Somnambule - Writing About Music

The Residents ~ Commercial Album CD/DVD

This is a reissue to mark the 25th anniversary of the first release of this album. As if dressed in its best birthday costume, the cd arrives clothed in a handsome booklet, replete with lyrics and photographs. Everybody’s favourite eyeball-headed combo are in full miniaturist effect here aided and abetted by guests including Fred Frith, Christ Cutler, Andy Patridge and Snakefinger. The listener is gifted with 40 tracks - that number echoing the singles chart - that are exactly a minute long (the length of the average television commercial in 1980). In witnessing the stately, but apparently endless succession of brief songs, a morality tale is enacted for the listener that underlines the experience of consumption without digestion. There’s no time to assimilate meaning, style or intent before the track is over. These songs are short enough to be utterly disposable, but almost every one is gem-like, complete with a catchy hook that in other circumstances might snag a big, fat fish. There’s a remarkable stylistic diversity evident within the parameters The Residents set themselves. The music’s similarity to singsong nursery rhymes, the superficiality of the overall gesture is all grist to The Residents’ mill. Each such observation folds back recursively upon the subject of the project.

Four one minute films were made to accompany the original project, copies of which now reside in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum Of Modern Art. These have been joined by ten new videos also made by The Residents, together with thirty more commissioned from others and all are newly available on a separate DVD released to accomany the Commercial Album. The videos are rendered in a wide variety of styles from 2d and 3d animation to live action. The Residents’ own productions are the more unsettling including morphing-faced pilots, latex-besuited flagellants and grinning corpses. Informed by surrealism, outsider art and the Grand Guignol these visual interpretations make for fascinating, though not necessarily mandatory viewing.
Colin Buttimer
January 2005
Published by Signal To Noise magazine