they are pretentious.  They are avant-garde and uncommercial yet strangely melodic and addicting. The Residents’ biography is filled with truths, fibs, lies, half-truths and sworn affidavits, but I won’t go into all of that.  You can Google their story on numerous websites. But what I will say is that the band’s members were never named and their identities were kept secret.  The anonymity of the band members helped to ensure that their art was based on the music and presentation and not by what they looked like or who they were/are. Imagine being able to listen to a band and formulate an opinion without knowing their age, race, or sexuality. And guess what? They’re still around 45 years after the release of their debut album, MEET THE RESIDENTS.

The band has been releasing expanded pREServed editions of their back catalog, the most comprehensive reissue campaign of their career. Each individual album is expanded to two CDs and features bonus material including previously unreleased studio and live recordings. The two most recent titles include NOT AVAILABLE and A NICKLE IF YOUR DICK’S THIS BIG, which gathers up their legendary pre-MEET THE RESIDENTS recordings (including THE WARNER BROS. ALBUM). Both pREServed releases will initially frighten small children… but they’ll get over it. This isn’t Captain Beefheart or Frank Zappa, folks. The Residents make them sound like The Captain & Tennille and Frankie Valli…

A NICKLE IF YOUR DICK’S THIS BIG is a very important two CD release since it contains the band’s earliest recordings. At this point in their career –  1971 and 1972 – it was obvious that the band members’ musical vision was far more advanced than their instrumental skills. Unconventionally, the instruments are plunked and pounded instead of played. The songs seem to be made up as they went along, which adds a bit of charm to the delightful cacophony on display. The mysterious N. Senada makes an appearance as do a few other musical friends.  But you’ll have to read the liner notes for more in-depth coverage.

First up is 1971’s THE WARNER BROS.ALBUM – a collection of recordings which they mailed to the label. The album may not be as ‘advanced’ as MEET THE RESIDENTS but it features a lot of the hallmarks of the band’s first few official releases. Starting the album off with a twisted stab at “Strawberry Fields Forever” will certainly throw people off… and the rest of the album is equally warped and wonderful. And sadly, it is indescribable. Amateurish, unfocused, and demented would be words that one could mention, but those sound too negative. While not exactly brilliant, these recordings are somehow charming – like listening to your kids bang away in the other room while you down a bottle of whiskey and watch Laurel & Hardy on a black and white TV set. And you know what? THE WARNER BROS. ALBUM might be considered an oddity if it was the band’s only release but it remains an important release because it laid the foundation of what was to come. Bolstered by a few early – and rare – live performances, Disc One of A NICKLE IF YOUR DICK’S THIS BIG is fascinating, frightening, and ultimately fantastic. There may not be any ‘hit singles’ buried in the mix but the listening experience will stay with you for a long while. (For the record, the band did not have a name when they mailed the tapes to WB. After listening to them, the tapes were addressed to ‘Residents’, hence the name of the band.)

DISC TWO starts off with the super rare BABY SEX (retitled B… S.. for obvious reasons). This set of tracks was less of an album and more of a collage of musical ideas and live snippets. In all actuality, it is a huge musical leap forward. Not as overtly weird as the WB ALBUM, B… S.. is almost fun. The album’s thrilling closer, “Hallowed Be They Ween”, is a 14-minute monster of a recording that is most certainly a link between their previous album and what was to come. Stunning and chilling in equal measures, this will either scare the living daylights out of you or make you immediately swear allegiance to The Residents. The additional tracks include another rare live show and the great ‘Intro Tape’ that the band played at the beginning of those infrequent live performances.
A NICKLE IF YOUR DICK’S THIS BIG may not be the perfect entry point if you are thinking of diving into the band’s recorded output but it is a fantastic – and long-overdue - addition to the band’s enormous back catalog.

NOT AVAILABLE is one of the band’s finest albums yet it remains shrouded in mystery. The truths behind this album are lies yet the lies have become truths. Armed with a backstory that includes the band’s ‘theory of obscurity’ explanation, this album was supposedly recorded in 1974 (right after MEET THE RESIDENTS) and then stored in the vaults, never to be released until the band forgot about its existence. Finally released in 1978 with this convolute backstory, NOT AVAILABLE sounded far more advanced than the Residents were leading us to believe. With better strong structures and production and laced with keyboards that seemed more current than ’74, this was an album that was hypnotic and melodic. At times mournful, at times hopeful, the original album was challenging but it paid off for the listener in the end. This ‘concept’ album was made up of five main tracks, with each of those tracks made up shorter songs. While the ‘story’ isn’t exactly clear, it revealed itself to be quite beautiful in many places. Regardless of the confusing story behind the album – and then the second story featured in the liner notes - NOT AVAILABLE is one of The Residents’ most compelling and satisfying albums. Disc One adds three later live recordings of tracks from the album.

Disc Two in this set is either meant to set the record straight or confuse things even more. Consisting of the previously unreleased set of recordings entitled X IS FOR XTRA (A CONCLUSION), these 19 tracks are meant to be the original recordings of the tracks that were mixed and remixed to create NOT AVAILABLE. Just as compelling as the parent album, these tracks are certainly revealing, although their authenticity is brought into question.  Are they actually the ‘original recordings’ or did someone in the Residents camp merely take the NOT AVAILABLE master tapes and edit them up to create these short little vignettes? In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter. X IS FOR XTRA is a stunning listen, regardless. It is like listening to those Beatles box sets with loads of outtakes and demos – you get to hear this music like you’ve never heard it before. And for Residents fans, it will blow your mind.

If you are feeling adventurous, it is time to investigate The Residents. They aren’t New Wave, Punk, Power Pop, Rock n’ Roll, or Jazz.  And they certainly ain’t Easy Listening! Enter with caution because you’re either going to love them or you’re going to pee yourself a little.  The choice is yours…

Your pal,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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