Album: The Residents

Animal Lover, MUTE
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The Independent Culture

Back in 1980, San Franciscan art-rockers The Residents completed their Eskimo masterwork, an ambitious piece of musical mytho-anthropology which purported to represent the environment and culture of the Inuit. Using an invented language, and instruments specially designed and built for the project, it sounded like nothing else in the pop/rock landscape.

Back in 1980, San Franciscan art-rockers The Residents completed their Eskimo masterwork, an ambitious piece of musical mytho-anthropology which purported to represent the environment and culture of the Inuit. Using an invented language, and instruments specially designed and built for the project, it sounded like nothing else in the pop/rock landscape.

Twenty-five years on, in a pop culture dedicated to bland, unchallenging homogeneity, we need music that sounds like nothing else more than ever; so it's a relief to find that The Residents are still forging their way relentlessly away from the mainstream, straining to test the limits of the pop envelope. With Animal Lover, they extend the mytho-anthropology of Eskimo even further to cover man's relationships with animals, examining the intersecting circles of the various species' disparate world views. The human tableaux covered in songs such as "Inner Space" and "Monkey Man" are observed with a quizzical detachment by the animals in the prose passages that punctuate the song-sequence in the accompanying lyric booklet, offering differently aspected accounts of the events.

On one level, this draws us close to the murky realm of inter-species love - the love that truly cannot, never mind dare not, speak its name. Further acknowledging the primacy of reproductive imperatives in animal life, The Residents have used the mating-signal patterns of frogs, cicadas, etc, into the rhythm tracks, and incorporated into the background textures the actual sounds of whale and human sexual activity (not with each other, of course - that would probably be too perverse even for a group whose first release was called Baby Sex).

The result is a provocative work which bears scant relation to the rest of rock'n'roll, and is all the better for it. With vocals mostly handled by a choral ensemble, and the mood predominantly melancholy, Animal Lover is rather closer in scope and manner to opera. With its berserk violins, bells and mordantly chanted lyric, "Olive And Gray" is like some Party-approved Russian operetta about an unfortunate fellow's genital deformity; "Two Lips" is a frisky Balkan-flavoured bop about the Tulipomania craze; and the austere tragedy "What Have My Chickens Done Now?", with its delicate oriental accompaniment, could be a Chinese opera based on the Salem witch-trials.

Bleakly reflecting life in all its sadness and brutality, I wouldn't pretend that Animal Lover is for everyone, but therein lies at least some of its appeal: faced with a choice between this singular offering and the 57 varieties of cliché that constitute the bulk of modern pop, it would be dull indeed to settle for the latter.

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