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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Residents

The Residents' Mole Box

Review by Gary Hill

This new box set is really great. Over the course of several years in the 1980s The Residents set out to record and release a multi-album concept project. Three studio albums were ultimately released (which were said to be the first, second and fourth album of the trilogy). All three of those albums are included here. There are also two live albums and a set of bonus bits. The Residents might not be what you think of as traditional progressive rock, but I can't imagine hearing this and not thinking that it's prog. It's very out there. It's also very cool. I have done retro reviews of the three studio albums and the first live album, as they were all released as individual sets. Those are in this issue of Music Street Journal, too. I would highly recommend this box set as the acquisition of choice, though. It comes in a clamshell box with a great booklet. Each of the studio albums includes bonus tracks. Then there is an additional concert album and the set of rarities. You don't have all the bonus stuff even if you have the original albums.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc One: Mark of the Mole
When this was released in 1981 it was to be part of an ambitious project, the Mole Trilogy. It was to be an epic tale of two colliding cultures told through a series of albums. This has a very artistic, but also incredibly strange sound. Yet, it works well.
Voices of the Air
Dark, trippy and electronic, this is tastefully strange. There is a moodiness to it that is quite cool. There are some voices from the radio in the mix, appropriate to the title.
The Ultimate Disaster
There is an industrial, experimental, electronic vibe to this cut.  The thing is, this is almost nine minutes long. That much space gives them a lot of room to do different things, and they do. It doesn't stay in any one place too long, but rather makes its way through all kinds of differing weirdness. Oddly enough, a section around the seven-minute mark almost sounds like some of the more experimental stuff from the Beatles. There is some harmonica after that, too.
Migration
There is a building, rising kind of vibe built into this track. It feels like a continuation of the previous one in a lot of ways. Another extensive cut, this has a lot of changes and range. There are some parts that almost feel tribal, in a weird surreal way.
Another Land
Somehow this electronic piece seems more scenic in a way. That said, there are dark symphonic elements at play, too. As it approaches the minute-and-a-half mark a female spoken voice is heard, and the music climbs into some ominous science fiction territory. It works through several shifts and changes from there.
The New Machine

There is a real science fiction vibe to this, too. Parts of it call to mind some kind of processional, too. The cut works toward more industrial territory further down the road as it really gets a bit noisy. The new machine rises upward from there with a strange science fiction hopefulness. Trippy, fast paced, noisy weirdness takes over at the end and segues into the next piece.

Final Confrontation

Coming out of the last one, some voices come over the swirling fast paced arrangement. The cut resolves out into another arrangement that even has some hints of jazz in its weirdness. There are some Asian leanings at times, too. The cut builds out to more of a rocking arrangement from there. At nearly ten-minutes long, this is an extensive piece, and they make good use of that time, packing a lot into this thing. Around the half-way mark it seems to end, leaving just a background rumbling. It rises upward with strange keyboard textures from there. That transitions to more weirdness, and it then turns a bit spooky before a false ending happens. A new, playful section emerges from there. This evolves in strange ways at it works forward.

Res Dance '82 - Live in the Studio

          

Voices of the Air
Pounding and industrial, this is so cool in this format. It's stranger than the other version, but also stronger, I think. It gets kind of grooving in the faster paced jam later.
The Ultimate Disaster

Rising up with an almost fast paced chiming vibe, the voice that comes in has a real evil, almost monstrous vibe to it. The cut continues to evolve from there in style. Somehow this feels more unsettling and darker than the other version.

Migration
Somehow this almost feels more mainstream in this live telling. That said, it's also decidedly weird and alien in nature. It is dynamic, as well.
Another Land
This is noisy, bombastic and quite evil sounding as it drives onward. I like this better than the version on the studio part of the album. It is so dramatic and powerful.
The New Machine
Keyboard textures bring this into being, and the cut works outward from there. It becomes quite trippy and suitably strange as it grows. The keyboard dominated movement around the halfway mark brings a different flavor, but the cut gets weird and noisy from there. After a pounding section there is a spoken movement that works really well.
Final Confrontation
The guitar bits on this are cool. The cut is still strange, but almost seems less odd than the other version did. It's also one of the most easily accessible pieces on this first disc. Yet, it's dark, psychedelic and cool. About mid-track a barking dog sound heralds a change to more of a driving kind of rocking mode. A high-pitched, noisy journey into strangeness later is a bit jarring. That dissolves into more noisy strangeness.
Disc Two: The Tunes of Two Cities
The second album of a planned series that were intended to work as an extensive concept work, this is a bit more accessible than its predecessor. There is definitely more jazz in the mix, too. Yet, it is still decidedly The Residents with all that tasty weirdness that implies. I like this album better than the one that came before, but it's actually really close.
Serenade For Missy
Horn sounds bring this into being. As it moves forward the cut takes on a playful kind of jazzy arrangement. It feels like a twisted sort of version of 1940s music.
A Maze of Jigsaws
This thing is noisy, creepy and so cool.
Mousetrap
More jazz starts this. The cut grows into a vaguely playful kind of number that seems a bit like the opener, but with a much more twisted and strange nature at its heart.
God of Darkness
Percussive and alien sounding, there is something that feels alive to this number. There is a strange tribal element that emerges later .
Smack Your Lips (Clap Your Teeth)
Bouncy, jazzy and quite tasty, I like this number quite a bit. It has a real playful kind of vibe to it in the opening section. Noisy guitar textures drive over the top for a time around the one-minute mark, but they drop away and the track continues in a similar fashion that which started it.
Praise For The Curse
Percussive in nature, this has a cool trippy element as it starts. It gets into some noisier electronic territory as it continues driving forward. It drops back down, but there is a new entity heard in the percussive arrangement as it continues. As it gets more rocking, it seems twisted and altered in weird ways.
The Secret Seed
There is a fun sort of percussive element here. It's like weird dance music.
Smokebeams
Jazz, rock and more merge on this cool jam. It has a real retro vibe, but twisted through the odd sonic vision that is The Residents.
Mourning The Undead
Percussive and electronic, this is tastefully strange.
Song Of The Wild
Keyboard dominated and almost processional, this is intriguing.
The Evil Disposer
More percussive, there is a weird tribal element at play on this track. It gets noisy and a bit unsettling.
Happy Home (Excerpt From Act II Of "Innisfree")
Electronic and both jazzy and classical in nature, there is a more mainstream element to this cut in a lot of ways. Mind you, it's still suitably strange and twisted. It is The Residents, after all. There are some rather operatic vocals that lend weirdness, and also tie this into the previous album.
Bonus Tunes
       
Open Up

I dig the crazed kind of classical meets jazz element of this piece. There is some intriguing guitar and some generally cool musical textures.

Anvil Forest
Percussive, noisy and cacophonous, this is cool stuff.
Scent Of Mint
Vibraphone sounds are a big driving factor here. There is a playful weirdness to the melodic arrangement on this number.
1982 Rehearsals
              
Smack Your Lips

I dig the bass at the start of this. The cut has a real rockabilly edge to it. That gets quickly shifted to more of a typical (what does that even mean, really?) Residents arrangement. The noisy guitar is cool. This one of the more mainstream things here, and it's a lot of fun.

Song Of The Wild
There is a real symphonic vibe to this version of the piece. There is definitely a demo quality to this.
Happy Home

This is considerably stranger than the final version. It's still very cool, though.

Res Dance '82 Live in the Studio
           
God Of Darkness

Dark and weird, this is very cool.

Smack Your Lips
I love this version. There is a real light-hearted kind of vibe to it, and the guitar section is so meaty.
The Secret Seed
This alternate take works well.
Happy Home
I really like this version. It has such a cool dark and twisted element to it.
Disc Three: The Big Bubble
The third (although it's called the fourth in the trilogy) in a planned series of albums from The Residents, this is my favorite of the three. It's much more vocal based (in fact, only one track is sans vocals), but the vocals are strange. Of course, what do you expect from The Residents, really? There is a real symphonic edge to it. This disc actually wanders into real prog at times, too. It also features a song that has become one of my favorites from this band, "Cry For The Fire."
Sorry
This has a real twisted and dark vibe to it. When the voices are intoning how sorry they are, it creates a sense of danger because of the weird nature. This feels like you could be peering into the mind of someone who is criminally insane. The music at the heart of it adds to that vibe. Then, after the two-minute mark the cut shifts gear to more of a noisy rocking jam. It's still suitably weird and dark.
Hop A Little
A weird voice seems to combine rockabilly and yodeling. The music comes in with suitable strangeness as that voice continues to drive it with some insane sounding riffing.
Go Where You Wanna Go
The voice is a bit part of the strangeness of this. Musically it has a dramatic and dark symphonic texture.
Gotta Gotta Get
A weird combination of scat singing and world music vocals seems to be at the heart of this. The cut has dramatic rather classical music as accompaniment. It's dark, strange and so cool. This twists out from there into a driving, powerhouse jam that has some cool piano along with some screams. There are symphonic elements over the top, too.
Cry For The Fire
This has a lot of vocal orientation early, but after a number of changes it works out to a powerful progressive rock based jam that's quite symphonic. More scat singing type vocals come in over the top. This is so strong, and actually one of my favorites from the Residents. I love the cool guitar fills late in the number, too.
Die-Stay-Go

The vocals and instrumentation seem to work both in unison and counter-point. This track is so cool and also so odd. It's dramatic, quite classical and powerful.

Vinegar
Freaky vocals and dramatic, yet strange music, merge here. There is a twisted world music vibe. This also has elements of symphonic soundtrack music. Yet, later sections bring a bit of a rock and roll vibe. There is some cool energy and driving sound later in the song.
Firefly
There is a bit of a driving rock intensity to this cut. It also has some of that symphonic element at play.
The Big Bubble
A weird vocal opens this and some electronic symphonic music joins as it continues. This is artsy, odd and so cool.      
Fear For the Future
I dig the powerful, driving, almost classical musical element at the heart of this thing. There is a lot of musical exploration on this piece. There are rock elements and things that feel more like soundtrack music.
Kula Bocca Says So
Driving with a real classical edge, the vocals are suitably weirded out. They remind me a bit of Magma, actually. This turns to a much more traditional symphonic meets world music arrangement as it approaches the closing. Then it shifts toward a dark and ominous element as the arrangement gets louder. Rocking textures emerge from there. This is another highlight of the set.
Bonus Bubbles
        
Jingle Bell

I dig the rocking grind on this quite a bit. There are some symphonic elements, but overall this is more of a mainstream rock number. That said, it has plenty of prog tendencies. It also includes some weird bits of "Jingle Bells" in the mix at times.

Untitled
With a lot of vocals and a decidedly percussive arrangement, this is another track that makes me think of Magma a bit.
Kula Bocca (2-Track Demo)
This is strictly acapella and pretty darned cool.
Die-Stay-Go (2-Track Demo)

Another acapella mix, this is strange and makes me smile for some reason.

Cry For The Fire (Sketch)
Another mostly acapella take (there are some weird monster like sounds in the mix later), this is so odd.
The Big Bubble (Live, 1986)
They open this with a real rock and roll vocal section. While this live take is mostly vocal, there is some cool instrumentation along the road.
Hop A Little (Live, 1986)
There is a real crazed vibe to the vocals on this thing. The music gets dark and heavy. There is an almost insane feeling to this track at times. It has a tendency to be jarring, but also powerfully effective.
Cry For The Fire (Live On Norge TV NRK)
A weird and noisy rocking arrangement is on hand here. The pained screaming drives this in evocative ways. An acapella section later makes me think of Magma. I dig the guitar driven section later, too. When it powers out from there it gets so powerful. The guitar soloing that comes in during that powered up movement is just plain classy. This live take rivals the studio one, and as mentioned previously, I love that. This is just about worth the price of admission all by itself.
Die-Stay-Go (Live In San Francisco, 2011)
Drums bring this into being. Guitar comes in with an almost modern King Crimson edge. The vocals bring some crazed texture. This is high energy and driving rock music. It gets screaming hot as it drives into some killer guitar led stuff. The keyboards lend some intriguing textures over that, though. This thing is so intense and crazed.
Disc Four: The Mole Show Live At The Roxy, 1982
This, as you can probably gather, is a live album from 1982. The Residents are captured in all their weirdness and in fine form. Penn Jillette (yes, that Penn Jillette) serves as sort of a narrator between songs, or at least that's what you are supposed to believe. In fact, there is more to it. He gets more obnoxious as the concert goes on, eventually completely losing it, but that's all part of the show.
Voices of the Air
This comes in percussive and bass drives it. The vocal that joins makes me think of Yoko Ono. That holds it for a short time, but then the male vocal enters and we're taken on an intriguing ride. This is strange and quite electronic.
The Secret Seed
I love the cool electronic concepts of this piece.
"Welcome..."
This is just a short spoken introduction to the show.
The Ultimate Disaster
I love the dark, freaky concept this cut has in this live version. There is a lot of psychedelia at play here. The creepy circus music later is a great touch.
"Rather Flashy..."
Here we get another spoken bit.
God Of Darkness
Trippy sounds are on display here with a real weird science fiction vibe.
"Mole Style..."
Jillette is back out to continue the story.
Migration
A more purely proggy jam is on hand here. The vocals are low and a bit raw, but also so cool. The cut works through some changes as it moves forward. I particularly like the keyboard based movement around the half-way mark. It works out into some dramatic proggy stuff from there.
Another Land
This seems to come out of the previous cut, bringing some cool electronic prog elements along with some symphonic leanings.
"That's All We Need..."
Jillette is back here.
The New Machine
Electronic elements bring this into being. This is quite dynamic and theatrical.
"A Real Complicated Ending..."
Jillette is back here, and this is where the whole thing seems to go off the rails with a major rant that earns some parental advisories.
The Song of the Wild
Electronic textures bring this into being with a mellower, proggy arrangement. The cut grows out from there in style.
Final Confrontation
Coming out the previous track, this is an oddly infectious piece. It's a cool rocker that's decidedly proggy in a lot of ways. It works out to frantic, noisy craziness further down the road.
"We Had To Borrow Money From Our Parents..."
This is another skit bit. It's a crazed one, too. It earns another advisory.
Satisfaction
Here we get The Residents doing The Rolling Stones. As you might guess, this is no "normal" cover, though. It's even more twisted and tweaked than DEVO's version - by a long shot. In fact, you'll likely have a hard time finding much of the song intact. There is some cool noisy guitar and a lot of twisted texture here.
Happy Home
Seeming to come out of the previous number, this has a decidedly keyboard based arrangement. As it drops to something more playful we get some Yoko Ono like vocals. This track makes its way along a strange and oddly compelling road.
Disc Five: TheUncle Sam Mole Show: Live in Washington, D.C., 1983

This live album may have been just a year later than the show on the previous CD, but the sound was much different. This seems a lot more polished. Penn Jillette was replaced in this show by the band's manager, Bill Gerber. The music here generally seems closer to the studio versions of the songs.

Voices of the Air
I dig the extended electronic introduction here. This sounds much more like the studio version as it gradually makes its way outward.
The Secret Seed
This is another that seems closer to the studio take.
"Good Evening..."
Here we have the first spoken section of the show.
The Ultimate Disaster
The dark, heavy sounds of the cut work well here. This has some dense and rich sonic tapestries as it carries forward. There really is a big difference in sound from one year to another, with this again sounding much closer to the studio version. It's dynamic, complex and powerful.
"Those Were Four Songs..."
Here we get another spoken section.
God Of Darkness
A pounding rhythmic element opens this. The cut moves out from there with a theatrical, effect that again seems pretty close to the studio take.
"More Religion..."
Here is another spoken section from the narrator.
Migration
I dig the driving, dark proggy texture of this number. Again, this seems much truer to the studio version of the piece. The complexities and power of the song work well here.
Shorty's Lament (Intermission)
Percussive elements are upfront amidst electronic and more.
Smack Your Lips
Bouncy and fun, this is cool. The guitar work is crazed and edgy prog meets weird fusion.
"We're In Chub Land..."
Here we have more spoken stuff.
Another Land
This comes in with a dark and dramatic keyboard based sound. It has a real classical element to it and a very menacing feeling. The track works through the varying sections, again feeling pretty close to the studio version.
"Things Are Going Fairly Well..."
The spoken parts start to show signs of becoming disgruntled here.
The New Machine
The keyboard textures that start this are decidedly proggy. This is theatrical and classy as it continues to work forward. This gets into some pounding, powerful and crazed territory further down the road. It gets loud and driving further down the road.
"A Giorgio Moroder Scene..."
Here we get a return of the narrator.
The Song of the Wild
The keyboard sounds open this and move it forward. It's a cool interlude before the chaos of the next tune.
The Final Confrontation
Proggy, theatrical and rather crazed, this is cool stuff. It is complex and extremely powerful, moving through quite a few different things. Some electronic madness takes over later in the piece.
The Singing Resident Needs Something
The narrator segment here is completely off the rails.
Satisfaction
Somehow this version is more recognizable than the one on the previous disc. That said, it's still twisted and crazed.
Happy Home
I dig the keyboard textures that start this cut and hold it as it works forward.
The Star Spangled Banner
Here we get a twisted and bizarre take on the US National Anthem.
Disc Six: Miscellaneous Mole Materials
The final CD here includes a number of odds and ends that all work quite well.
MOTM Mix One Concentrate
This is an epic piece that is over twenty-five minutes long. This seems to be sort of an encapsulated version of the Mark of the Mole album (at least it has some sections that are recognizable as being part of that), but that makes sense given the title. There are a lot of cool sections in this. As you might expect, it's dynamic. I think I actually like this more than the actual album. It's more decidedly proggy in this format.
Lights Out (Prelude)
Percussion brings this into being. It grows out from there in a cool jam that's a bit mysterious at first. There are some screams that come over the top as it continues forward. The piece works through some great shifts and changes as it gets more melodic. Still, noisier elements rise up further down the road for a time. It drops down to another percussive movement from there, but starts building back out again.
Shorty's Lament
Another percussively dominated piece, this has female vocals and is quite cool. There are spoken male vocals in the mix further down as this marches forward. It gets dramatic and powerful as the arrangement fills out, too.
The Moles Are Coming
I love this song. It's dramatic and powerful. It has a driving element to it and is very proggy.
Would We Be Alive
I like the driving rocking vibe. The vocal lines are oddly infectious. This is more of a straight rocker in some ways. That said, you only get so "straight rocker" from this band.
The New Hymn
This is more of a melodic number. It's classy and, while still having plenty of Residents trademarks, is more purely prog than some of the rest.
Another Another Land
Speaking of purely prog, this keyboard based instrumental is both proggy and melodic.
Now It Is Too Late
Dark, twisted and evil sounding, this is a creepy cut.
Going Nowhere
Suitably strange and dramatic, this is another strong piece.
From MOM1
This is so freaky. There is a weird processed voice that runs parallel to a more traditional one.
Satisfaction (Live In The Studio)
Coming in percussively, this grows out with typical Residents weirdness from there. The song is more recognizable here than on the first version. The vocals have an almost growled approach, though, closer to that 82 version.
Marching To The We
There is a processional, marching kind of vibe to this. It's very recognizable as The Residents. It's also very proggy. The vocal section mid-track brings a darker edge to this. This number gets very powerful before it's over.
Would We Be Alive (Live 2005)
I dig the electronic edge on this a lot. It has a driving Residents sound to it.
Marching To The Sea/Intermission (Live 2013)
This live version is symphonic, dramatic and powerful. This gets quite rocking before it's all over and done.
 
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