Could you imagine what that would’ve looked like in 1974? It was only four years after the Beatles had broken up for good, and in their 10 years together as a band they changed the face of popular music forever. Meet the Beatles, originally released in 1964, was the United States’ introduction to a brand new sound, culture, and way of life. Were the Residents claiming to be a parallel phenomenon?
Well, no. In fact, I’m willing to guess that the larger majority of anyone reading this has never even heard of The Residents (as opposed to a clear 100% that have heard of the Beatles). Still, even in 2011, visually quoting the Beatles makes for a strong statement, if anything in a knee-jerk kind of way. And it’s even more striking if you can completely deface them in the process.
Speaking of defacement…
Just to turn the screw a bit further, the Residents start off with a Nancy Sinatra “cover” (if you can even call it that). It’s more of a farce than an accurate representation of the original, and that’s exactly the point. Just a few years prior the band put out an album titled The Third Reich ‘n Roll which explored the concept of 60s pop music as fascism. How did I come to that conclusion? Take a peek at the cover here, which features Dick Clark dressed in a Nazi SS uniform. (TRnR was a close second choice for this post, but really, that would’ve been too easy.) This sonic clipping starts off a seamless six-track monstrosity that introduces a whole album’s worth of strange sounds. I feel like I’ve been mentioning him for the past few weeks, but you can’t deny the spectre of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica throughout the album, especially in the clanking echoes and uneven flourishes of “Boots”. One of the places where the two albums differ, however, is this idea of mocking the culture of popular music. Though it’s not as overt as the “Fascism-via-American-Bandstand” approach, this track is just as critical of pop culture idolatry.
On the other end of the spectrum is “Skratz”, which is another short track in the middle of the album’s dense B-side. Listen again to those pulsing bass tones – it’s the sound of the Residents taking on a harsh proto-industrial sound. Between gripping sonic scrapes, the vocals are melodramatically drawled images of “dirty fingernails” and the onomatopoeic track title over and over again in a horrid tangle of psychological mutterings. Where “Boots” offered a lighter sarcastic tone, this track peeks a glimpse into a disturbing aural landscape. I’ve always thought the cover of Meet the Beatles was creepy enough on its own, but this takes the unsettling feeling and propels it freakishly close to what Throbbing Gristle would explore only a few short years later.
Love it or hate it, The Residents know how to augment their own atmospheres, even across time and space via album cover. All of the album’s strange quirks seem to ooze out from the altered faces of Liverpool’s most famous exports. And regardless of what you know about the band, as soon as you glance at the cover you’ve fallen prey to their scheme of exploiting, defacing, and satirizing the most famous band in the world. Playfully surreal or eerily muddled, you’re forced to dive in headfirst.
(Note: I recently saw the Residents live at the MCA Chicago and reviewed them for F News. Read about their latest disguises and atmospheres here.)
Artist: The Residents
Album: Meet the Residents
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)