In 1967, to extract himself from a contract he had with Bang Records, Van Morrison recorded 31 songs, reputedly improvised and all, certainly, examples of Van putting in zero effort, even by his standards. It worked and Van was able to carry on with his career elsewhere, one of the most notorious examples of throwing out any old rubbish in order to fulfil a record label requirement of producing an agreed number of releases within an agreed time-frame. Some might point out that these tracks were by no means the worst recordings made by Van but that’s by the by. The contractual obligation album is still going strong, having manifest itself over time as greatest hits packages; remixes; deluxe editions; expanded reissues; live albums and many more. I Am a Resident reeks of perhaps the most extreme release of this nature ever but, as always, the band continue to defy expectations.
As a concept, I Am a Resident is truly appalling. They asked their fans to get in touch and send them their interpretations of their favourite Residents track. An expected couple of dozen submissions actually turned into 197, leaving the band to contemplate how to proceed. The answer was for them in turn to remix the remixes, surely the dictionary definition of ‘desperate fan-only album’. However, despite everything the result, somehow, is marvellous. It seems as though the initial fan unravelling of the tracks has revealed treasure even the band was oblivious to, giving greater depth to the layers of sound and turning tracks which may only have felt relatively slight in the past a whole new life.
Freaky Wake, a sultry stroll through an abandoned fun house with new age music being piped in backwards, is as moving a track as The Residents have ever been involved in, as if the flashbacks before a person’s death had been made flesh. The savage stomp of Hello Duck Stab introduces some unlikely guitar riffing, an alarming glimpse at what the band could have been if they’d taken an entirely different route – essentially Black Sabbath being set on fire. Hanging by his Habit shows yet more facets explored, a gibbering semi-techno orchestra whispering prayers to something horrible. The whole disc is a triumph and we’re only up to half time.
Disc two sees the fan remixes untampered with, the standard of success being entirely down to your own ears – perhaps you’ve always wondered what Marilyn Manson would sound like covering Smelly Tongues, in which case, your luck is in. Some fly a little too close to trying far too hard to out-Resident The Residents, which is a silly approach, naturally. To mess with your head further, the vinyl version features entirely new fan submissions for your judgement.