The Residents – Duck Stab

The Residents - Duck StabThe ResidentsDuck Stab (Mute)

The Residents provided me with one of my strangest relationships with any band, one that was shared by a few close friends and a few hallucinatory explorations. The story may sound a little sad, a handful of socially inept Midwesterners with nothing better to do than follow a directionless (and faceless) avant-garde band to the point where we actually scheduled listening sessions the same way other geeks may schedule Dr. Who listening parties.

In our defense, we were not social retards but acknowledged weirdos that perhaps dabbled a little too much with illicit drugs while managing to function at work, play and school. We viewed our gatherings as exclusive and we followed one common band, The Residents, with an almost religious fervor. While some of us may have had passions for other bands that ran nearly as deep, our collective respect for the visually decorated quartet became occasionally excessive.

On more than a few weekends, we fueled ourselves with LSD and sat in front of a stereo, repeatedly spinning records by The Residents and transcribing what we interpreted as the lyrics. After one of these sessions, I actually used the transcription to the band’s “Loss Of Innocence” in an oral interpretation class and received praise from the professor.

Another favorite was “Lizard Lady,” a reptilian story of impossible comprehension that seemed to make sense after a few hits of acid. Working from a compilation album that Ryko put on in the late 80s (Hell!), our transcriptions proved to be remarkably accurate after I located the lyric sheet to the song from its original album, Duck Stab.

My copy of Duck Stab was on stunning red vinyl, perhaps the best format for any Residents album, but if acquiring a turntable is not practical, Mute Records‘ recent re-release of the band’s 1978 effort is a suitable alternative.

Duck Stab finds the band trimming the fat from their prior material and constricting their art-damaged songs into concise, two and three minute long songs. It’s the album (actually a combination of two e.p.’s if you’re a fellow fanatic) that brought them some additional exposure outside of the Bay area, selling enough copies to provide (then) record label Ralph Records enough cash to start advertising in the back of Rolling Stone magazine.

This isn’t to suggest that The Residents created a mainstream offering with Duck Stab. What they did instead was to enhance their weirdness, providing little in terms of actual pretention while accentuating the real possibility that this quartet had serious mental damage.

Combining a strange blend of Trout Mask Replica absurdity with fellow San Fran native Harry Partch, The Residents place their synth exorcisms alongside guest guitarist Snakefinger‘s brittle guitar workouts in what may be their most accessible album to date, which means nothing when you consider how inaccessible the rest of their catalog is.

Duck Stab‘s accessibility comes in the form of a few choice cuts that became the focus of college radio and the music press.

One of those, “Hello Skinny,” remains one of The Residents’ most fascinatingly eerie explorations ever, perhaps because it sounds like such an anomaly within the band’s artistic cannon. The song is propelled by a throbbing bassline and a creepy, double-tracked clarinet that occasionally breaks out in “Oh shit!” squeaks, giving the story line some added worry. That storyline, a freakishly small flea market salesperson, again makes the most sense under the influence of mind-enhancing substances, particularly when the Chipmunks-like refrain of “Hello Dolly” makes its way into the last few seconds of the song.

To recommend Duck Stab comes with a disclaimer: the band would never visit this style and consistency again. While there would be other albums consistently good, they would never follow the same pattern as this, streamlined songs that housed a large amount of disturbia in such as small amount of time.

If you’re prepared for such an exploration, and have a few like-minded friends that also like to mine the tightrope walk of brilliance and mental illness, then Duck Stab is a fine place to start.

Best of all, the newly enhanced packaging comes with those original lyrics, so you don’t have to spend all of that time transcribing them. But if you’re so inclined to do so, I’ve been there and I completely understand your reasons why.

3 thoughts on “The Residents – Duck Stab”

  1. Thank you Todd for one of the clearest(and appropriately cautionary) reviews of The Residents that I’ve ever read. For years I talked about this band with the inevitable preface “I am NOT recommending this music” because I didn’t want to be responsible for someone spending money on music that was just so fucking weird. But when I DID occasionally recommend them, it was always

    Duckstab/Buster & Glen I suggested, because that’s clearly the “gateway” album for the band.

    I still have all this stuff on vinyl-only and so don’t listen to it, and yet many, many years later random refrains still rise to the surface of my brain (“Walking women want to see the Southern Cross at night” …or “Here I come, Constantinople”, a fantastic cover later referenced more or less by They Might Be Giants, who have mentioned the Residents…or “Semolina, loves the sea shore”).

    Anyway, great stuff. I’m glad to know it’s available on CD, and to read someone talking about this band.

    Who I don’t recommend.


  2. I know exactly what you mean about those random refrains. For no reason at all, I will often whip out one of those lyrics that we tried so hard to decipher, thoroughly confusing anyone within earshot. I feel a little saner knowing there are others out there that experience these minor fits of recall, especially from bands like The Residents.

    Barely related: there are black & white photos inside this edition from a shoot circa ’72 that I found deeply disturbing for some reason. They weren’t offensive or all that shocking, but it did hint that the band consisted of actual humans, occasionally modeling in fairly artsy and homoerotic poses. There is one of the actual cover shot without all of the coloring. You could see a sharper image of the knife-welding subject, including a his very demonic and empty grin. I found that one to be the most disturbing.

  3. I can see why that might be disturbing despite not being explicit. I was leaning toward buying it via iTunes anyway, now that the lyrics can be found online, and now I definitely will…

    I did remember later after my post that I actually wrote Ralph Records once and they sent me a giant wad of press clippings, plus a single of their cover of Satisfaction (which makes Devo’s seems so very normal). I can’t recall the B-side, but now I’m going to go see if I can dig it up, though I think I may have tossed all my 45’s at some point.

    And finally, on yet another tangent, I followed the Glono link to the Residents’ home page to discover that in October they’re playing at a venue that’s about 10 minutes from my house. It’s mightily tempting, even though I generally don’t like going to shows alone…it also feels like it might be more art performance than musical experience.

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