Review: The Big Bubble

The Big Bubble: Part Four of the Mole Trilogy

The Big Bubble: Part Four of the Mole Trilogy (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!

Richard J. Anderson: This is part four of The Mole Trilogy. Where is part three? There is none. Apparently, while coming up with the story for part three, they got caught up in the idea of what the album in the story would sound like that they recorded it instead. Though I get ahead of myself.

Here’s the backstory: After the war at the end of Mark of the Mole, the Moles and Chubs lived in an uneasy peace. Eventually, some of the Moles and Chubs intermarried and had children together. In response, a group of Mole supremacists called Zinkenites—many of them Cross children—began to demand a Mole state and genetic purity and so forth. One of the Zinkenites, Kula Bocca, found a band of Cross kids called The Big Bubble. They recorded an album and played at a Zinkenite rally. This ended in the arrest of the singer, Ramsey, after performing the song “Cry for the Fire,” with a verse in the banned Mole language, Mohelmot.

The Big Bubble is supposed to be the album recorded by The Big Bubble in part three of the Mole Trilogy. To record it, the Residents recorded vocals first, then had the band play around them, doing a semi-live in the studio thing. The idea was to make the band sound like a group of inexperienced kid musicians.

I wish it worked. I really do.

I don’t know how much of it was composed and how much was improvised, but I generally assume the early to middle period Residents albums to be mostly improvised. Maybe on a conceptual and story level, the whole “barely competent musicians” thing makes sense, but it doesn’t make for compelling listening. The lyrical content doesn’t help the cause. Most of the songs are stupefyingly simple in terms of lyrics, at least English ones. Several songs contain lyrics sung in the native “Mohelmot” language but it’s really just the Singing Resident spouting meaningless gibberish.

It’s not 100% junk, though. Songs like “Cry for the Fire” and “Die-Stay-Go” are redeemed by later live performances. Snakefinger’s killer soloing in “Cry for the Fire” on the various 13th Anniversary Tour live albums makes it a lot more listenable. Meanwhile, “Vinegar” had its English lyrics reused to good effect on 1992’s “The Sour Song” off Our Finest Flowers. These are the highest highs of an album of absolute lows, and the rest is barely worth speaking of. The Big Bubble is all of the worst elements of The Residents pressed on to a disc. Annoying vocals, poor playing, and an impenetrable concept make this album a thing that should only be avoided. If you want to hear the good stuff, just get The 13th Anniversary Tour Live in Tokyo. Then you’ll also get a bunch of other great interpretations of Residents classics. Just don’t buy the beat of The Big Bubble… Thankfully, it doesn’t get much worse than this in The Residents canon.

 

Rev. Syung Myung Me: This period of the Residents seems to be defined by great ideas poorly executed.  Luckily, the 13th Anniversary Tour seemed to jolt them out of that, but for the time being, we’ve got stuff like George & James and The Big Bubble.  I love the idea of doing two Mole trilogies, one of story and one of music… but it’d have been nice if the story one were finished and the music one were… better.  Like I said, I liked Tunes of Two Cities, but The Big Bubble is one that… has its moments, but in general, is a let-down, and the background story is much more interesting than the actual music on the album.

I want this to be good, I really do.  And sometimes I DO get in the mood for The Big Bubble (something I cannot say for George & James)… but it’s an album I definitely HAVE to be in the mood for.  Otherwise, it’s just long, boring and something else that means long and boring.  In those times when I do feel like listening to it, I think “Oh, this one isn’t nearly as bad as everyone says!” — but otherwise, yeah.  I think it’s a little underrated… but only a little.

Rich is likewise right in that the stuff cannibalized from this album (like the incredibly awesome live version of the title track on 13th Anniversary Live) is absolutely wonderful — but The Big Bubble as-is is half-baked.  Perhaps if they’d spent a little more time on it?  Or did it from scratch?  Or made it part three of the Mole Trilogy by chopping out all but the best and working into a story?  Or something?

At least it doesn’t have hideous Amiga-drawing cover art.

 

Aila: The Big Bubble seems like an excellent record when compared with our previous entry George and James, but it’s probably nothing special in terms of a Residents album. It’s also one of the few albums I’d heard before beginning my contributions to The Residents Project, having bought it somewhat randomly many years ago on cassette (it was probably the first album of theirs I heard, in fact). I haven’t listened to it for years though, so this is more or less like a new-to-me review in any case.

Ostensibly this is ‘Part 4’ of The Mole Trilogy, although I haven’t really figured out how it advances or adds to that questionable narrative, and I don’t really care to be honest. The music is a bit of a return to form, as is the production, which doesn’t sound as cheap as on George and James. This is a very childish album in many ways, something which is very evident on the first two tracks, “Sorry” and “Hop A Little.” Which isn’t to say that’s a terrible thing, in fact it’s kind of enjoyable in an almost Pee-Wee Herman sort of way at times. The next couple tracks go a bit further though, and it becomes a bit annoying to my ears. By the time we reach “Cry For The Future,” however, the album has swung into full-on Sinister Residents mode. This works to varying degrees. The music is pretty good, and in fact the best track of the whole album for me is the instrumental “Fear For The Future.” There are a couple other ‘stupid’ tracks on the album towards the end as well, the title track and the closer, “Kula Bocca Says So.” That both of these heavily feature the distinctive vocal stylings of The Residents’ main vocalist probably says quite a bit about what I think of him (my least favorite part of any Residents album I’ve heard to date).

Overall, this isn’t a bad album. It’s quite a step up from the last album reviewed, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark of some of best Residents albums. It probably isn’t the best one to start with. It intrigued me, but needless to say, it certainly didn’t hook me. But if you’re already a fan, you’ll probably enjoy this one. Not the best, certainly not the worst.

 

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