If you’ve ever been lucky enough to fall down The Residents’ rabbit-hole, then you’ll know just how annoying, frustrating and god-damn brilliant their catalogue really is. Time, space, names and places go out of the window as soon as you dip your toe in, and then you realise that there are so many different twists and turns and misdirections across their career that you can end up driving yourself mad. And that’s exactly how they want it.
The Residents are a group of shadowy individuals, none of whom have ever confirmed their status as members of the band except a man named Hardy Fox, who passed away in 2018. Shortly before he died, he revealed that he was one of the primary songwriters for the band, and the band later confirmed that he had indeed composed “much of the Resident’s best-loved work”. So Metal, Meat & Bone – The Songs Of Dyin’ Dog is the first (double) album in the post-Hardy era, and the band enter into a new future on the back of it.
There are lots of ‘new’ things to be experienced across the set too: this is being touted as the first Residents album to feature a focus on blues, and blues rock in particular – although they make up for this with a disc of ‘demos’ that actually sounds like the original, 70s-era Residents. So far, so strange. Delve a little deeper into the backstory of the album, and you’ll find that the music is the allegedly made up of the ‘music of lost bluesman Alvin Snow, aka Dyin’ Dog’ and that ‘the group presents their interpretations of all ten of Snow’s known recordings, alongside several new compositions inspired by his work.’
So the first disc is, chronologically, the most recent, and features the current Residents reinterpreting the works of Dyin’ Dog for ten tracks, and then adding on six songs ‘inspired by’ Dyin’ Dog… but it all sounds strikingly similar to recent Residents albums. Die! Die! Die! is one of the more unique tracks on the set, and it features Frank Black (in full Black Francis mode) of Pixies on vocals, and it sounds more like prime-era Pixies than anything he’s done in the past decade. Synth-pop underpins the experimental Pass For White – although it’s layered with aggressive, abrasive guitars, while Bury My Bone and Dead Weight verge on industrial/EBM in their electronic intensity, and there’s an exquisite weirdness to Midnight Man. As for highlights, look out for Cut To The Quick, which is one of the Residents songs ‘inspired by Dyin’ Dog’. It offers up the same kind of eerie Weimar cabaret that you’d expect to find on a peak-era Tom Waits album, and is probably the best track on either disc.
The second disc, made up entirely of the ten surviving blues demos of Dyin’ Dog and the Mongrels, is essentially an homage to the rough-edged blues stylings of Captain Beefheart, shot through with the visceral urgency of Howlin’ Wolf. Foremost among the selections on the second disc are River Runs Dry and Hungry Hound, which both offer the kind of oddball skronk you’d find on the first few Beefheart albums, and I Know, which gives the game away by sounding a little too close to the Residents of yore.
All typical Residents nonsense aside, this is actually a great entry point into the long and bizarre career of one of the world’s most underrated avant-garde bands. The second disc is a superb primer for the key Residents releases of the 70s, while the first gives a great account of where they’re at nowadays.