There's always been a sense of mystery around avant-garde group The Residents, mostly to do with the members' identities. However, the biggest mystery for me is how they and their label, Ralph Records, lost their way so badly and so quickly after the release of their last great album Eskimo (1979): their dozens of efforts since have been throwaway rubbish. The music and its presentation, where once it had been lavishly and lovingly created, suddenly became crude and slapdash; and it's even sadder the way the superb 70s albums were so shoddily reissued on CD: poorly mastered audio and embarrassingly sloppy artwork/liner notes. One can only assume there was a critical parting of ways in the group's formation for such a schism to have occurred.
While I consider Meet The Residents (1974) a classic of its time, and one of the first albums that truly inspired me to make music, I consider Fingerprince (1976) to be their greatest; indeed I have a lot to thank it for - it was my passing mention of it to Lora Logic in an audition that ultimately allowed me the chance to do music as a career.
The Residents : Fingerprince (1976)
Although there's since been the usual Cryptic Corporation nonsense about this originally being a 3-sided release blah blah - after listening to the 'complete' CD reissue, it seems pretty clear to me that the extra tracks were rightly not included on the definitive original vinyl album.
But enough bitching about that - the original Fingerprince is an exquisitely conceived and perfectly balanced album. It manages to be simultaneously challenging yet accessible - I know I must have played it hundreds of times and never tire of listening to its subtleties, discovering new intricacies even now.
Side A consists of eight perfectly sequenced delightful tracks each of short duration, full of The Residents' trademark eclecticism and dadaist sensibilities. The opening bars of bossanova rhythms on You Yesyesyes initially seem fairly ordinary, yet once the idiosyncratic chanting and discordant melodies join in, you are induced into the band's strangely delicious creepy universe. Side B's gorgeous Six Things To A Cycle is a surreal twisted baroque suite with some incredibly inventive use of instruments such as gamelans, basses, violins, brass, kettle drums, along with odd sound effects, trademark background chants, and god knows what else. The bizarre elusive melodies, rhythms, and swirling leitmotifs captivate you from beginning to end.
Experimental music that would subsequently attempt to imitate this dadaist style was never able to replicate the inherent musicality, the originality, the economy of expression, and the pristine sound quality that all combine to make Fingerprince such a special achievement.