❉ If you’ve never heard a note by The Residents before, you could easily dip your toe in here and very quickly gauge the flavour of their career so far.
I’m still not certain precisely whom to blame, but down the years I’ve narrowed it down to either Roger Moore or Edgar Allan Poe. Chance meetings at too young an age with The Man Who Haunted Himself and William Wilson solidified inchoate kiddycreeps and left me with a distinct fear of the doppelganger which persists to this day, refracted in the interim by the vicissitudes of anxiety and other “real” terrors. Hardly a unique fear, of course, indeed I’d be surprised if there’s even one amongst us who never feels the breath of the non-existent third party at their back, whether that be a double, a memory or a trepidation.
Matters of identity have always fascinated The Residents, and in recent times seem to have come rather to the fore, both in their art and in their lives. The pREServed reissue programme of their 1970s works and the concurrent release of the I Am A Resident project (Resident-ial suites created out of fanmade cover versions from their oeuvre) have seen them look backwards with a characteristic sleight of hand whilst venturing slightly further overground than usual. The notably regular PR activity of Homer Flynn and the sad passing of Hardy Fox – both founders of the artefact – have also pulled the curtain aside somewhat, to the point where the blurb for this album cheekily posits, “Is this finally, after all these years – THE REAL RESIDENTS??”
Well, of course it isn’t – they’re still too fond of the game for that, and in fact “Real Residents” refers simply to the fact that this is recorded by the touring-outfit version of the band, extant since 2016 – but Intruders is some kind of reduction nonetheless; that is, a reduction in the sense of an intensified essence. It carries over the sighs and elegy of 2017’s The Ghost Of Hope and marries that to pieces which play to their signature strengths.
If you’ve never heard a note by The Residents before, you could easily dip your toe in here and very quickly gauge the flavour of their career so far. Songs are simple enough to approach the nursery rhyme armature which is one constant in their work, but never merely simplistic. Their lyrics, which can tend to the gnomic, are likewise plain-speaking without tipping over into the banal. Even a song such as The Scarecrow, its entire lyrical text no more than a haiku, is less-not-more rather than will-this-do (and, if you’re so inclined, the stories behind the songs are presented in small Serling-esue blurbs at https://www.residents.com/historical/?page=intruders for your delectation). Like a greatest hits consisting of entirely new pieces, Intruders strikes instantly and insinuates appropriately; a collection of familiars, you might say.
Not that this album is exactly a breeze. There are few musical artists so adept at the eerie, and that expertise is applied liberally here, but with shading and contrast. Aiding significantly are the vocal contributions of the current Residents chorale – Carla Fabrizio, Sivian Lioncub, Peter Whitehead and Laurie Hall – making the album more of a passing show. If tracks like the doubleshot of The Other/Good Vibes give the Singing Resident his showcase in the classic pinched, mounting-hysteric mode, they’re offset by such as Fabrizio’s beautiful, trembling performance on opener Bobbie’s Burning Blues.
Also crucial to the sound and attitude of Intruders is the continued welcome presence of Eric Drew Feldman on co-production and keyboards. His link with the band goes back more than thirty years now, to his tenure in the solo projects of the late lamented Residents guitar genius Snakefinger, and his musical directorship for such acts as The Magic Band, the Pixies, Pere Ubu and PJ Harvey has always been playful and enriching. He seems naturally drawn to artists who require a narrative backdrop, a master facilitator who shuns the spotlight. On Intruders, he often injects the shiverier, distorting passages with a shantyish parp or a glitzy fanfare, working in neat tandem with Nolan Cook‘s arachnid, Frippish guitar. Conversely, on tracks like Scarecrow or the penultimate Running Away, they combine to produce a real head of steam, swarming magnifcently and ominously.
“Where will I go when I’ve gone away? Where will I be when I can’t be me? Why do… I care?” The persistent lamentation that buzzes at the back of the mind of these songs reaches a gorgeous summation in the closing track, Shadows, oddly triumphant whilst still haunted, a curtain call from somewhere very, very far off-Broadway. “Hated, loved, or merely tolerated, we all have intruders” say The Residents themselves of this work, and lest we forget, we can be intruders to others too. As with all the very best Residential works, what seems at first to be perturbing ambivalence reveals itself with immersion as something far more heartworn and inclusive. You’re not alone, and furthermore, You Are A Resident.
❉ The Residents – the REAL Residents, that is – will be out and about and playing somewhere maybe near you in early 2019: https://www.residents.com/tourdates/