The Residents - Duck Stab / Buster & Glen - Review
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critics' view

As 1978 dawned, the Residents found themselves launched to a much higher profile in the UK at least. A favourable retrospective review of their Meet The Residents, Third Reich N Roll and Fingerprince albums by Jon Savage in Sounds sent folk on this side of the Atlantic searching for recordings by this intriguing and strange sounding outfit. Those three albums had been constructed of material written and recorded in early to mid 1970s, so with this much-needed burst of publicity boosting their notoriously low profile, it was important for the group to capitalise and set down some brand new tunes for a now inquisitive listening public. After the “problems” with the three-sided Fingerprince album and the drawn-out recording of the Eskimo album, the Residents came up with an all-new extended play entitled Duck Stab (the sleeve featuring a sinister photo mock up of said act).

Though still maintaining their original vision, Duck Stab was a far more accessible proposition to their previous material and though they were working on the Eskimo project too at the same time, this record can be seen as the seed of The Commercial Album of two years later. The EP was an instant success and buoyed by this, they aimed to follow it up quickly. The Residents went back to the studio to cut another seven tracks intended for a new Extended Play single in a similar vein, entitled Buster And Glen. Ralph Records decided to couple those recordings with Duck Stab to present a fully fledged album instead.

The LP was again met with appreciation from both public and press, as the more “Pop” element to the tunes entranced listeners and offered an easier egress into the Residents world than anything that had gone before. Phil Lithman, ex of Pub Rock’s nearly men Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers (he was also now going by the nickname Snakefinger) was on hand to provide some magnificently bendy guitar work here as well, adding to the redoubtable skills of the Residents themselves.

So Duck Stab/Buster And Glen presented the band on their most “commercial” form to date, you still have to take into account this is the Residents and they aren’t going to let go of their macabre fixations and ominously theatrical musical moods totally. The dream-like structure and feel of Blue Rosebuds is a scary delight and Sinister Exaggerator is practically pure, spindly Electro, very pleasant and threatening at the same time.

Minimalism is the key to Bach Is Dead, employing a chanted refrain to good use as the Residents had a few times in the past. Despite the seemingly uncommercial nature of the band, they certainly knew how to utilise a good hook-line when they found one. The Laughing Song may give some the uneasy feeling they got when hearing Charles Penrose’s Laughing Policeman song on Junior Choice as a child or, perhaps preferably, bring a touch of Flipper’s Ha Ha Ha single to mind. The song itself is a rum tale of someone’s daughter who may or may not be a porcupine that has gout!

Moving onto Buster And Glen, Semolina is somewhat akin to what La Dusseldorf were doing at the time on their Viva album, hopeful and soaring synths, but with the regulation Residents jarring vocals putting their own stamp on things. Weightlifting Lulu even has a touch of Joe Meek circa Johnny Remember Me about its sound, working in a calm but moody Rock & Roll format, but giving it a jolt into downbeat 70s technology. Hello Skinny was another instant Residents classic, almost subliminal bass sounds burble and double saxophone pipe away, as treated backing voices and a clear lead vocal power the song along from out front. A similar guitar to the one that shredded ears on Satisfaction features on Electrocutioner, which quickly descends into chaos, before giving way to a Russell Mael-like voice and a more serene musical section.

Duck Stab/Buster And Glen marked the time when the Residents emerged into a lot of people’s consciousness, with the result that those of them that became fans obsessed about the band’s activities. This new re-release sounds good and on the whole not really at all dated by time – in fact some of these recordings wouldn’t sound out of place in the charts right now, which shows the ingenious and/or insidious way the Residents’ influence may have travelled. They were streets ahead, which may have cost them initially, but the Residents were in it for the long game.

Ian Canty
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Louder Than War is a music, culture and media publication headed by The Membranes & Goldblade frontman John Robb. Online since 2010, it is one of the fastest-growing and most respected music-related publications on the net. We are always looking for the new noise, the next buzz. We have no borders, no boundaries – all the musical skree of the 21st century is ours to celebrate. We still believe in the power of music and we still believe in the counter culture. We are punk! We actively seek out new music - if you want to be on our radar then contact us.
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