The Cryptic Corporation’s tireless piecing together of studio crumbs shows no sign of slacking. God in Three Persons represents a milestone for The Residents, a period when they were forced to adapt to outside forces impacting both the way they worked and how they were experienced by their audiences. We’re in 1988 and the CD has fully come of age and it goes without saying that the band didn’t completely abandon vinyl (an instrumental version of the album was released at the time on clear vinyl – inevitably, it is included here) but they were duty-bound to experiment within the expanded frontiers the format offered. No flipping over to side two; no clear punctuation mark signifying a tonal or narrative shift – this was now non-stop Residents-a-go-go. Three other notable changes heralded their new release – the band leaving Ralph Records to join Rykodisc and the death of their long-time guitarist, Snakefinger, just before he was due to join them in the studio. They didn’t replace him. This was also the final release put together entirely by razor-blade-edited analogue tape.
In brief, a cowboy of sorts, Mr X, happens upon mystically-gifted Siamese twins whom he takes under his wing, exploiting their supernatural healing powers in gatherings of the paying curious – he describes himself in The Service as “The kindly keeper of the Touch”. Mr X soon finds himself sexually attracted to the female of the twins, though this is complicated somewhat by the sexes of the twins switching and morphing, sometimes in front of his very eyes. Just as he controlled them, we soon learn that they were playing him for a patsy, the resulting stand-off being shocking in the extreme and the epilogue suitably crushing.
“a lyric poem” (one suggestive of music or fit to be sung), 1580s, from Middle French “lyrique” short poem expressing personal emotion, from Latin “lyricus” of or for the lyre,” from Greek “lyrikos” singing to the lyre, from “lyra”
Musically, this is The Residents at their most sparing. Gone (just about) are atonal spasms and berserk dissonance, in comes a gently rocking train-like tumble of carnival sounds and a recurring riff, over which the narrator, Ed (who swiftly changes his name to Mr X) tells his tale. Indeed, it is the tale that ultimately forms this album, the music being the sympathetic background to one of their greatest lyrical achievements. Lyric is a word which defines this album – there had never previously been any doubt as to the band’s deftness with words but here they outdo themselves, not only with their use of language but its structure:
“Their youngest time was spent alone while living with an uncle only half remaining from a foreign war. His upper half was well enough, but in the legs between his cuffs where his zipper stopped, his legs were gone.
“And so he rolled around on wheels, self sufficient in a peeling little house he could not paint again but it was spotless to the point of two feet above the floor and warmth was in his laugh and in his face”
Their Early Years
If you find yourself stopping your mind reading “quote the raven, Nevermore” you’d be forgiven, God in Three Persons being a rare use of the trochaic octameter, the most famous being Poe’s The Raven. Reliant on stressed then diminished syllables each foot of the poem, as well as internal alliteration and rhyme, the reason it’s so rarely use is because it’s really fucking difficult to maintain. The Residents manage it over the course of 60-odd minutes… very odd minutes.
Introduced quite magically by a main title sung by Laurie Amat, there’s a run down of contributing artists with a carnival theme based on the riff from The Swingin’ Medallions’ 1966 track, Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love), pitched somewhere between Zappa’s Joe’s Garage and Waits’ The Black Rider. Clever sorts will spot the technique swiped from Morricone’s sung titles from Pasolini’s Uccellacci e Uccellini. Amat returns periodically as a Greek Chorus to the happenings, most effectively on Loss of a Loved One:
“This is the sad part / Oh, it’s such a sad part”
Whilst The Residents and freak shows might go hand-in-hand, the listener is in no way prepared for the barbaric conclusion, though – and I suspect my opinion is in the clear minority – the drawled Southern narration wears thin quickly, not least as you occasionally find yourself not quite catching a phrase and having to go back. In this sense, the instrumental disc is of great benefit, actually reading the lyrics yourself to the musical backing is a rewarding experience. There are lines in their poetry with linger long in the mind:
“And suddenly a shock went through me and a moment slipped into the room that was not in the air before.
Looking up we all connected in a triangle of eyes reflecting tension and unsaid excitement, too.
Then it passed in nervous laughter, but I sensed a change soon after we unlocked our limbs and I withdrew”
We are treated to singles, demos, live tracks and oddments across all three discs, from The Residents’ version of Double Shot through to Hardy Fox’s proposed vocal arrangements for several of the tracks. They are some of the most fascinating extras yet released by the band, which is saying something – the sound quality is perfect. God in Three Persons might be The Resident’s most sensible work and therefore referenced less than some of their more sonically challenging capers but is a towering work well worth investigation.