The Residents have released a crap-load of records over the 30+ years of their existence. Their first album, “Meet The Residents,” was released in 1973. Since then, only considering nationally distributed full lengths, the quantity of releases is enough to make a music fan look at his or her bank account in sorrow. Then factoring in all the website/fan-club exclusives (many of which can fetch in the realm of $80+ on ebay) you’ll get historians scratching their heads trying to document it all. Then there are the re-releases… many albums have seen more then one re-release… and still the majority of their catalog is out of print and unavailable except through online or used sources.
Their early work is, without question, their best. In fact, of the eight albums I rank as my favorite releases by them, the only one released after 1982* was “WB:RMX,” which was released in 2004. I, and I am sure I’m not alone in this, would argue that “WB:RMX” hardly counts since it is a remix of the previously unreleased demo tape The Residents recorded in 1971 to shop around to potential labels.
So it is with some sense of awe that I have to report that The Residents’ soon to be released album “Animal Lover” ranks up there with those eight masterpieces as the best thing The Residents have done since ’82. My love love of The Residents, as with most, was kindled with the early albums. For me it was specifically “Duck Stab” that completely revolutionized the way I viewed music. For others it may have been “Fingerprince,” which may be the best work they’ve done, or “Not Available,” or the mind boggling “Eskimo.” Even “Commercial Album,” which signaled the beginning decline of the musical quality (though scoring points for the totally pretentious point of the album and method of promotion.)
After that, The Residents seemed to slip into a mindset of caring more about the storyline or theme of the albums than the music used to accompany them. Ranging from “Mark of the Mole” (which was a good album, but who’s impact was majorly lessened by making two more cds based on it’s idea to make up the Mole Trilogy) to the horrid American Composer series which, thank God, only saw two installments.
The last nationally distributed new recording from The Residents was “Demons Dance Alone.” People hailed it as a renaissance of sorts for the band. Thanks to the shift in sound, where they eliminated a lot of the synth feel that dominated a lot of the 80s and 90s work, the fans overlooked the fact that the music was just terrible. It signaled the possibility of a return to form, but rung all too hollow.
“Animal Lover” definitely brings to fruition the promise of a return to form. Within the first 10 seconds of “On The Way (to Oklahoma,)” the first track, we realize that this is what we’ve been waiting for all these years. The vocals are a bit distorted and layered. The music chimes behind them, clashing yet totally complementary, bringing to mind the classical work of Steve Reich. When the small choir kicks in toward the end of the song it feels like you’re entering a dream world with the angels ushering you in.
Tracks two, three, and four keep up the momentum with unpredictability, great song structure, and that continued clashing of notes. A tension is present that hasn’t been felt since “Duck Stab.” Character voices are used, without letting them overshadow the songs. The first four songs alone are essential to any fan of The Residents.
The greatness is put on hold for three minutes for the instrumental “Mr. Bee’s Bumble,” something that feels like it could have been whipped up during the dance remixing of the WB demos. Not bad, but could have been left off, also, without causing any heart attacks. However, it does signal a change in direction that is present through most of the remaining tracks.
It’s more low key than the prior five tracks, creating a comfortable lush atmosphere complemented by good female vocals (probably frequent collaborator Molly Harvey, though the advance copy of the album doesn’t list credits.) It’s a good introduction to this part of the album, where lush and female vocals dominate. Track seven, “Dead Man,” boosts the creepy level a tad with the mournful, almost chant-like singing. There is another small choir used on this track, to great effect.
The most disappointing track of the album follows, “My Window,” which feels like it borrows from some of the musical themes of “Demons Dance Alone.” And not in a particularly interesting way. But enough of that.
“Mothers No More,” the tenth track, gets things back on beat, with a hypnotic duet midway through the song. It utilizes an almost religious-like chanting. The slower, meditative music lazily meanders through the instrumental “Dreaming of an Anthill (Teeming.)”
“Elmer’s Song” is one of the most innovative tracks featured on “Animal Lover.” It starts off sounding like a slavery gospel song that might be sung in the fields with a hot sun beating on your neck. The solo is by a very Residents-esque character, with simply a bass and simple plucked guitar accompanying. See the hoes rise and fall in rhythm…
“Burn My Bones,” track 15, wraps the album up with funky vocals, a long instrumental section, and a cool acoustic guitar duet reminiscent of Gastr Del Sol (a Jim O’Rourke project,) without quite reaching the frantic, abstract frenzy that I love about Gastr Del Sol.
The album’s theme is sex, as observed by animals. The little blurb that came with the advance copy of the cd reads:
Animal Lover… relates directly to “animal love.” The result is an imaginative CD whose rhythm tracks are based entirely on animal noise mating patterns generated primarily by cicadas and frogs. Also, the actual sounds of mating whales and humans were used for longer tonal passages. (They weren’t making with each other, by the way.)
From listening to the album I couldn’t tell. I never heard any sex, and the lyrics weren’t distinguishable without a lyric sheet. The full release should have the lyrics with it (in addition to other goodies!) so you can follow along. I definitely recommend this CD for all Residents fans, especially the ones who gave up after the fourth installment of the Mole Trilogy.
*”Residue” was originally released in 1982, however, the version I have is “Residue Duex” which is all of “Residue” with the addition of 11 tracks. This was released in 1998. Being a Residents fan, I didn’t want the discrepancy to go unmentioned.