There are acts out there who do go that extra mile in delivering what their fan-base really wants. Frank Zappa’s ‘beat the boots’ initiative, whereby he commercially released better versions of his material already being bootlegged; Neil Young’s continuing trawl through his archive of live and unreleased tracks; Jimmy Page’s hands-on restoration of Led Zeppelin’s treasures and so on. The Residents’ current reissue programme is, so far, knocking all of that into one of their cocked hats. The exhaustive and relentless repackaging of the band’s back catalogue is utterly bewildering, with all but the dust from the studio floor being diligently unleashed to the wider world.
This double vinyl (and one CD) only release, Eskimo Deconstructed, takes things to an unparalleled level. Whilst on the original album the melange of sound has prompted much debate over the years as to what was being spoken and who was doing what with God knows what, we can now hear the disparate elements isolated in all their glory. If this seems excessive, you’d be right in many ways – it didn’t suit my driving to work ambience very well and isn’t something you’d woo a lover with (full marks if you attempt this though). Appropriately, considering the former’s relationship with The Residents, the album is the musical equivalent of one of Penn and Teller’s glimpses behind the curtain of their tricks. The skill and mastery loses not one iota of its impact upon the unveiling, the genius being that any of it could be conceived in the first place.
None of us are going to live long enough, nor have we such empty lives that we can jointly endure a full and frank rundown of the wealth of oddness this package offers. Suffice to say, it clarifies why the album took three years to come together. Chants are now clearer, though only just more coherent – knowing what is being said still only hints at the construction, whilst sound effects and extended (!) baby cries are even more starkly strange and disconcerting. More extraordinary and, in truth, the part I was most eagerly anticipating, is the CD, exactly one hour of arctic wind sounds. An hour. Yes, I listened to it all and yes, I did rather enjoy it. Mesmerically soothing, these field recordings and twists of nature should perhaps be the litmus test for anyone approaching The Residents for the first time. “Does sound excite you?” If so, come one, come all.
Not even for collectors only, this is for obsessives and wealthy folks, the admirable notion listed by the band as being presented for budding pioneers to sample and reuse feeling rather a flat enticement.