Artist: "The Residents"
Album: "The King And Eye"
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label: Ralph Records
Reviewer: Max Burbank
Review: Are the Residents still relevant? A musical experiment lasting four decades can’t be ignored, especially when no one knows who they are. Many fans will tell you that the Residents major works are all in their past, that while interesting, nothing after the 1981 release of “Mark of the Mole” recaptures the glory of their pioneering work. I’d disagree, but more with thinking about them like that than anything else. They aren’t a band the way Aerosmith, a band of similar longevity, is a band. You don’t know who they are, how many are on any given album, who wrote what. I feel assured that they are some specific person or persons who work with other people who come and go. There is a singular creative voice running through their entire body of work, but you just don’t know and after so many years, that’s pretty grand all on it’s own.
Yes, my favorite stuff is the earliest stuff, but they’ve been prolific, and while their entire product ought to be paid attention to, a few gems stick their sore thumbs out above all the rest. “The King and Eye” is one of these.
The third album in their American Composer sequence, and the first to focus on a single artist “The King and Eye” risks being almost user friendly in it’s examination of Elvis Presley. I mean to say, if one was uninitiated and did not understand from the get go each cut is one of the Kings standards, listening would not at all be an off putting experience. Oh, it’s a damn strange cup of tea whether it’s yours or not, but it doesn’t slap you in the face like ‘Third Reich and Roll’ or ‘Eskimo’. For Residents faire, it’s easy listenin’.
Slow, laconic, deeply southern, these Elvis covers are stretched out almost to the point of dirge, and in doing so, force the listener to focus very specifically on the King’s lyrics, both those he wrote, and those he chose to sing. This is key, because many Residents albums feature distorted vocals and often opaque poetry, making the listener work at the music. On ‘The King and Eye’, every single word is crystal clear and you hear them and stop and think what they mean in ways you probably never have before.
“Well you can knock me down,
Step in my face,
Slander my name all over the place”
“Burn my house, steal my car,
Drink my liquor from an old fruit jar
Do anything that you wanna do…”
When Elvis sang those Carl Perkins lines it was all about the rhyme and rhythm, a bouncy in your face hillbilly rant, and don’t get me wrong, I love the King, but go back now, go back and read those words from ‘Blue Suede Shoes’
Those are not nice words. Those are angry, dangerous, mournful, southern gothic white trash violence after sundown words and it can’t be just a mistake, but I never stopped to think about it ‘till I heard the Residents sing it their way. Its no secret Elvis had some demons, but I didn’t think to look for them so out in the open. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Teddy bear’, ‘devil in disguise’, it’s all right there. Google the damn lyrics if you don’t believe me. Strip away the beat, ignore the associations and just read the words. Sorrow, anguish, bitterness, yearning and pain.
Peppered amidst the covers, a narrator tells a small group of children the story of “The Baby King”, what he was king of, what he wanted, and what he got. It’s haunting and poignant and those are rarely words I use and when I do I mean them so step back or I will pop you in the nose.
The Residents, whatever they are, are remarkable. “The King and Eye’ is not their strongest work, but it will show you stuff you didn’t see that was right there all along and to my mind, that’s art, so take a listen when you have the chance.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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