Here’s an odd thing about rock music: the more frightening it tries to be, the more hilariously ludicrous it becomes. Ozzy can bark at the moon till the end of time, but he’ll still be more golden retriever than werewolf. Ronnie James Dio was a devil for the old occult symbols and horned hand signs, but thanks to that thinning perm and silk kimono, our sleep would only be disturbed by a chuckle.
Quite obviously, those sub-Dennis Wheatley, heavy metal tales of hellfire and brimstone have very little capacity to turn our hearts to ice. But that’s not to say bands cannot disturb our psychological equilibrium. When they do, it’s extreme oddness that does the trick – and they don’t come much odder than The Residents.
The Residents are so willfully mysterious and evasive, it’s a little tricky to bring you any firm facts about the group – but let’s try. There’s no doubt they are a highly experimental music and conceptual art collective, and have been recording since 1969. However, they released nothing until 1972, probably at the point they moved from Louisiana to San Francisco. Nobody seems willing to contradict the story in which their first demo is returned, unwanted, in an envelope labelled ‘To The Residents’.
"There’s certainly variety in their output, but ‘confrontational’ seems to be a common theme."
Since 1972, they’ve put out 46 studio albums (2013′s ‘Mush-Room’ was the most recent) and 14 live sets. In over 40 years, they have yet to give an authentic interview. All the group’s communications are handled through an obscure company called The Cryptic Corporation – who may or may not be The Residents themselves. Typically, there are hundreds of photographs of the band, although not a single one reveals their faces. Best known for a uniform of tuxedo suits, top hats and giant eyeball head masks, they have actually sported a range of disguises, including shrimp faces twinned with Beatles-style collarless jackets. In terms of biography, that’s about as far as we can reliably go. All that’s left is a badly designed (intentionally, perhaps) website, a heap of conjecture, and the music.
Ah! The music! If you’re a big fan of Beefheart, SPK, Zappa and ‘Metal Machine Music’ – The Residents may be just the thing for you. There’s certainly variety in their massive output, but ‘confrontational’ seems to be a common theme. However, this column isn’t intended to be a Residents’ retrospective. What I’d really like to do, is introduce you to the most terrifying and viciously strange pop video ever committed to film. It’s a clip made to accompany the track ‘Third Reich And Roll’, which appears on a 1976 LP of the same name. The album is taken to be a mocking imitation of advertisements and commercial television, the video is something closer to a vision of madness. As you’ll see, there is no blood, nor gore, nor violence, nor threat. This isn’t a crimson washed, ‘NSFW’ slasher massacre. Indeed, there is no colour at all. Instead, The Residents have conspired to concoct scenes so utterly alien, manic and intensely unhinged, some good old splatter horror would be light relief. It strikes me as something like a nightmare, recorded directly from the cerebellum of a man on bad acid and strong Stilton.
I genuinely find this a difficult watch. In fact, the only material which conveys a similar disorientating nausea is David Lynch’s extraordinary debut movie, ‘Eraserhead’. Any parishioners who have seen that picture, and found it hard to handle, may choose to avoid this clip. Equally, any reader about to head to bed alone, may wish to postpone a viewing until access to daylight and the comforting presence of friends are available.
Those disclaimers notwithstanding, please brace yourself now, and prepare your mind for The Residents’ ‘Third Reich And Roll’ …
Sorry, but I did warn you.
Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant