The Joup Friday Album: The Residents ‘The Commercial Album’

The effect of music on the mind is allegedly secondary only to scent in its ability to transport one to the past. Since my teens I’ve had this project on the back-burner too sacred to discuss, where I seek out albums that transport me to another world. I’m not talking about your marijuana or ‘Wizard of Oz’ enhanced trip to the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, rather that abstract artefact that clearly existed at some point in history, but for which you have no frame of reference; either in the form of anything that sounds comparable in your collection or contextualisation from anyone you’ve ever met.

One Christmas in my mid teens I unwrapped an LP of The Residents’ ‘The Commercial Album’. It was lightly worn along the edges and had a hole punched in the top right corner indicating it had been discounted or was surplus to requirements. I stared nonplussed at these four figures in top hats and coattails, eyeballs for heads, gesturing at me as though to either proudly present their musical stylings or creepily beckon me into their empty, matrix floored netherworld. “Come on in boy, these two green upside-down heads with lobotomised smiles whose eyeballs we are contributing with our own, are having a whale of a time.”

My Dad explained that he had bought me this record because he had wrongly assumed the Residents to be responsible for Barnes and Barnes’ ‘Fish Heads’, which we had stumbled upon one Sunday night, crackling out of some European Long Wave radio station. That had been an awakening too. For the uninitiated, ‘The Commercial Album’ is a collection of 40 songs, that’s right, 40, this feat being possible in 1980 due to the fact that each track clocks in at approximately one minute, or the length of a commercial. It quickly becomes clear that the title is also a perverse joke, since this album has zero commercial potential.

‘The Commercial Album’ squeezed a white gloved hand through the safety and sanctity of Christmas, and friendlily but forcefully dragged me between the cracks into a new anxiety that exists not in that paranoid, primeval-hangover of solitude and dark that we’re all accustomed-to and eventually outgrow, but that ineffable unease some of us are unlucky enough to have detected glowering at you in company and sunlight.

Thanks Dad!

But don’t let that put you off, because there’s beauty here too, in the form of ‘Amber’ ‘In Between Dreams’ and ‘When We Were Young’.

The Residents didn’t go to school, drive a truck, move to San Francisco, form a band, buy a newspaper, tie a shoe or operate a dishwasher. The Residents aren’t four friends or even ‘people’. The Residents have always been here.

Remember, buy it if you like it.

Mr Baker, rouse us from this dazzlingly terrifying, fitful fever dream…

Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.

One Response to The Joup Friday Album: The Residents ‘The Commercial Album’
  1. Shawn C Baker

    Shawn C Baker Reply

    This is one of if not the most beautiful and eloquent forays into describing the ineffable quality that some music takes on in our heads that I, for one, have ever had the pure and distinct pleasure of reading. Thank you good sir.

    Interesting also because as I read this I was taking a break from wrestling with the language to describe something very similar.

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