God in Three Persons

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:  Where do you begin with an album like God in Three Persons? Where do you start with what may well be the masterwork of The Residents middle period? Perhaps with that. Let’s not mince words. This is the best record The Residents produced in the 1980s. This is one of the best Residents albums of all time. This is an amazing, beautiful, sad, haunting, frightening, intense, adjective-laden experience of an album. This is an album that marks a turning point in the music of a band whose oeuvre has never been a straight progression to start with.

God in Three Persons stands apart from the rest of the band’s 80s output. It has more in common with their recent story-based releases like The Voice of Midnight and The Bunny Boy, as well as having roots in Not Available. It tells the story of a Colonel Parker-type shyster named Mr. X, and a pair of conjoined twins–one male, one female—who have mysterious powers of healing. Mr. X discovers them, befriends them, exploits their powers for profit, and falls in lust with the female twin. The result is a story of dualities power dynamics, gender and sexuality, tragedy and trauma that comes to a literal and figurative climax of horror. I won’t spoil it for you, but be prepared to be shocked.

With the title, one might expect to hear musical references to the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy,” but instead—after a suitably dramatic organ and drum introduction, God in Three Persons begins with the hook from “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” playing up the dualism theme in the story. You may recall when I reviewed The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll, I pointed out the cover of “Double Shot,” and told you that you would hear it again. The “Double Shot” hook is a leitmotif of the record, appearing in many ways and styles. In fact, a companion single to the album was a straight—for The Residents, at least—cover of “Double Shot” in the God in Three Persons style which ranks right up with the best of the best Residents cover songs.

Aside from the “Double Shot” riff and bombastic opening, the music is mostly spare and atmospheric, playing to the strengths of the computer-based compositions they were doing during this period. The Singing Resident doesn’t so much sing here as deliver the lyrics in a spoken, talking blues way that suits his voice well. The heavy vocal lifting is handled by collaborator Laurie Amat, who acts as a Greek Chorus to the story, and sings the album’s credits on the opening track. (No. Really.) A mostly instrumental version, the God in Three Persons Soundtrack was also released, retaining most of Amat’s vocals, but dropping The Singing Resident’s. It’s a slightly less compelling listen, but it shows the complexity and skill brought to the recording, and the new, tight and lean Residents sound that would follow in the coming years.

This is an album you need to hear, whether you’re a fan of The Residents or not. Set aside an hour. Put on headphones. Let the story soak into you. There are only two negatives about God in Three Persons in the Residents canon. The first is that Snakefinger was set to do the guitar parts on the record, but died of a heart attack while on tour in Europe before he could. A Resident does provide suitably Snakefinger-ish guitar in parts, but one can only wonder what could have been. The other negative is that was a dead-end project for the band. There’s the album, the soundtrack, the attendant singles (including an inexplicable dance remix of “Kiss of Flesh” called “Holy Kiss of Flesh”), and that’s it. “Their Early Years” was performed on their 33rd Anniversary Tour of Australia, but nothing else came of it. So, God in Three Persons stands alone in The Residents canon, a beautiful, sad outpost on an uneven sea. Listen.

Aila:  God In Three Persons might be the best of the Residents albums. It’s not perfect, but the music comes closer than anything I’ve heard so far. I don’t think it’s turned me into a full-blown Residents fan by any means (the more I listen to these albums and do these reviews, the more I realize I’m… not a huge fan), but I’d have to say it’s very good by any standard, not just in the context of The Residents.

There are annoying quibbles to be had with this one, as in all the others, but it’s probably more down to me than anything. The main Residents singer is my biggest annoyance concerning the band, and although he’s way toned down in this one, he is essentially the main character / narrator of the story. There’s just something about his voice that rubs me the wrong way. I know I keep going on about it in these reviews, and I doubt it’s something most other listeners would care about, but I really just want him to shut up sometimes. There isn’t a Residents record I’ve heard so far that wouldn’t be improved by his vocal absence. What he has to say is rather important in this one though, if you care about the story. To be honest I probably didn’t get all of it, but it’s a story concerning an unsavory character named Mr. X, who appears to be obsessed with and lusting after a set of supernatural conjoined twins, who apparently turn out to be of ambiguous gender. It’s interesting, and creepy in a way that really, really suits The Residents, but it’s not what I liked most about this record. What I liked, possibly loved, was the music. The first track, the intro “Main Titles (God In Three Persons),” is pretty cheesy, replete with a cheap-sounding drum machine, and sounding as though it were recorded on a not-very-special 4 track. But the music is very engaging. And the music gets better as the album progresses. The piano is often rhythmic, which is something I’ve always personally enjoyed, and the other sounds complement things perfectly. The female backing vocals also work well, and provide the album’s only singing. I probably would enjoy this album more as an all-instrumental. Luckily there is an instrumental version of the album, which is probably the one I’ll stick with in any future listens, although I should probably give the original another chance, just to get a bit more detail in the narrative. By the end of the album (“Pain and Pleasure”), the narrator appears to have had some kind of epiphany, which would probably be easier to understand had I payed more attention to the lyrics. Instead, it just makes me feel like punching the main vocalist guy in the face (can you tell I irrationally hate him?). Honestly I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this one, but I really liked the surface, and most of what I’ve seen of what’s underneath is pretty interesting too.

God In Three Persons is definitely one to get if you’re in the market for Residents records. It might be THE one to get, I don’t know. It might even be worth a listen if you don’t care for The Residents. As an intro it’s probably a little tricky, just due to the nature of this kind of concept album / audio play, but I can’t find a whole lot of ways to fault it while trying to remain at least somewhat objective. This is very near or at the top of my list.

Rev. Syung Myung Me:  This is one of my all-time favorite Residents records.  While I don’t think the Residents themselves classify it in the “Storyteller era”, it’s a definite precursor, and I still think the best of them.  In college I thought about doing a few bits as monologues, and well, doing things that would make me do monologues in the first place, but that never happened.  The Residents have always been great at poetry — Duck Stab has wonderful lyrics, even if they’re in a nonsensical vein mostly, and Commercial Album even has some wonderful gems in those minute containers — but this is some of the prettiest writing from the Residents.  The last bit of “Pain and Pleasure” is amazing: “For pain and pleasure are the twins/That slightly out of focus spin/Around us till we finally understand/That everything that gives us pleasure/Also gives us pain to measure it by/And I also realize/That all our lives we love illusion/Neatly caught between confusion/And the need to know we are alive.”

The story is moving too — it’s sad, frightening and human all at once.  Mr. X is not a nice man, but he is a sympathetic character despite his flaws and horrible actions. I suppose being the narrator of the piece means you get to tip things in your favor — but even still, Mr. X doesn’t whitewash his story either.

I often think of God in Three Persons as the first in a new era of the Residents.  Perhaps Stars and Hank might be the true start as it’s likewise clean sounding, but God in Three Persons is so different from what came before and one of the peaks of the Residents.  Honestly, I cannot recommend this album enough.  It is downright amazing.

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