Infamous performance art band out of San Francisco. Allegedly formed in 1966 the band is comprised of four unknown members who managed to guard the secret of their identity for over 30 years by wearing eyeball with tophat (or skull) masks in public. Their performances are known for elaborate stage sets and general bizarreness. Recently the Residents have been focusing their creative efforts on mutimedia concept games such as Freak Show, Bad Day On The Midway and the Gingerbread Man.

I am extremely familiar with one Residents album, 1978’s "Duck Stab", which was played constantly at a friend’s house. I got to hear it hundreds of times, and have never forgotten it.

The cover of Duck Stab features an insanely grinning person of indeterminate gender cheerfully stabbing a duck in the neck. The background is plain black, the figure is blood red, and the knife and duck are white. There is something disturbingly wrong about the pose of the figure, although I’m not entirely sure what the correct posture for stabbing a duck in the neck is.

The cover is extremely apt, since it manages to evoke the leering insanity and grinning, muted aggression of the music that it contains. The music itself is an off-kilter mixture of bizarre lyrics sung in strange voices accompanied by awkwardly played instruments and with a generous topping of tape and studio effects stirred in. If you think along the lines of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa high on cheap cough medicine in a poorly equipped studio you’ll be close.

The track listing (with times in parentheses) is as follows:

1. Constantinople (2:23)
2. The Sinister Exaggerator (3:27)
3. The Booker Tease (1:09)
4. Blue Rosebuds (3:11)
5. The Laughing Song (2:14)
6. Bach Is Dead (1:12)
7. Elvis And His Boss (2:30)

Buster & Glen
8. Lizard Lady (1:52)
9. Semolina (2:50)
10. Birthday Boy (2:39)
11. Weight-Lifting Lulu (3:21)
12. Krafty Cheese (2:00)
13. Hello Skinny (2:40)
14. The Electrocutioner (3:18)

Side 2 is subtitled Buster & Glen because Duck Stab was originally an EP. When, to the band’s surprise, the initial pressing of 2500 EPs sold out, they released it on one side of an LP and put the previously released Buster & Glen on the other side.

Had The Residents found a larger audience for Duck Stab, I suspect it could have been a highly influential album. The reason I say this is because there is a raw, unapologetically amateurish quality to it which has been shared by many other influential albums; I am thinking particularly of music such as The Velvet Underground's first release and The Talking Heads' early releases, all of which are works which have inspired the thought, "I can do that!" in hundreds of thousands of budding musicians, and as such have spawned a significant proportion of successful bands. I guess there really is such a thing as too weird though.

    Further reading:
  • Check out "The official unofficial guide to the works of The Residents" at http://www.residents.com.
  • Check out http://www.residents.com/contents.html for the complete list of their huge output.
  • Go to http://www.residents.com/albums/classic/duckstab.html to see the cover of Duck Stab and to hear a very badly recorded Real Audio clip of my favorite track, "Constantinople". I am coming Constantinople! Here I come!!

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