It’s impossible to start to discuss anything relating to The Residents without doffing a giant eyeball to Hardy Fox, whose passing at the end of October marks the finishing line for the band. As co-founder and producer, he has been responsible for some of the most ingenious, challenging, beautiful music of the 20th Century and the revelation of the true identity of its driving force has not in any way tarnished the mystery of his extraordinarily vast output – who knows how many releases have sneaked through, unidentified. It seems like the band will continue regardless, the expectation of fans, sadly, has no doubt dwindled to filler quality.
Their new album, Intruders, features a more upfront role for Eric Drew Feldman, whose willingness to take on a thorny project cannot be understated – Captain Beefheart; PJ Harvey; Pere Ubu for starters. The concept, because obviously there’s a concept, is indeed intruders – stalkers; shadows; pretend friends, you get the drift. It’s pretty on-the-nose in Residents terms, a pervading threat and an unpredictability in terms of theme suits them down to the ground, but perhaps a little too obvious. What’s even more surprising is how straight-laced the songs are.
Echoing voices, cawing crows and slightly industrial clanks and hissing, it’s still veneered Tom Waits at best in terms of being ‘out there’ and is very pleasant indeed in places, but it does rather feel that instead of Intruders the album should have been titled Imposters. It plays out beautifully as a series of vignettes but as an album it feels a little clumsy and patchwork. Like a lesser portmanteau horror film, the odd bit feels like it would have been better explored in more depth, rather than being buried alongside sound effects from a haunted house attraction at Great Yarmouth.
The beautifully put-together packaging features introductions to each track, filling in the gaps as to who the characters within each track are – for any other band, this might be a leap into the narrative cosmos but for The Residents to be as obvious to the extent of explaining the tracks, it feels like a magician revealing his tricks. This album will make no impact on The Residents career – their back catalogue is unimpeachable – but it feels with Hardy’s loss that the party balloon has deflated and things might never be the same. The irony is that there’s still so much to admire in this album, yet, somehow, more is less.