The Residents - Metal, Meat & Bone [Cherry Red Records/MVD Audio/ Cryptic Corp - 2020]Appearing two years after their last full-length- the often creepily lo-key & off-kilter Intruders, here’s Metal, Bone & Metal the 47th album from The Residents. It sees the genre-shifting art collective offering up some of their most punchy, at times sneeringly aggressive work in many years- with the album slipping ‘n’ sliding between churning-at-times industrialized blues, galloping ‘n’ careering blends of electronics ‘n’ guitars, creepy & dramatically uneasy theatricals, and a few more lo-key moody points- though the main focus here on is a more urgent, angered & stabbing take on The Residents distinctive sound.
As with pretty much all of the project's output,this new album has a concept/story running through it. Ten of the sixteen tracks here are supposable cover versions of tracks by Alvin Snow, aka Dying Dog- a long forgotten black albino blues musician/ singer. He's meant to have recorded a selection of lost 45’s in Shreveport, Louisiana- where key/forming members of The Residents grew-up. The collective became aware of the work of Mr. Snow, after they re-met with one of their old town music buddies Roland Sheehan. Like many of the myths & stories surrounded The Residents, it’s debatable what is/isn’t true regarding this story..
Anyway, let us move on from the concept/story, onto the release's packaging- which is always important/key with The Residents albums. The release comes in two key formats- either a double vinyl or a double CD booklet edition- I’m reviewing the latter. The two CD’s come in a glossy handbook presentation- the twenty-five-page booklet details how the album came about, & the story of Dying Dog. The first CD takes in the main sixteen track album, and the second disc features the original Dyin’ Dog blues demos which are often quite radical different. So the main album is certainly not The Residents doing a stripped-back blues record, yes there are most certainly blues elements present- but it’s put through the Residents often dense & layered sound blender.
In all the sixteen-track album comes in a fairly trim & neat forty-nine minutes- with many of the tracks hitting between two and four minutes, though mostly they are of the shorter 'n' often sharper variety fitting both the sonic tone & feel of the concept/ themes. So it’s fair to say it's a decidedly focused & to the point collection of tracks, which often feature a blend bounding-yet-memorable songcraft- as Residents album go it’s one of their more approachable.
The album is broken in two- we have the first ten tracks, which are meant to be the covers of the Snow original tracks, then the last six are inspired by the work of Mr. Snow- but the two parts do flow/ join well together. The album kicks off in nicely bonding 'n' pacey manner with “Bury My Bone”- it brings together skittering & runaway electro beats, a looped urgent horn pump, and shredding guitar work- all topped off with a blend of the singing Residents distinctively yelled southern tinged vocals & shouting female backing vocals- it all sounds like mid 80’s Yello sped-up,fed through with skittering & scorching blues-tinged rock, and bayed by sliding-off-the track electronica- so a great opener.
By track three we come to the first of the guest singer tracks- and this comes in the form of the albums first single "DIE! DIE! DIE!"- it features Black Francis formally of The Pixes- doing a great snarling ‘n’ billowing vocals over a churning ‘n’ slowly slugging industrial Blues track- it’s like a modern take on The Residents cover of the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction". As we move through the album we go from bounding 'n' urgent theatrical synths-meets-pumping synthetic horn work & ripping-to-soaring guitar work of "The Dogs Dream", which is topped great smoky, sing-song, yet slightly off-kilter female vocals. We have the tick-tocking and decidedly creepy “I know” with its mix of sour music box synth & guitar harmonics- with the singing Resident wailing & moaning about blades cutting things. The album's first ten tracks are finished with thickly bobbing-yet-wound-down blues-meets gone wrong broadway stomp of “Dead Weight”- with its blend of dense 'n' battering guitar, smoking harmonica traces, and dips into stripped back music box unease. The remaining six tracks move from the chugging & slurred industrial blues-come-wavering sinisterness of “Cold As A Corpse” with its decidedly creepy sing-song baby-doll gone wrong vocals. Onto the strutting & glumly darting “Cut To The Quick” with its mix of waltzing keys & jumping guitar harmonics, and traces of dramatic darkly rising orchestration. Through to the album final & longest track “Midnight Man” which rolls in at twenty seconds shy of the six-minute mark- here we get a fittingly dramatic & epic track that moves from grimly marching horn & lead felt vocals from the Residents male singing, onto densely rising & swirl blues-rock with some great harmonica work & cascading keyboard work, with pared-back moments of grand harp & guitar moodiness- I never thought I’d hear the Residents in epic-yet-fairly straight theatrical rock setting, but that’s exactly what we have here- and it ends the album in a nicely rousing manner.
The second disc in the set takes in the ten demo tracks from Mr. Snow/ Dying Dog- and these are pure stomping ‘n’ growling blues with a brew of slamming guitar, organ, and occasional piano- all topped off with very gravely & ripped male vocals. I’ll have to admit while they sound fairly authentic, I’m not a fan- as I don’t enjoy more straight-if-rough & ready blues myself. So as a result the ten tracks & twenty-eight minutes did rather drag to me- but having them here is a neat extra/ another layer to the album's concept- and The Residents versions do feel/ sound very different.
In finishing Metal, Meat & Bone is a wonderfully battering ‘n’ blunt, yet at the same times moody 'n' theatrical record- that sees the collective returning to their roots, yet still pushing forward their sound into creative at times fairly approachable waters. I feel it's a record that will appeal to longterm fans, but also gain the project a bunch of new followers- so if you ever been curious about the project, or have drifted away from enjoying the collectives work- I’d say this is the album for you!.