Review: Have A Bad Day

Cover of "Have a Bad Day"
Cover of Have a Bad Day

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:  On Halloween in 1995, The Residents released their first fully interactive CD-ROM, Bad Day on the Midway. A spiritual successor to Freak Show, Bad Day was an adventure game described by Wired as “Twin Peaks meets SimCity,” where the player jumps between different characters to solve a murder mystery. It was well received at the time, winning a pair of awards. The game’s visuals by the late Jim Ludtke are suitably creepy and well done, especially for the mid–90s. Praise was also heaped on the music, which did play a major role in the game. It was a Residents project, after all. Naturally, The Residents opted to put the game’s music out as an album, calling it Have a Bad Day.

I’ve never played Bad Day on the Midway, and so I didn’t know what to expect when I jumped into the soundtrack album. Have a Bad Day is what it says on the tin. The tracks are mostly instrumentals in the MIDI style of 90s Residents albums. There’s some vocals here and there, most of them from what I assume to be characters in the game. I was pleased to hear Molly Harvey sing on “God’s Teardrops,” but her other vocal spot on “Lottie, The Human Log” is less compelling. I didn’t expect much singing at all here, and any chance to hear Molly sing is almost always worth it. Devoid of context, however, the music on Have a Bad Day doesn’t captivate. Theres a few interesting moments scattered about the album, but I can’t recall exactly where, save for Ms. Harvey’s brief spotlight moment mentioned above.

There isn’t much else to be said for Have a Bad Day beyond that. Even the cover art isn’t terribly interesting. I’d say to skip this one, unless you’re a fan of the game, or really adore the The Residents’s 90’s work. Have a Bad Day is the first album in the entire The Residents Project that I haven’t heard before, in whole or in part. It’s something I skipped, owing in no small part to my general dislike The Residents early–90’s material. So why bother? Listening to Have a Bad Day for the first time doesn’t reinforce my original view on the album, but I certainly don’t feel like I was missing out on anything. You aren’t missing out, either.

Rev. Syung Myung Me:  I’m pretty much in the same boat as Rich on this one.  It was one of the last ones I got when I was working my way back through the discography back in the day, and not one I listen to… ever.  Honestly, I barely remember anything about it — even when I’m listening to it.  Maybe it’d have helped if I’d ever played the game, but… yeah.  That said, the “Bad Day Concentrate” that’s on the Icky Flix DVD which even had images and whatnot from the game to go along with it made about the same impression, which is to say, just about none.

Honestly, I listen to Hunters more than Have A Bad Day.  And, well, Hunters isn’t even a real album.

Molly is awesome though.  It’s too bad she never did an album on her own (or with the Residents a la the first two Snakefinger albums).  Her book, He Cuts Hog, was pretty neat, though!

So, uh, yeah.  Anyone out there actually play the game?  Does that improve the album?  Or what?  And is the game cool?  (I do like the Timmy bits from the Freak Show DVD that Mute put out a little while ago.)

All right – if that paragraph up there didn’t let you know what I (don’t) think of this album, how about the fact that I believe I’ve now typed more stuff NOT about Have a Bad Day in the “review” for Have a Bad Day.  Just a… non-entity of a record.  At least it’s not terrible like George & James?

Aila: ‘Wow! What a cool place!,” says the character Timmy at the beginning of Have A Bad Day. Wow, what a steaming pile of crap, I say.

There is almost nothing to recommend about this album. Actually, scratch that – there is NOTHING to recommend about this album. It is a new low, to a depth I didn’t even think possible for The Residents. To begin with, it’s the third consecutive ‘fairground’ concept album. First there was the relatively decent Freak Show, followed by a seemingly pointless follow-up The Gingerbread Man, and now it’s an even more watered down duplicate of the same idea. It’s kind of mind-boggling that the band would even do this. This is the flogging of an already well-flogged dead horse. It’s just a horse skeleton at this point, but the Residents are still whacking away. If there were any redeeming qualities to the songs or music there might be something left to salvage, but unfortunately there really aren’t any. The music might be the worst the band have ever put out. It would probably sound bad for the soundtrack to an early 90s video game honestly, let alone a supposedly professionally-produced album. Awful synth sounds comprise most of it, and it’s produced in the worst way. My pet peeve, the Residents’ main vocalist, is absent on much of the album, but it really doesn’t help. The vocals on “Lottie The Human Log,” for instance, are possibly the most obnoxious of any Residents song. There isn’t really even a highlight to recommend. Not even a song with a title like “God’s Teardrops” is worth a few minutes of anyone’s time.

Avoid Have A Bad Day at all costs. I’m not a fan of burning books or records, but if it weren’t for the countless digital copies, I think I’d actually be in favor of incinerating every record of this one. I know The Residents are capable of much better, and I hope what comes after this is an improvement. It better not be another one set in some sort of sideshow.

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  • Owen

    I’ve actually played the Bad Day on the Midway game, and it’s pretty fun. I’ll admit to having no sweet clue as how to “advance the story” or if I’m “playing it right” whenever I end up playing, but I still enjoy myself nonetheless. The characters are pretty entertaining and their miserable life stories are very compelling, with some pretty great mixed-media presentations accompanying them. The soundtrack matches the game very well, and the game was actually the thing that got me to give The Residents another try in the first place (I had heard Duck Stab/Buster and Glenn 3 years earlier, and although I knew there was something special about it nothing really clicked with me so I shelved it). Now I’m a huge Residents fan, and own a fair chunk of their albums, including this one.
    Honestly, it’s hard for me not to romanticize this one a bit, as the game ended up changing my opinion on the band for the better, but I’ll admit that it’s not one that I’ll ever crave to listen to. I’ll also shamefully admit that part of me likes the MIDI-Sounding stuff they did in the 90′s (I really like Freak Show, and am actually kind of partial to The Gingerbread Man as well….), so while none of this stuff obviously compares favorably to something like God in 3 Persons or Animal Lover, I can still “dig it”. Also, when I’m updating inventory out back at work I’ll put this album on once in a while; I find it makes good background music.

    • http://kittysneezes.com Rev. Syung Myung Me

      Neat! Owen – did you ever get to play Freak Show or Gingerbread Man (the games, I mean)? I came a bit too late to the Residents for that, so I missed out, but I was always curious. I remember when I was younger and my dad used to subscribe to PC/Computing (which I would be very surprised if that magazine exists anymore), and they always gave the Rz CD-Roms good reviews.

      Sadly, I DID play the DEVO CD-Rom, and, well, as much as I love that band, that game was utterly unplayable.

      • Owen

        I’ve never played either of those unfortunately, but I’ve read up on both of them a fair bit. My understanding is that The Freak Show CD-ROM wasn’t as much of a “game” as Bad Day on the Midway was. There was a freakshow attraction where you could see the music videos for the freaks (such as the “Harry the Head” and “Jello Jack the Boneless Boy” videos on the Icky Flix dvd) and after the show you could go backstage and to their trailers and read their postcards and go through their belongings and stuff, giving you more context on their lives. As far as interacting with the characters themselves, that was pretty much nonexistent, so it was more of a sightseeing tour than a “game” per-se. However, I have heard that it was incredibly influential upon its release and was mind-boggling in terms of the capabilities of CD-ROM Technology (apparently the Tex Murphy adventure games have stated they learned a lot from the kind of things Freak Show pioneered).

        As for the Gingerbread Man, how I’m told that one worked was that you put in the disc and you could view the videos for all the different characters that appeared on the album. However, when you chose a character to view, a bust of their head appeared in the middle of the screen, and using the keyboard and mouse you could “manipulate it” so that different imagery would appear during the video (you could move the bust around, change the backgrounds, bring up hidden images, and so on). Apparently the keys binded randomly every time you played, so that pressing a key on the keyboard would have an entirely different result each time you played. It’s been described to me as more of an “interactive music video” than a game, but apparently it works with the music very well. People have even gone so far as to say it is “nightmarish”!

        Sadly I have played neither of those, and Bad Day on the Midway is far closer to a “game” than either of those were, but it would seem they’re all neat little projects in their own ways.

        • http://kittysneezes.com Rev. Syung Myung Me

          Cool — I kinda feel that we did those ones a bit of a disservice (especially Bad Day and Gingerbread, as I think Freak Show started out as a normal album that was then made into a CD-ROM, where the others were developed at the same time as CD-ROM and album), since none of us were ever able to actually see the multimedia content. I think part of the thing with Gingerbread Man for me is that the songs seem a little flabby — but I would wager that that’s because in those kinda dead sections of each of the songs, it’s because something’s going on visually. It’d be really cool if there was some way to bring that type of thing back, but I don’t quite know what the 2012-equivalent of CD-ROMs are, particularly in the cases of the less “game”-y titles.

          I mean, I know there are still computer games, of course, it’s just that that particular… style? Seems to have kinda moved on. Like, I couldn’t see Adventures of the Smart Patrol being made today. (Or, well, an alternate universe version where that one worked out and was actually a game.)

          • Owen

            Freak Show did, as you said, start out just as an album and have the multimedia projects applied to it afterwards. I think the Gingerbread Man project is probably the greatest loss in terms of the music/visual combo, because the Residents obviously found it important enough to the experience to package them together with the original issues of the album. It’s a shame that many people can’t access that content anymore because technology’s come so far since then that many computers can’t actually play something that old. As far as Bad Day goes, I think that it’s more legitimate to criticize that on its own merits apart from its game content, because although the music was made for the game, The Residents evidently felt that it stood out enough on its own to be released as a CD album, and as such it seems fair to me to judge that outside of the context of the game.