The uber-experimentalists move on from the loss of their leader with a new, angry and aggressive reconstruction of the blues.
“A record like no other”, announces The Residents’ website as explanation for the band’s zillionth release, words that may mean something to a thousand other bands but have a hollow, ironic clang when concerning The Residents, a band whose pile of records are of themselves, like no others. The greatest stroke of genius The Residents ever set upon was that it has never actually mattered who exists beneath the masks and costumes and the lies and the half-truths. The band could include Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and would offer no further an explanation to their music and ideology than it would if they included Harry Partch and Brian Eno. They exist in order to confound and push you to question your own perceptions of music and art – the sad loss of their recognised leader, Hardy Fox in 2018 has, with somewhat contrary inevitably, upset their apple cart not a jot.
Metal, Meat and Bone is their first post-Fox release and comes with an unusually coherent back-story – a chance meeting in Louisiana between the band and a local blues producer leads to mention of a long-lost album by a local albino musician, Alvin Snow, who was renamed Dyin’ Dog. The album is no longer long-lost but Alvin is either sleeping with the fishes or on a long holiday, leaving The Residents to present the album in all its glory and to rework the tracks in their own unique style for good measure. 7/10 on the hogwash scale but what feels like a lazy conceit is actually extremely engaging, both from the straight-ahead blues to the frayed-mind throttling of The Residents’ treatments.
It is worth pointing out from the off that the hand of Eric Drew Feldman appears throughout this album, from both in production and musical camps. I mention this now as the accessibility aspect of this album largely stems from this work – rather like the latter-day Magic Band of Captain Beefheart in which he worked, this is not a dilution of what has gone before, it is simply a different route to lead you down to the same bewildering destination. The gnarled growl of The Dog’s Dream and I Know owe as much to Tom Waits as Don Van Vliet and Son House and it’s telling that when listening to all the tracks on the Dyin’ Dog disc, it’s only momentarily that you snap back into the reality of the fact that you’re listening to The Residents. The idea that this is a lost album from an unknown blues hollerer does not hold water and I don’t think for a second that there is any attempt to genuinely pass this off as a hallowed relic but it is well-crafted and serves the purpose of setting up disc two admirably.
Disc Two is where one mask comes off and the other is donned, The Residents revisiting Dyin’ Dog’s tracks and whipping them up into some perverse cake batter. Along with Eric, there are guests, only one of whom, in all honesty, is going to cause a double-take, Black Francis. The reformed Pixies have sadly not come near to the dizzy heights of their original incarnation, so it comes as a hugely welcome surprise to hear Black Francis screaming his lungs to tatters on Die! Die! Die! the Trump-baiting video to which has managed the unlikely feat of seeing the band in both Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.
This is far from a one-track trick – the electronic lullaby from Hell, Hungry Hound will prompt many re-listens, leading up to an extraordinarily brace of tracks: Momma Don’t Go and Dead Weight actually feel like the first glimpses at The Residents’ own mortality. By turn, achingly touching and haywire wounded beast, they represent a band that has never claimed musical genius but has proclaimed visceral art as a profound timeless statement. If there is an end game to The Residents, this album represents its first lurching swipe at the world. As it always has been, it is necessary and appreciated.