Review: The Tunes Of Two Cities

The Tunes of Two Cities

The Tunes of Two Cities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, we’re stealin’ the idea from the Sparks Project and doing one with probably even more records out there — The Residents!  And this time we’re changing it up a little bit — we’ve got two hardcore Residents fans in me and Rich, but Aila is, at best, a casual fan, who will be hearing about 99% of these records for the first time.  DANGEROUS!  So, enjoy, THE RESIDENTS PROJECT!

Rev. Syung Myung Me: This is part two of the Mole Trilogy, or, as it turns out part one of the second Mole Trilogy, neither of which completed.  I think the original plan was for this to just be the second of three albums, but then the Residents had the idea of making the even numbered ones snapshots of the Moles’ and Chubs’ music at the time of the story.  So, Tunes of Two Cities corresponds with Mark of the Mole, where the two cultures are very separate, and as such, the music alternates between a Mole song and a Chub song.

The Chubs’ music is mostly plastic sounding versions of old standards (“Clap Your Lips (Smack Your Teeth)” is basically “In The Mood”, for example), and the Moles’ are mainly work dirges and religious songs with titles like “God of Darkness”, “Praise for the Curse” and “The Evil Disposer”.  Both sets of music are quintessentially Residential — the Chubs the synth-heavy bouncy-with-a-kind-of-Lynchian-dark-side type of music, and the Moles the percussion-heavy creepy sound.  Sort of Duck Stab versus Fingerprince, I guess — though Tunes doesn’t really sound much like either album.  It does definitely sound like a continuation of what the Residents were working on with Mark of the Mole sonically — which, well, makes sense as it’s part of that project.  As a starter album?  Probably not — but if you’re a fan of instrumental music, it’s one of the best of the Residents’ instrumental albums.  It would be kind of like jumping into a story at the middle, though… or at least somewhere after the beginning.

Richard J. Anderson: So, we’re at Part Two of the Mole Trilogy, The Tunes of Two Cities which is not actually the second part of the story. Instead, it’s more “background material,” an album of songs from the Moles and the Chubs, so as to better understand the differing societies. The music of the Moles is much like the sound of Mark of the Mole, sort of Eskimo gone dark. Meanwhile, the music of the Chubs is bouncy, happy, synthesized versions of ’20s and ’30s Big Band numbers. (No. Really.) Several of the songs, combined with the Mark of the Mole tracks, this became the basis for The Mole Show tour. The Residents, themselves, compare the Mole tracks to Eskimo, and the Chub tracks to The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll. It’s not an off-base comparison, especially for the Mole cuts.

That doesn’t necessarily make it compelling to listen to. It’s a mechanized Eskimo. It’s Third Reich ‘n’ Roll without the sneer. It’s also the first taste of disappointment in what would be a fairly dreary period for The Residents, with a few notable exceptions, which we’ll discuss as we get to them.

This was also the first Residents album recorded with the EMU Emulator, which would become a defining part of their sound over the next few years, for good or for ill. It may just be my copy of the album, but I suspect that because they’re new to recording the Emulators, the sound is hollow and tinny. This might work for the Chub songs, but the Mole music needs to be much heavier, darker, and grittier like Mark of the Mole. I do know that I prefer the recordings of the songs from The Mole Show live album(s) to the studio versions. “The Secret Seed,” “Smack Your Lips (Clap Your Teeth),” and “Happy Home” all gain a depth that their sterile studio counterparts simply lack. What could have been a compelling companion to Mark of the Mole has ended up just being a tedious, poorly recorded snore-fest. What a crime.

In short, skip this one. You’re not missing much. Come back to it, if you want, but go for one of the live Mole Show discs over this. Still, at least it’s not The Big Bubble.

Aila: The Tunes Of Two Cities is ostensibly the second part of The Residents’ Mole Trilogy. While it doesn’t do much (if anything) in terms of advancing the story from Mark Of The Mole, it is a pretty decent record in its own right.

From the outset this album feels quite a bit different from what came before. The first track, “Serenade For Missy,” is a decidedly jazzy instrumental track that kind of sets the tone for the album. This is an entire album of instrumentals, and while I sometimes bemoan the vocals of The Residents, it seems a bit out of place for the band (at least at this point in their chronology – I have yet to hear most of what came after). Looking into things a bit deeper, it seems that the idea of this album is to highlight the music of the two groups from Mark Of The Mole, The Chubs and The Moles. The music of The Chubs are the jazzy tracks, while The Moles tracks are the slightly more experimental, typically Residents-sounding tracks. Honestly I would have preferred if this album had actually advanced the narrative of the previous record, but it’s probably best not to expect such things when it comes to this band. As far as highlights, some of the standouts for me are probably the opening track, along with the relatively unsettling tracks “Praise For The Curse” and “Mourning The Undead,” and “Mousetrap,” which is the only track I’d heard previously (having appeared on the compilation Louisiana’s Lick).

Honestly I can see myself re-listening to The Tunes Of Two Cities more than most of the previous Residents albums. This is mostly due to its instrumental nature, and the fact that it doesn’t really require a lot of active listening. If it hadn’t been billed as part two of the Mole Trilogy, I never would have guessed it was. It probably isn’t their most interesting album, but it is one of the better discs I’ve heard so far in terms of being able to enjoy things without paying attention to anything but the music. In some ways it’s a bit of a letdown, and an argument can certainly be made that The Residents shouldn’t provide comfortable listening (and they usually don’t), but overall it’s a nice change of pace.

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