The Residents: Fingerprince – Album Review
Released 23 March 2018
2CD reissue of the Residents fourth album (Not Available, which was recorded after their debut Meet The Residents, was not released until 1978 due to the “Theory Of Obscurity”), with a bonus disc of relevant extras entitled Finger Ephemera. Ian Canty finds the dabs of the Mole Men all over this one………….
It seemed with the coming of the New Wave that the musical climate was slowly changing to a vista that would just about leave enough open minds to accommodate the Residents’ own distinctive and peculiar vision. Progress was slow, as during the summer of Punk in 1977 a number of their unsold records still took up substantial space in the various band members’ homes. However, any setbacks did little to discourage the anonymous collective. They were clearly made of stern stuff.
During the period of time that encompassed the recording of both Meet The Residents And The Third Reich ‘N Roll (reviewed here and here), the band had developed some songs that didn’t fit either concept. A full LP Not Available was recorded directly after their first album, but shelved under the band’s Theory Of Obscurity or “until everyone forgot about it” (it eventually came out in late 1978). Some of the other items put to tape between 1974-76 made up their third LP that actually saw the light of day entitled Fingerprince, with the projected “third” side becoming the extended play Babyfingers, which was not released until two years later in 1979.
At the time the Residents apparently wanted to release the album and EP together as the “world’s first three sided LP” under the name Tourniquet Of Roses, but the logistics precluded this coming to fruition. The sleeve notes to this new edition of the album posits the view that this was merely a ruse to manoeuvre the Cryptic Corporation/Ralph into issuing all the material in the way it eventually played out. Now as a lot of people think the Residents and the Cryptics are one and the same, I leave you to draw your own conclusions about this. The resulting records do seem to belong together though and here they all fit neatly on the one disc, without the need of some strange piece of equipment able to play a triangular record (the other, more practical but not quite as fun, method would be for one side of the album to have two grooves, like John Cooper Clarke’s Splat/Twat single or Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief LP).
Fingerprince was a marked contrast to Third Reich ‘N’ Roll – one did not expect such fertile minds as the Residents to repeat themselves – and eight of the nine offerings that make the album are short-ish almost “Pop” songs, well the closest the band had got at this stage in their development. Don’t worry, the twisted and sinister story-telling, testing of sonic boundaries and all the other Resident outré mannerisms were still all intact. A corrupted spin on the theme tune of The Third Man crops up in You Yesyesyes, joining a a potent musical stew of rhythm box beats, electronic squawks and some excellent spiralling guitar. March De La Winni’s static percussion speeds up suddenly and develops into a low-key synth bop during its brief running time and the one-time title track Tourniquet Of Roses comes on like maniacal circus music, high and low vocal jeers jousting with a farting bass and watery electronics.
The exception is of course the side long Six Things To A Cycle. Originally composed as a ballet piece, this starts with animals sounds and a click-clack rhythm (there was always a fair amount of what would could be identified as Exotica in the Residents early works) before working its way through treated music box chimes. Some fine female vocals and synth interjections feature, with chants and bells, finally climaxing with ominous faux-orchestral strings. A fine piece of work.
Babyfingers had the same template as its “parent” album, in that it was made up of short selections on one side, with a side-long flip. Three of the songs on this EP got further exposure on The Residents Radio Special, Death In Barstow, Melon Collie Lassie and Walter Westinghouse. The piano-driven jig of Death In Barstow, a memorable murder mystery with the line “first my friend was with me, then my friend was dead” sticks in the mind, as does Walter Westinghouse’s almost limerick stanzas which progress until the nightmare-ish and bizarre chant “Eat exuding oinks upon, and bleed decrepit broken bones at caustic spells of hell”. Coupled together on one disc, the Fingerprince/Tourniquet Of Roses album presented in this way feels a complete work and thoroughly engaging listen, even if it was always intended that the LP and EP would be separate.
The bonus disc has as its centrepiece Leapmus, a recording from February 1976 which seems to possess the same sort of themes as Fingerprince. It also points a little bit in the direction of Duck Stab too, featuring some of the primitive electronics that would be flesh out further on that EP/LP. Entrance To Crypt finds the Residents firmly in proto-Industrial territory, but the following Clumsy Climb seems its opposite, Funky bass figures nailing down buzzing sounds and shrill Modern Jazz horns. Originally released on an obscure LA compilation LP, Whoopy Snorp is classic Residents nonsense, in “robotics on the blink” style with squeaking brass and thunderous crashes.
Here Tourniquet Of Roses comes from a 1986 performance in Norway, which due to transport problems left the band to play for once without backing tapes. Two rehearsals from a 1982 God Song and Walter Westinghouse vary from the originals in being more coherent, less cluttered version of the albums songs. This gives them a pleasingly different slant. Death In Barstow gets an unusual treatment as Once I Went To Barstow in a live take from 2011, quite Psychedelic and powerful, bordering on something the Butthole Surfers might have done. The disc ends with Fingerprince Concentrate, which bundles all the ideas of the album into a fast-moving and menacing whole.
This new edition of Fingerprince continues the good work done on the previous reissues of Meet The Residents and Third Reich ‘N’ Roll. It is great to hear the whole album as it was meant to be originally (or was it?) and the vast majority of the extras are interesting and rewarding listening. It comes with another nice booklet and sleeve note, which clarifies (or makes more blurry – depends which way you view the Residents’ saga! Sorry it is not easy) the story of the album. At the time of recording (1974-76) the Residents were operating in almost total obscurity, but with a rabid creativity and a riot of ideas. The world would take a while to catch up, but it wouldn’t be long before the UK at least started to notice at the time of Duck Stab/Buster And Glen….which is another story we will come to shortly.
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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here