"The blues isn't about making yourself feeling better, it's about making other people feel worse."
“Gnaws inside me like a dog” (Metal, Meat & Bone)
The Residents have finally released their long awaited blues album after many years of foreshadowing. I originally heard a demo of “Tell Me” from this album back in a radio show from late 2016, and since it included the phrase “railroad track” in the lyrics I assumed it was a cut off of the then upcoming Ghost of Hope. However after I went back to that demo to listen to how it evolved between demo and release… I realized that this “Tell Me” song wasn’t on the album at all! Clearly it was related to this upcoming “Fixie Man” album that was teased by the In Between Dreams shows…
Well, the blues album is finally here and with it The Residents return once again to one of their signature moves: playing their own takes on other people’s music. While it hasn’t been that long since the last project of this sort (I believe Sam’s Enchanted Evening is the last project to be made up of existing music like this, although 2018’s I Am A Resident! seems like an inversion of the concept), it really does feel like this side of The Residents is coming back after a long hibernation. This is the first cover-style project done since the departure of Hardy Fox from The Cryptic Corporation, after all.
This project really does feel similar in concept to earlier cover-based projects, with Bury My Bone and River Runs Dry in particular sounding like modern day evolutions of the songs from The King and Eye. The Residents often explore these songs in their own unique way at times. For instance, with Bury My Bone, the manic energy present along with the accompanying music video make the song seem more about powerful sexual desire that isn’t being satisfied. The original on the other hand has a much more somber tone that seems to focus more on the loneliness that comes with not having a partner.
Speaking of the originals, I do believe it’s time to address the elephant on the train tracks here: I really do not believe for a second that Alvin Snow ever existed. He is just another piece of Residents mythology invented for this album. And Dyin’ Dog and the Mongrels as a band are just a persona The Residents assumed to create this music. It has been said that The Residents ended up canceling the American Composers Series because of the cost of royalties, so what better way to save money than to make up the artist you’re covering?
This blurs the lines quite a bit between the storytelling aspect of The Residents and musical remixing aspect of The Residents, as Alvin Snow’s mythology does paint a tragic and mysterious story that are enhanced by his music and The Residents’ own interpretations. It reminds me of The Mole Trilogy’s planned method of storytelling, where story would be introduced in one album and a sample of in-universe music would go along with that story in another album. The Big Bubble is after all another record The Residents put out while pretending to be another band exploring their cultural roots.
But there is a difference this time. The Big Bubble was presented as a fictional album from the very beginning. It is marketed as an album by The Residents who are pretending to be The Big Bubble in their fictional universe. But last year’s Alvin Snow box set from Psychofon Records has a different concept attached to it. The assumption is that the records included in the box set are the real physical demo records that were originally found by Roland Sheehan (despite the obviously modern manufacturing methods that break immersion slightly). And the assumption with Metal, Meat & Bone is that Alvin Snow is real and this itself is a real tribute to his work.
I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this stunt is, but it’s being delivered with a level of seriousness beyond what they’ve done with their mythology before. It could just be that The Residents wanted to explore the genre of blues and invented an alter ego to perform it out, and if any blues snobs out there criticized them for their take on the blues, they could just blame it on their fake persona instead. But I have to wonder if this project’s purpose wasn’t just to explore the sound of the blues, but also to explore the sound of The Residents themselves.
Ask yourself what it means for something to sound “Residential”. I’m sure The Residents have wondered what that is themselves many times over their career, but especially so in these years after the departure of Hardy Fox. In making this album, The Residents first had to pretend to be someone else. Someone who did not sound like The Residents. And then in their reinterpretations of these songs they had to make them sound especially Residential. In a way these covers remind me of the purpose of Santa Dog throughout the years as a way of saying “This is what we sound like now. This is what ‘Residential’ means now.”
I think the planned (and unfortunately delayed due to the ongoing pandemic) “Dog Stab!” tour will expand on this concept, by taking these Alvin Snow originals and juxtaposing them against the songs of Duck Stab, the album that continues to define what “Residential” means. The tour is pretty far away from now, so who knows how this concept will change within the next year. But I’m excited to see if it adds any additional context to this album.
Metal Meat & Bone is a good album. And I’m so excited to see where The Residents go from here in this new, horrifying decade.