The Residents




album review


Mark of the Mole

Some three or four years back I stalked the streets of suburbia besuited in an eclectic and vast selection of safety pins, verily enough of the swines to nappify the entire infant population of China (laid end to end, of course) several times over.

In this manner bedecked, I made my twice weekly sorties to the local record store to investigate the latest punky waxings. On one such occasion a store junior, acquainted with my narrow tastes, evily slipped a copy of an ep called 'Duck Stab!' (note early use of !) on to the turntable.

Ugh! was my immediate, instinctive reaction. Just what the world needs, I sarcastically thought, another bunch of po-faced arty-farts knocking out some gruesome jumble of grotesque sounds. "Gimme three chords and loud guitars!" I drunkenly hollered.

Some months later, at the abode of a usually reliable and trustworthy acquaintance I unavoidably lent an unwashed lug to the entirety of 'Meet The Residents'. An experience, friends, which so astounded me that my listening axis became permanantly tilted. I was confounded, unwound, and debound of the aural bondage to which I had previously paid homage. As my newly unshackled lungs gasped for breath I accidently swallowed my Ramones badge.

The Residents (whoever they/he/she/it may be) are not arty in the sense of providing would-be intellectual amusement to also arty friends. They are arty in the way that they utilise an established media (music/records) to produce a provocative and sometimes shocking statement. Like the artist chappie who appeared on a recent BBC2 programme and 'painted' a canvas with corrosive acid, The Residents erode musical mores and hack your preconceptions to bits.

The Residents are not po-faced. They're elaborate court jesters whose clowings carry an undertow of insight. They provide a primal belly laugh in a similar manner to The Fall (for further clarification of this theory see my forthcoming pamphlet 6,000 Miles From Manchester And We're Still On The West Coast).

Attempts to navigate The Residents 'direction' (a word oft used in rock and roll circles as an aphorism for predictable future works) and you'll chart a rich profusion of trails. The subtly concise document of a decade in 'The Third Reich And Roll' was well removed from the vast rumblings of 'Fingerprince'. The cunning dual-meaning titled 'Commercial Album' (commercial: a saleable commodity/an advert) encasing forty one-minute tracks, was another blow in the face of expectation.

'Eskimo' breezed (ho ho) in and even by The Residents' standards was a real oddball. The Arctic adventure porported to tell the tale of the declining Eskimo culture as the natives of the snowy wastes were transferred to comfy armchairs facing the multi-channel TV in ever-sunny California. It is to this past platter that 'Mark Of The Mole' is most closely related.

'Mark Of The Mole' is a perverse pantomime. Ostensibly the first part of a trilogy, the scenario here runs briefly thus: the primitive mole types live and work in mines. One day, forced to surface by adverse weather conditions, the settlement moves to a new area dominated by a modern technological culture.

The first half is entitled 'Hole Workers At The Mercies Of Nature' and begins with a dank, dark muted hammering from the pit depths and a choir-like serenade mangled up with an American weather forecaster, the ever-grinning Yank spieling just a hint of the forthcoming barometric apocalypse. The music shifts hues rapidly like fast-moving storm clouds. There comes another weather warning and walls of suggestive guitar tones offset by sudden unsettling blurts.

Reverberating voices bounce around the pit walls, semi-singing of the calamity amid falling musical masonary. From somewhere in the mine workings comes the wail of a Woody Guthrie (!) harmonica.

As the exodus occurs, a nursery rhyme-ish song 'March To The Sea' concludes the top side with a clicking electro-beat foundation and a holy intonation behind a growling walrus-like lead voice.

The second side is daubed 'Hole Workers Vs Man And Machine' and commences with a watery, lightweight but somehow foreboding sparseness. Rumours spread among the dwellers of the Tech Soc. "Ten thousand refugees", they disgruntedly murmur as the soundtrack disgorges a whizzing tuneful typewriter rhythm, adorned with whirling cogs. The Mole beings are not at all welcome.

"Today I declare myself a subject to the will of the people", announces a former hole resider, as he takes charge of his new machine and whistles as it purrs. But the machine gets mis-managed in his unskilled hands and the purrs become louder and louder, becoming sickening buzzes.

The clash of cultures leads to the Mole tormenting babble of angry locals and develops into the 'Short War', wherein a messy collision of synths whoop and scrape until a brushed cymbal cues a sharp termination and 'Resolution?'.

As a solitary example of ingenious imagination all is fine and dandy but to those well versed in Residential-ology 'Mark Of The Mole' will not surprise, stun or shock. For once too much previously traversed terrain is uninspiringly regurgitated and the result, much as it seemed impossible beforehand, is...

Just another Residents album.


mick sinclair

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To read many more articles and reviews (over 140,000 words-worth!) written by Mick Sinclair, buy Adjusting the Stars: Music journalism from post-punk London