Album Review: The Residents’ “Ghost of Hope”

A Train Wracked By God

“The chicken crosses the road so that it might attain the other side.” - The Residents, 1971

The “Real” Residents shall be releasing their new album, The Ghost of Hope, some time later this month. It’s pretty exciting, since it’ll be their first new studio album in a couple of years now. It’s the first big studio release since I’ve actually become a fan of The Residents (obviously live albums and a few projects like Mush-Room came out prior, but this is the first big album release since then!).

Well, due to certain circumstances (read: a store accidentally stocked some CDs they shouldn’t have yet), I own the album now! I’m not really into doing album reviews that much… but I have the album early! How many other times will this privilege even come? I have to do a review! Let’s begin!

Note: I will be trying to avoid too many “spoilers” for the album, but if you’re afraid of spoilers you really shouldn’t be reading this review anyway. Also I want to include at least enough details in this review to prove that I do indeed have a real copy of the album.

Other note: I’m writing this album as a Residents fan, so if you don’t know anything about The Residents… well, this review isn’t going to make a lot of sense.

“My poor, poor, beautiful machine.” (The Ghost of Hope)

The Ghost of Hope definitely sounds different from any other Residents project so far… although that’s a good way to describe literally any of their other albums. I do feel like their sound for the past 5 or so years seemed a bit… stale, at least for The Residents. This album definitely has a new sound to it, which is pretty reassuring for me. I was afraid that maybe The Residents would just be stuck with their post-Bunny Boy sound for the rest of their existence.

Part of this change may have something to do with “Charles Bobuck”’s departure from the group, but I’ve heard that Bobuck still left his fingerprints all over the production of this project. I think it’s more just because this is a new project, with new collaborators, new moods to portray, and new ideas to reflect. Of course it has a different sound.

And yet, this album still sounds like this strange amalgamation of all their previous works. It reminds me of Freak Show. It reminds me of The Gingerbread Man. It reminds me of The Talking Light and Shadowland. It reminds me of The Voice of Midnight, and Tweedles, and God in Three Persons, Eskimo, and even The Big Bubble for some reason. It has this very familiar sound and yet it’s all mixed together in this particular ratio that makes everything sound fresh and new. It really made me think, “My god… I really am listening to new Residents!”

The sounds of this album are truly incredible. The Residents have constructed “soundscapes” in the past with things like Eskimo, but they truly master it in The Ghost of Hope. The scenes they create are amazing, and for all the chaos and grimness they portray, they are strangely a delight on the ears. The album veers on and off the tracks between portraying more “soundscape” like music and well, actual honest-to-god music. I was kind of feeling bad for wanting to tap my foot and bob my head up and down to such carnage. There’s also some Talking Light style first-person narration going on in this album, but it doesn’t make it this album’s gimmick. It’s actually interesting how every song is done at least slightly differently so the only true thing tying them together is the central theme of train wrecks.

And even for being about something as macabre as train wrecks and having the spooky name The Ghost of Hope, the album still managed to surprise me with how dark it was. It’s pretty gloomy and depressing, and the fact that songs are based on actual (Real?) events that happened just makes it all the more emotional. It’s a very haunting album and listening to it reminded me of listening to the depressing stories of The Gingerbread Man for the first time.

Now then, time to pretend like I’m Grandpa Gio for a second. The eyeballs are back, and prominently displayed on the album art for the first time on a major album release since Demons Dance Alone, I think? This means a few things. First off, The Residents are acting as observers, which is pretty clear from the concept of the album as well as the pictures in the booklet showing the eyeball-headed Residents calmly, almost playfully observing these train wrecks. But it also means that we’re dealing with commentary on our culture as well.

The railroad is so romantic and idealistic, but these disasters show another side of these ideals. These trains were technological marvels at the time, but we failed to control this technology properly. The Residents are asking “But have we learned from our mistakes?” when it comes to all these newer technologies we’re developing… which is part of what makes this album so haunting.

Judging from the recent NFT things The Residents have done, I think we know the answer to that question. The Ghost of Hope says NO!

One final thing to note about the eyeballs is that it means that the “Randy, Chuck, and Bob” idea seems to be gone… at least to a certain extent. This seems to be emphasized by the “Real? Residents” brand that is present on the back of the cover, as well as all over the insides of the booklet. At first I thought it might just be a small little brand that would be placed on the cover as a joke, but its prominence on the inside covers is pretty intriguing. I don’t really know what it means just yet… I think we might have to wait for the In Between Dreams shows or maybe just hindsight a year or two down the road to really see what’s so “Real?” about them.

Anyway, this album is pretty great. Go preorder it… it is simply fantastic and I’m very happy to own it right now.