Review: WB:RMX

Cover of "Wb: Rmx"
Cover of WB:RMX

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:  Before there were The Residents, there was The Warner Brothers Album.

Well, before The Residents called themselves The Residents, there was The Warner Brothers album. There was also Baby Sex, Rusty Coat Hangers for the Doctor, “Ballad of Stuffed Trigger,” “I Hear Ya Got Religion,” and hours of other tapes by the hippies from Shreveport, Louisana who would eventually be known as The Residents. Of these recordings, 1971’s The Warner Brothers Album is the most famous. (The most infamous is probably Baby Sex whose tape box cover featured an obscene image of a woman fellating a baby boy. I am not making this up.) It was sent to Hal Halverstadt of Warner Brothers Records, famous for working with Captain Beefheart, in the hopes of getting a record contract.

Hal sent the tape back.

As the band sent the tape anonymously, the return package was addressed to “Residents,” thus birthing (by way of “The Residents, Uninc.”) the official name of the group. This story entered Residential lore, and the mythical status of the tape was further cemented when the band said that, under no circumstances, would they ever release even a second of it. It didn’t stop them from playing it on the radio at least once, though. Beyond that, the tape stayed in the band’s vault, where Renaldo of Renaldo & The Loaf fame had his picture taken with it. There, supposedly, it would stay, never to be heard from again. Fast-forward to 2003, when a purported MP3 copy of the tape appeared on file sharing services. Was it real? Was it fake? The Cryptic Corporation never said, but indicated quite strongly that they objected to anyone downloading unreleased Residents material, and threatened legal action on those who did.

300 words later, and I still haven’t explained or reviewed WB:RMX. Don’t worry, I will.

Eventually, cooler minds prevailed, and in response to the leak, The Cryptic Corporation announced that they would release, officially, The Warner Brothers Album

…just not in its original form. Enter, WB:RMX.

Imagine, if you will, Meet The Residents, crossed with house music. Only good. Chopped up samples from the original Warner Brothers Album tapes are mixed with new sounds, old sounds, and new sounds that sound old. The hooting, clanging, and squawking sax that define the first few Residents albums, as well as The Warner Brothers Album (not that I’ve heard it, as far as you know) makes a grand return here, as do all the silly voices you’ve come to expect from early Residents works. The voice we eventually come to know as The Singing Resident appears on a bellering, twisted cover of Bob Dylan’sMaggie’s Farm” that eerily presages some of The Residents later twisted covers. The brief snippet of a cover of “Strawberry Fields Forever” that opens the disc presages even more.

However, some of the band’s juvenilia doesn’t age well. Take “A Merican Fag” which is based around the none-too-clever couplet of “Everyday I masturbate on an ’merican fag / he loves it but sometimes I feel it makes him gag” which could have been skipped without losing anything of value. Thankfully, “Baby Skeletons and Dogs” and “Oh Mommy Oh Daddy” both manage some amusement in their lyrics, over sinister dance beats and instrumentation. “Love Theme from a Major Motion Picture” surprises with some great piano playing by the one Resident who could actually play piano, and its presented mostly straight to boot. Not every cut is a winner, but when it works, it’s easily as good as the best of the band’s 2000’s material.

I don’t know if WB:RMX is something that should be listened to by anyone but a true fan. Exposure to the original source material is not vital to enjoying the disc, but it does improve it—not that I would know anything about that. Even with knowledge of the original, it’s often hard to tell where the old ends, and the new begins.WB:RMX sounds exactly like what you would get if you took a group of snot-nosed punks with limited musical experience, but boundless creativity, and set them loose in a recording studio—and then had another group of more mature, former snot-nosed punks guide them them. It’s the best of the old and the new, give or take a track or two.

Rev. Syung Myung Me:  The history of The Warner Brothers Album is really interesting — Rich did a good job about explaining it, but he did leave out one bit: It’s rumored that the Cryptics themselves did the original leak.  Apparently the handle of the original leaker on Napster could be interpreted to belong to that of a Cryptic — I couldn’t find the post on it, but I think it was something like Hardy01 or some such. Officially, the Cryptics were against such leaks, but it does make one wonder.  It could be an “official leak”, or perhaps the name was just coincidence, or maybe it was just someone playing a joke.  The Warner Brothers Album had been played on the radio back in the 70s, so someone could have taped it back then and that’s the source of the leak.  Who knows, and ultimately, who cares?

Regardless, it’s interesting, and though it’s clear why the Residents tend to regard this as embarrassing baby pictures, it’s still pretty good.  It’s even rougher than Meet The Residents, but there’s lots of potential there.  Probably Hal was right to not sign the Residents at this point, but they weren’t a total write-off… well, obviously, as we’re still talking about them and listening to stuff by them 40 years later.

WB:RMX is a pretty cool album; it’s a punchier version of the original (OR SO I HAVE HEARD?!?!), a bit edited down, rearranged and remixed.  It’s probably still a fans-only release, but at least it’s a bit more palatable to a non-fan, I would think/hope.  Given the state of the record industry now, I still doubt that if a band anonymously submitted WB:RMX to Warner Brothers when it came out that the band would get a record deal… but at least it wouldn’t be quite so clear they weren’t quite ready.

Also, a while ago, I did a silly little thing about this sort of as an Alternate Universe Thing where The Warner Brothers Album didn’t exist at all and was just part of the Residents’ mythology, and then someone else recorded it as a hoax… then the Residents found it and remixed that hoax recording.  So not based on truth, but I still find it amusing.

Aila:  OK. That’s a pretty accurate two-letter review of WB:RMX from me. For true fans of The Residents, however, it’s probably at least ‘interesting’ as well.

Since this is a remix album and I haven’t heard the original material, it’s hard for me to assess things on that level. But since the original is a demo tape the band made before releasing any music in the early 70s, I’m guessing this is a fairly radical remix. Much of the music sounds in place with electronic music of the 2000s, when this record was actually released. Trying to decipher the source material is probably pointless, but I did at least think about it while listening. The main feeling I got from that is that this remixed version is almost certainly a major upgrade. Most of this I’m on the verge of actively liking in terms of the music, but sometimes the song underneath pokes out a bit too much and I’m reminded – no, I actually DON’T like this! “Ohm Is Where The Art Is” is a great example of this. I mean, honestly, the title of that track alone is enough to make me want to throw an anthropomorphized eyeball down an abandoned well. That said, most of this is actually pretty listenable. It starts out fairly strong, and certainly doesn’t sound like any of the other Residents albums I’ve heard to this point. And there is a very noticeable lack of vocals on most of the material here, something which is almost always a positive for this band in my book. But there isn’t really anything special about this record, unless you are a fan and/or are familiar with the source material (I’m guessing). I wouldn’t turn this off if it were playing, I might even enjoy parts of it, but I also wouldn’t bother to re-listen voluntarily.

Overall, WB:RMX is probably an album that will only be truly enjoyed by hardcore fans of The Residents. It’s also somewhat palatable for people who probably wouldn’t be able to stand the band’s other work, but it’s really not very representative of the band as a whole. For my part, I didn’t completely hate it, which probably makes this a (slightly) positive review.

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  • Owen

    Are you guys going to keep doing this project? I was looking forward to see how you guys felt about albums such as Animal Lover and Tweedles.

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

      We are! Just with the holiday, we took a bit of time off from it. I’m thinking we’ll start up again either next monday or the monday after. (or thereabouts, anyway.)