Among aficionados and collectors, Fingerprince and its associate EP, Baby Fingers, are considered a pivotal moment in The Residents’ career. No longer feeling the need to even pretend to ingratiate themselves to radio pluggers or sell millions of records, they pitched to their label their next opus – a three-sided record to be titled Tourniquet of Roses. Balking at the idea due to expense, they compromised at a full-length album (released in 1977) and an EP (released, confusingly, two years later). As it transpires, this was actually what the band had hoped would happen – such was and is the logic of a band it’s impossible to second guess.
This is lighter on pop frippery and far heavier on classical influences – most notably arch-experimentalist, Harry Partch, who was long-rumoured to have been very directly involved in some of the tracks. But even at its most accessible (Godsong), the effect of listening to the album – and surely people don’t listen to specific Residents tracks – is rather like being blasted in the face with a bicycle horn for several days. It’s a ferociously arch album with no obvious desire to entertain, only to flex their creative muscle and to be taken seriously as avant-garde musicians. In this sense, it’s doubtless successful – the tent-pole musical pieces of Walter Westinghouse and Six Things to a Cycle are cultured and their percussive disjointedness would influence Tom Waits’ mid-eighties reinvention.
Cleaned up nicely from some of the previous releases, there are some interesting rather than revelatory extras in the form of live recitals and rehearsals. The accompanying text and imagery is a labour of love the album doesn’t, in truth, deserve – but it nobly goes some way to explain away some of the brain stabbing as deliberate attempts at modern classical art.
For all of Fingerprince’s difficulty, Duck Stab! is The Residents at their approachable poppy pomp. Released in February 1978, Duck Stab! was issued as an economically appealing seven-track 7” EP and took everyone by surprise (certainly the band) by selling bucketloads. Never happy with the recording quality on the tracks, a decision was made to make hay while the sun shone and combine it with further tracks to have an album to present to the hungry masses. The necessary extras were labelled Buster & Glen and the resulting LP sold out its initial 20,000 run immediately, requiring another 40,000 to satiate demand.
The Residents LP was definitely for the cool kids. More angular and dissonant than Devo; less po-faced than Pere Ubu; less likely to get you beaten up than Throbbing Gristle – this was post-post-new wave and avant a few things to boot. Primus’ whole career can be heard here, from the nasal rally cry of Constantinople to the drawled waking nightmare of Laughing Song. The musique concrète element is still very much intact, though toned down by the standards set by their previous release, not least due to the constraints of fitting so many tracks on just two sides of a record.
The Buster & Glen tracks are equally appealing, in a deranged kind of way, and boast two tracks that have become stand-outs in The Residents’ canon – Hello Skinny, with its bubbling Middle Eastern bolero motifs and The Electrocutioner, a genuinely disturbing account of the cackling operator of an electric chair. Split into two suites, punctuated by a furious blast of sizzling white-noise, the closing thoughts of the protagonist as she contemplates the rights of wrongs of the job she does (“I see the shimmer of the dew drops as I drink my tea”) resound long after the notes fade away.
The extra disc of this reissue is far more than selected outtakes and half-constructed ideas. The RMX, Icky Flix and D*ck S*ab tracks were revisits to the Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen days by The Residents, not so much remixing them as putting them through a Fly-like teleportation device and seeing what happened. The results are not meant in any way to replace the original tracks but to enhance their scope through adding to their story in the years since they were created. The instrumental pieces included are intriguing but would clearly not have fit comfortably on the original release.