Despite a recording career spanning four decades, the Residents have successfully - and deliberately - achieved an air of wilful obscurity. Mindful of the cult of personality, they studiously retain an anonymity and refuse to name personnel, thus ensuring total artistic freedom. The most common disguise worn by the members for their multi-media stage show is a giant eyeball mask.
The Residents origins are shrouded in mystery and mischief, although common currency agrees the outfit was founded in Shreveport, Louisiana, USA. They later moved to San Mateo, California, where a series of home-recorded tapes was undertaken. In 1971, they collated several of these performances and sent the results to Hal Haverstadt of Warner Brothers Records, who had signed Captain Beefheart. No name had been included and thus the rejected package was returned marked for the attention of the residents, which the collective accepted as a sign of distinction. In 1972 the various members resettled in San Francisco where they launched Ralph Records as an outlet for their work. Their 1974 debut Meet The Residents established the outfits unconventional style, matching bizarre reconstructions of 60s pop favourites with ambitious original material. Critics drew comparisons with the Mothers Of Invention, but any resemblance was purely superficial as the Residents drew reference from a wider variety of sources and showed a greater propensity to surprise.
The Residents second album, 1976s The Third Reich Rock N Roll, contained two suites devoted to their twisted vision of contrasting cover versions, whereas their fourth set Not Available comprised material they did not wish to release. It had been recorded under the Theory Of Obscurity, whereby a record should not be issued until its creators had forgotten its existence, but appeared as a stopgap release during sessions for the ambitious Eskimo. 1980s The Commercial Album consisted of 40 tracks lasting exactly 1 minute and contrasted the Residents next project, the Mole Trilogy, which comprised Mark Of The Mole, The Tunes Of Two Cities and The Big Bubble. The collective undertook extensive live appearances in the USA and Europe to promote this expansive work, which in turn spawned several in-concert selections and an EP devoted to music played during the shows intermission.
The Residents subsequent American Composers Series included George And James, a homage to George Gershwin and James Brown, Stars & Hank Forever, a celebration of Hank Williams and John Phillip Sousa, and The King And Eye, an album of Elvis Presley hits. If this suggested a paucity of original material, it is worth recalling that the Residents strength lies in interpretation and use of cultural icons as templates for their idiosyncratic vision. The collective have continued to mine this vision into the new millennium, increasingly drawing on digital technology to pursue their aims. The religious-themed Wormwood: Curious Stories From The Bible from 1998 demonstrated that the Residents have not lost the capacity to shock.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.