Friday, September 19, 2008

The Residents - The Third Reich & Roll (1976)

First of all, you like the new title? I do.

Here is my article for next month's issue of Culture Week. Since I realize most of you reading this don't actually live in Bloomington, consider what is actually a sneak preview my (monthly) gift to you.

Some six decades after the formation of the irreverent, nonsensical Dada movement in Europe, the San Franciscan avant-garde combo The Residents released The Third Reich & Roll. The album is a full-on Dadaist assault on pop music, making the accusation that this seemingly disposable art form was brainwashing the American youth. And why not? The members of the band – whoever the Hell they may be (the band has maintained full anonymity since their formation in 1972) – no doubt grew up listening to the songs they lampoon on this record.

The recording process for this album is interesting: the band played along with these 60’s pop songs, committing the results to tape. They then mixed out the original tracks they played with, leaving only The Residents. What results is easily one of the most bizarre albums this side of Captain Beefheart. Using a very stream-of-consciousness editing style, where one song simply fades into another, ends with a jarring cut, (as if waking from an intense dream), or in some cases combines songs in similar keys. The best example of this comes as a sort of punch line to their 35-minute long joke: the angelic, if hypnotic, refrain of “Hey Jude” (yes, they even skewer The Beatles) increasingly becomes more discordant; at the same time the instantly recognizable backing vocals from “Sympathy For The Devil” fade in, as does its searing guitar solo. The idea of something seemingly sweet – The Beatles’ most successful single, and a song of positive encouragement – slowly becoming corrupted by evil (literally, a song about the Devil,) is a stark metaphor for the pop industry: sure, on the surface these songs are fun and happy, but at its core is a world run by the almighty dollar, where careers can be broken at the drop of a hat.

If you can’t tell already, this isn’t an album for everyone. To begin, there is no real distinction of tracks. The album only has two tracks (one from each side of the original LP) with catchy titles that both your veteran grandparents and friends of Semitic origin will just love: “Swastikas On Parade” and “Hitler Was A Vegetarian.” It also bears mentioning that the cover (banned in Germany for some strange reason…) features Dick Clark in Nazi regalia holding a carrot, surrounded by little Disney-like dancing Hitlers. Not that the band was a group of pop-hating Neo-Nazis; far from it. Like the Dadaists, The Residents used irreverent humor and imagery to make a point. Anyone offended by it doesn’t get the joke, much like Frank Zappa’s more controversial moments. Those who do get it will love it.

(Note: The Residents are hard to find; their albums go in and out of print every so often. Search this album on YouTube to see their promotional film for it. If that hasn’t scared you off, acquire this album by any means necessary!)

Next Month: Cheap Trick, Next Position Please

Since you're reading this on the Internet and not in a newspaper, not only can I provide the link to The Residents' promo film for the album, I can embed it:

And if you find yourself liking it, here's "The Third Reich & Roll Concentrate" from their 1997 retrospective Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Huddled Masses. The "concentrate", as its name suggests, compresses the 35 minute album into a ten minute track. Other albums receiving similar treatments on the retrospective were Have A Bad Day, Hunters, The Gingerbread Man, Freak Show, Cube-E, God In Three Persons, The Mole Trilogy, Fingerprince, Not Available, and Meet The Residents.

Not that it matters, since I'm proud to say I have all their albums up to 2001's Icky Flix.

Forrest - you might like their treatments of Hank Williams numbers.

I truly do think that, like Zappa, there's something for everyone out there with The Residents. The Third Reich & Roll is probably a horrible place to start for all but those with the strangest and most eclectic of tastes. That or a twisted sense of humor. Still, bear with me as I work my way through their catalog and share thoughts, opinions, and of course the obligatory embedded YouTube video featuring the music in question.


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