"We, as the parent company, support the Residents in their tribute to the thousands of little power-mad minds of the music industry who have helped to make us what we are today, with an open eye on what we can make them tomorrow."
So reads the liner note to the record, "The Third Reich 'n' Roll," by the Residents, a San Francisco-based group that has, for eight years, spat in the corporate eye of the rock industry.
While that industry has, for the most part, degenerated into a system of bland formulas or rehashed earlier successes, the Residents have created a style of playing and composition that strains the limits of not only rock but music itself.
They refer to it as "phonetic organization." And indeed, their sound world is inhabited by musical and aural syllables in a montage of images that are alternately lyrical and dissonant. This style, while firmly rooted in basic rock, is augmented by taped sound, electronic sections and modern classical phrases colored by an almost da-daistic disdain for traditional concepts.
Their newest release, "Not Available" (Ralph Records RR1174), is a perfect case in point. The record was actually recorded in 1974 (they have since released two LPs); yet they refused to release this one until, as they said, "its makers literally forget it exists." This line is apparently based on their "theory of obscurity" in which the identity of the musicians is a closely guarded secret and their projects (including dance, film and other media) are withheld from public view. The group has performed only twice in eight years - and then the musicians were shielded by screens and wore disguises.
If all this seems contrived - a Warholian bit of chicanery intended to titillate the satiated masses - it appears to be working. The Residents have built a considerable following in the United States and Europe without a major recording contract or mass distribution and marketing usually necessary for such an effort.
Whether the Residents are inspired eccentrics or merely opportunistic hucksters makes little difference. Their music speaks strongly for itself. The group has released four albums, several singles and one "extended play" record to date, all of which are distinguished by a primal sophistication as abrasive as it is absorbing.
At first hearing, the sound is a jarring ordeal "guaranteed to clear the room in 10 to 15 seconds," as one critic described it. After the initial shock, however, this deranged kaliedescope of images displays subtle structurings of sounds that are, at times, staggering in their imagination and innovation.
Their first record, "Meet the Residents" (the cover featured an exact copy of "Meet the Beatles" with fangs, scars and horns attached to the Fab Four), began with a manic version of Nancy Sinatra's Boots" that descends into a mass of vocal and instrumental outbursts with thundering chords from a piano and repeated, off-key vocal melodies.
"The Third Reich 'n' Roll" is a Residents' version of '60s Top-40 that borrows freely from songs of that era, all distorted and exaggerated to present a picture of the pop world as a raging Gotterdammerung , with song titles like "Swastikas on Parade" and "Hitler Was a Vegetarian."
The violence and cynicism of "Reich" is abandoned for a relatively more lyrical approach on "Fingerprince" and "Not Available." Once again, monstrous percussion and harmonic devices are used, but tempered by quiet sections whose occasional dissonance and restraint create an eerie tension that is overwhelming. What emerges is a musical stream of consciousness that is repellant yet draws one into the group's obscure reality.
The Residents do have their failings. At times, their highly personal world becomes too enclosed and loses perspective; the music becomes predictable in its obsessive irrationality. Like many experimentalists, the Residents have difficulty in knowing when to stop their experiments, and they become overindulgent. These are hazards inherent in any creative activity. When the Residents fail, they fail badly; but their successes are equally spectacular.
Doubtless, music such as this will probably never inundate the airwaves, and the Residents do not seem likely to succeed the Eagles as pop idols. Yet they are presenting music that is artistically balanced and attempting to prove that rock's industrial megastructure is not the only way.