Review: The Bunny Boy

The Bunny Boy
The Bunny Boy (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:  The Residents “Storyteller Era” has been a mixed bag. The albums are typically not much more than concept albums, or attempts at radio drama that just… don’t work. It’s been a lot of stumbling in the dark that leads to the final record of the era, The Bunny Boy. More than just an album, The Bunny Boy combined online videos, email interaction, and a live tour featuring “Bunny” himself, a middle-aged, bearded, sympathetic weirdo in Coke Bottle glasses, with an affection for rabbits. But, I get ahead of myself. First, we should talk about the story.

At some point before the album, Bunny’s brother traveled to Greece, specifically the island of Patmos. There, he became convinced that the world was going to end, and disappeared, sending Bunny boxes full of material about the coming apocalypse. Bunny took to the Internet to seek help in locating his brother, and a mysterious “dark man” in some photographs from Patmos. Supposedly, The Residents discovered Bunny and decided to help get his story out by recording an album and taking him on tour, spreading his story to a wide audience, along with his series of YouTube videos asking for help.

The story of The Bunny Boy is only laid out partially in the album, and in a fragmentary approach that puts songcraft over narrative, but that’s a good thing in this case. When a song doesn’t deal directly with the story, it gives us a wonderful character portrait of Bunny, one of the most compelling characters the band’s come up with. He becomes real, even though he’s clearly The Singing Resident, and nowhere was this more apparent than on the live tour, when Bunny himself came onstage to sing, and four people in tuxedos and full-head black masks made music as The Residents.

Arkansas (The Residents album)
Arkansas, another Bunny Boy related album – featuring a picture of Bunny’s lost brother Harvey on the sleeve. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Compelling as the album and tour were, the ancillary material from the project, including Bunny’s YouTube videos, weren’t quite as great. Bunny’s videos eventually became a bit indulgent, though I did enjoy them slipping in things only serious Residents fans would notice such as the addresses of the three studios The Residents have had over the years on letters Bunny received from fans. The supplemental soundtrack album to the videos, Postcards from Patmos isn’t great either, though providing an empty second tray for your original Bunny Boy CD was a smart idea.

But what about the album? Typically, when I spend the entire album talking about stuff other than the music, it means the music itself isn’t that great. Not so here. The Bunny Boy is easily among the The Residents’ best albums, with several amazing songs that stand alone without the conceptual background. “Boxes of Armageddon,” “Rabbit Habit,” “Butcher Shop,” and title track “The Bunny Boy” are a mix of all the things The Residents excel at. Even without a fleshed out story, this would be a great disc, but it is the story that gives The Bunny Boy an extra nudge. If the “Storyteller Era” had to lead somewhere, I’m glad it lead to this.

The cover of Is Anybody Out There on DVD
The cover of Is Anybody Out There on DVD

Rev. Syung Myung Me:  I’m very glad to report that The Bunny Boy ends a little bit of a dry spell for the Residents.  The Voice of Midnight could have been been really awesome, but it was torpedoed by the poor performance from the lead non-Resident vocalist, so I’m very happy to report that the singing Resident is back in the lead here on The Bunny Boy.  Rich goes over the basic story; he does leave out the framing, though — which is that Bunny was a real person who was a friend/hanger on of the Residents in the early days, and sent them a video (an excerpt appears on the DVD Is Anybody Out There?, a re-edited collection of the YouTube videos) that they based the story of the album off of — and then re-made/used as a springboard for the YouTube series.

Of course, it ends up getting kind of murky as the Residents often do.  YouTube Bunny (a/k/a The Singing Resident) set up a real email address, and fans could indeed email him.  He’d often respond with quick one-line replies in all caps with many mispellings and frequent apologies.  An example, from when I asked if he was the guy “Monkey & Bunny” was about:  “DER MAR IM SORY BUT I ONLY NO ABUT THE BUNIES AND NOT SO MUCH ABUT THE MMONKEY FROM BUNNY”.  I did ask Bunny about music he liked, and he turned me on to Moondog, so there’s that, too!

The thing I find the most interesting about The Bunny Boy as an overall project is how it really did seem to be a prelude into the current era of the “unmasked” Residents.  While Randy Rose (the singing Resident) has a tumblr and Charles Bobuck (the composer of the music) is on Facebook, Bunny was the first time fans could actually talk to a Resident.  Sure, the Resident was in character, but seeing as “Bunny” recommended Sun Ra and Moondog to me, I figure there’s at least some amount of the Real Resident there too.  I know I mentioned the seeds of this in the Demons Dance Alone review, about the live version of “Life Could Be Wonderful” and the visible wedding ring seeming to reveal a bit more about the real people behind the Residents, but I find it really interesting how they’ve reached out.  If you’d told me that I could ask the Singing Residents questions about, say, the Intermission toothpick photo back when Demons came out, I’d never believe it in a million years.

The sleeve art to Postcards From Patmos, the Instrumental disc of Bunny Boy material, sold separately.
The sleeve art to Postcards From Patmos, the Instrumental disc of Bunny Boy material, sold separately.

ANYWAY: I realize I’ve written a whole ton about this album and the corresponding videos without actually talking about the album, and I have to say, that I quite like the album as well.  Of the corresponding CDs that go along with it, the actual album is the best — Postcards From Patmos is OK, as is Ozark, but The Bunny Boy is where it’s at, musically.  “Boxes of Armageddon” is catchy as hell, and a great image, and that’s only the first track.  I’m not sure if The Bunny Boy loses a little something when you’re not caught up in the videos and emailing Bunny and all that stuff — but I do think it is a pretty great album that holds up on its own.  I’d recommend it… but I’d also recommend picking up the Is There Anybody Out There DVD along with it.

Aila:  You know that feeling you get when you experience something that you can understand is pretty good in it’s own right, but you’re just not really into it? That’s the feeling I get when listening to The Bunny Boy, which is probably one of the better latter-day Residents albums. It’s pretty good for what it is, but I’m just not into it.

Like the vast majority of Residents albums, this is another concept album. This is also one of the somewhat incoherent concepts, which seem to comprise about half of the band’s records. The concept was supposedly expounded on via online means (which I don’t really have the energy or interest in investigating, to be honest), and it all has something to do with a missing person named “Bunny,” and it’s ambiguously also about the band itself, apparently. Heh. It’s a typical dark theme for The Residents, and even if it’s not entirely understandable it is executed pretty well here. The music in particular is well-produced and composed, and there’s a chance I would genuinely enjoy an instrumental-only version of the album. The vocals are the same largely irritating garble from the main singer, although they are a little toned down here somehow, which can only be a positive. “Patmos” is a rare example of a track I found both enjoyable and not ruined by the singer’s vocals in any way. It’s probably my favorite overall track – other highlights include “Secret Room,” “Secret Message,” and the instrumental “I Like Black.” They certainly manage to capture what I can only imagine is the intended morose atmosphere on some of these songs, like the closer “The Black Behind,” but I just can’t bring myself to care about any of the words. Yeah, I get it, guys – everything is black, blah blah blah. I suppose it could be a lot worse – pick one of the odious “goth” Gary Numan albums from the last couple decades, for instance. At least the Residents always attempt something interesting, even if it isn’t appealing to everyone who listens.

The Bunny Boy might actually be a decent measuring stick in terms of Residents albums – if you listen to this and love it, then you’ll probably also like a lot of the albums I didn’t enjoy. If not, there might be Residents music you’ll still like, but there will be a lot to avoid as well. This is one I can’t give an entirely negative review, because I recognize it’s pretty decent in context, but it’s probably not one of the best albums they’ve done. It is possibly the most polished version of a certain brand of nebulous concept albums The Residents have been dancing around for years.

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One comment

  1. Chris Evans

    Yes, the best Residents album in years (and years and years)… harkening back to the days when they were legitimately frightening and unpredictable, not just in terms of content but musically, as well. (And that was back in the late 70s, I’d say.)Some would argue that they’ve been making “horror music” all along, but I say, where was the heart? THE VOICE OF MIDNIGHT (though decent) was pastiche, homage, and resolutely tongue-in-cheeck. TWEEDLES? Dark, maybe, and definitely gross – but disturbing? Eh.THE BUNNY BOY has a lot of heart – a lot of genuine unease about it – and, best of all (and unlike many Residents concept albums of the recent past), it’s far more suggestive than explicit… electing to paint an abstract portrait of violence, psychopathology, and quasi-supernatural phenomena, rather than telling a linear and obvious “story”. I approve. Listen to “Pictures From A Little Girl” or “The Dark Man”… just some spooky shit. To match the narrative, the music is also deeper and more complex than the usual streamlined cabaret of 00’s Residents projects… and more melodic. It’s true that “Rabbit Habit” and “The Butcher Shop” are unlikely to get any Top 40 play, buuuut I still find myself listening to them quite often, and they rattle around the brainpan.It’s not often that you can trace the influences of The Residents to anything outside of their own warped psyches (unless they’re taking the piss from something). Here, for once, I receive some recognizable echoes, from (among other places) Baladalamenti/Lynch and Goblin. No complaints, there. I’ll take it.If you guys are touring again, do me a favor and stop by Buffalo. Only like the 30th or 40th “largest” city in the United States. Please?

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