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The Residents

Cube-E Box: The History Of American Music In 3 E-Z Pieces pREServed

Review by Gary Hill

This new box set celebrates an interesting era in the history of the Residents. With three albums they brought their own flavor to three types of American music - or perhaps movements. The first was the cowboy mythos and song. The second was gospel music. Finally they took on the legend and legacy of Elvis Presley on American music. We get various recordings and interpretations of all this music over the course of seven CDs. Interestingly the Elvis Presley stuff includes Residents' versions of songs he made famous interspersed with skits involving a grandfather talking to his grandchildren about the story of a baby king.

The music here all comes in a cardboard clamshell box. Within that box, each CD has a cardboard sleeve, and a large and informative booklet ties it all together. Much of this is previously unreleased. I should say that I include this act under prog more from the art rock scope of their concept and music, but honestly, this largely fits under just about any definition.

You will find bonus video footage of this release is available at the Music Street Journal Youtube channel here: .youtube.com/watch?v=1HgF6dOxDgU

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 1. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
One: Buckaroo Blues Live In Amsterdam
                 
From The Plains To Mexico

Dramatic keyboard textures bring this piece into being. It grows outward from there with a dark and twisted element. The vocals come in over the top. It gets to be fairly potent before it's all over, turning rather driving.

The Theme From Buckaroo Blues
More keyboard based music is on display here. This is a rather short instrumental.
The Stampede
There is a dramatic and rather menacing vibe to the keyboard textures on this number. The vocals come in to complete the picture as the song works outward. This piece is a dynamic one, working through differing themes and representing different moods. It gets powerful at times. There is a lot of symphonic texture to the piece.
Trail Dance
I dig the cool electronic prog vibe of this. The track has a lot of drama and style built into it. It's another classy instrumental.
Bury Me Not
With a bouncy, weirded-out cowboy music vibe to it, this is a rather bouncy and tastefully strange piece.
Cowboy Waltz
There is actually a bit of a waltz angle to this instrumental piece.
Saddle Sores
Imagine combining the music from a soundtrack to an old Western with Residents weirdness. I think you are probably hearing this tune right now in your mind.
The Theme From Buckaroo Blues (Reprise)
We're back into instrumental zones on this keyboard based number.
Bonus Bucks
                    
Oh! Susanna

This is an electronic instrumental version of the old Stephen Foster song. It's a pretty classy piece.

Buckaroo Blues (Studio Instrumental)
This piece is more than 19-and-a-half-minutes long. It comes in with some cool, more mainstream, electronic prog. It works out to a more driving movement that calls to mind things like Synergy. This continues to evolve as it works forward. There are definite classical elements to this a lot of the time. There is a slow moving, soundtrack-like movement around the half-way mark that has a decided electronic prog vibe to it. It drops to a section that almost feels like animals crying out. From there a new electronic prog movement emerges to take control. As it works forward there are some odd sounds that emerge at times, including something like cartoon gun shots. The cut gets more energized with a bit of a playful edge as those sound effects become more prevalent. It changes to a movement that has a beauty to it, but also a little menacing edge. That movement ends it.
From The Plains To Mexico (Italian Version)
There is a dramatic, symphonic vibe to this. This is classy.
From The Plains To Mexico (Night Music)
I love the spoken introduction at the start of this piece. I'd consider this version to have even more drama than the previous one did.
Buckaroo Blues Theme (Live In London, 2001)
There is a driving percussion and a rather rocking vibe to the piece, but symphonic Residents weirdness is also on display.
From The Plains To Mexico (Live In New York, 2002)
This is a big change from earlier version. The vocals at the start are of the female variety on this piece. It's a lot darker and more twisted somehow, too. It drops to a more stripped back arrangement for the male vocals. There is a more symphonic rock vibe to the cut as it works through the song proper.
Bury Me Not (Live In San Francisco, 2011)
There is a noisy and chaotic movement of space-driven sounds as this cut begins. This piece is about nine-and-a-half minutes long, making it more or less epic in scope. It has extended non-vocal movements, punctuated by those that include vocals. This is one of the most artistic and tastefully strange pieces on this first disc. It has things that come over like a weird harmonica solo, lending variety and drama to it. There are some really noisy movements, too.
From The Plains To Mexico (Live In San Francisco, 2018)
Electronic elements seem to serve as counterpoint to louder, distorted guitar sounds.
Two: Black Barry Live In Amsterdam
                     
The Gospel Truth

A strange vocal tapestry starts this. The cut moves out from there into artsy weirdness. As you might guess this channels odd gospel.

Shortnin' Bread
A vocal heavy arrangement brings this number into being. It works there into a driving sound that has rather screamed vocals over the top. This is dramatic and insistent.
Black Barry
A short cut, this is just layers of weird vocals.
Forty-Four
Dramatic electronic textures open this. The vocals join as it drives onward.
Engine 44
Coming out, almost like an extension of the previous cut, this has some hints of jazz and more symphonic prog in it. It builds to some real powerhouse zones, and is a killer instrumental track.
New Orleans
There is a bouncy kind of keyboard groove to this freaky instrumental number.
Voodoo Queen
Carrying a lot of the themes and sounds of the previous cut, this builds on those elements in a powerful way. I dig the piano work on this song a lot.
What Am I Gonna Do?
This comes out of the previous track. Growled and screamed vocals are heard over the top of a classic Residents musical arrangement.
Organism
Another that comes in directly from the previous one, there are some lush and powerful keyboard moments built into this piece of music. It gets pretty involved before it's over.
Bonus Barries

              

Wistful Break

A driving, percussive movement opens this. The cut works out into some killer musical zones from there as it continues.

Voodoo Queen / What Am I Gonna Do? (Rehearsal)

The title and parenthetical pretty much tell you what you get here. There is a vibe to this that's more organic.

New Orleans (Studio Jam)
I like this quite a bit. It has a great driving rhythm and some killer melodies.
Household Work
Tuned percussion brings a bouncy, almost tribal vibe as this gets going. The number evolves from there, but that element remains.
Amazon
There is a real tension to the piece. It conveys a symphonic soundtrack type ethos.
Fever Dream
This does really feel like it's title - weird, a bit frightening and surreal. It's also pretty frantic.
The Toy Factory (Fanfare Mix)
There is a bouncy, playful vibe to this that's appropriate given the title. This is another that makes me think of Synergy just a bit.
Ghost Music
I dig the ghostly sound effects on this (theremin?). There is a driving, pounding kind of element at the core, too. This is another classy instrumental.
Forty-Four (Live In San Francisco, 1997)
Driving Residents class, the processed vocal that comes in on the chorus as a contrast to the regular sneered voice is an interesting touch.
Forty-Four (Live In Nantes, 2014)
This version of the track is much more of a straight-ahead techno rock type of piece. While this is more mainstream (well, as much so as you can get for the Residents) and features some screaming hot guitar work, I prefer the other musical concept. We get some strange soundtrack-like riffing on musical themes at the end of this that's cool.
Black Barry Dynasone
The sounds of scratched vinyl opens this extended piece. The sea of vocals rises up and we get sort of a remix vibe as an "ow" vocal is looped. This weirdness drives upward creating and up-tempo and noisy musical concept. Other elements join as it works its way forward. They work it out into a cool jam that combines a more mainstream blues rock element with pure Residents oddity. That takes it to almost a false ending around the halfway mark of the nearly 13-minute track. It shifts to a new movement with growled vocals. The cut keeps evolving as it grows and continues.
Three: The Baby King Live In Amsterdam
                       
Ober

Powerful keyboard textures bring this into being with melodies that includes the theme to "2001: A Space Odyssey." The track works forward with an almost church music vibe. It shifts toward more of a playful rocking groove. It gets into some seriously powerful symphonic prog zones further down the musical road. This instrumental is classy. "2001" returns at the end.

The Baby King Pt. 1
Delicate and fast-paced keyboard textures open this. Theatrical voices are heard as the cut works forward. It is a musical theater linking piece.
Don't Be Cruel
Yes, this is The Residents doing the Elvis Presley tune, and it's just exactly as strange as you'd expect. Other than the words, you'd barely recognize it in the early sections. They turn it into some powerhouse prog rocking zones built around noisy keyboards later.
Heartbreak Hotel
Here we get another Elvis song. This starts mainly with the vocals and builds gradually outward from there.
Fool Such As I
Here we get another old tune getting the Residents weirdification treatment.
All Shook Up
By now, you know what you are getting here. This one is more effective than the Elvis tunes that came before it. It tastefully tweaked and twisted and packed full of strange magic.
The Baby King Pt. 2
We get a different musical theater skit section.
Devil In Disguise
Dark and angry, this is another Elvis song. It's done with a real twisted sort of industrial prog approach. This gets pretty heavy and crazed before it's over.
Burning Love
I dig this cool number. It has some great keyboard textures and vocals that seem to convey pain.
Teddy Bear
Twisted and strange, this is more instantly recognizable as the Residents with the yelled vocals. It gets pretty noisy.
Viva Las Vegas
Driving and edgy, this is another strong tune. It's tastefully strange, but also oddly compelling.
The Baby King Pt. 3
We get another skit part.
Love Me Tender
I love the keyboards playing the melodies on this song. This one works pretty well and does a good job of merging the original song with the craziness of The Residents. It gets really weird and twisted in a crazed part later that includes a loop of "Blue Suede Shoes."
The Baby King Pt. 4

Here we get another skit section.

Hound Dog / Out
Bouncy keyboard textures bring this number into being. It builds out from there with style and charm. There is a mainstream rock sound served up like a sampled loop late. It's again "Blue Suede Shoes."
Bonus Babies
               
Don't Be Cruel (Video Edit)

I really like this version of the tune. It has an almost Devo vibe to it in some ways. Of course, the vocals are unmistakable as The Residents.

Don't
Another keyboard heavy piece, this is tastefully strange.
Surrender
The organ sound is a nice touch. This has a driving motif that's more purely rock based. It gets driving and a bit crazed later.
Burning Love (TELE5 Demo)
I dig the driving, pounding rocking vibe on this demo.
Burning Love (TELE5 Performance)
This is so cool. It has a techno electronic approach and works really well.  The louder section mid-track is so cool.
Ober (Live In Australia, 2005)
This has a real symphonic prog texture as it drives outward. It's a solid instrumental piece.
Teddy Bear (Live In Australia, 2005)
The music is more sparse for a lot of this cut. The vocals are of the female variety, and the music does eventually rise into harder rocking zones.
Teddy Bear (Live In San Francisco, 2018)
The vocals on this one are the typical male ones you expect, but they do sound a bit processed. Harder-edged guitar sounds drive a lot of this number.
Four: Buckaroo Blues & Black Barry Live In San Francisco
                
Buckaroo Blues

This is an extensive cut that runs through the "Buckaroo Blues" suite of music. It plays for almost 25 minutes. The Twentieth Century Fox opening music plays as this starts. A symphonic sort of arrangement rises up from there. It turns toward artsy instrumental zones as it continues building before it twists to strange and rather unsettling zones. The vocals come over the top of that. After that piece runs through the audience applauds before the band launch into the next one. That one starts more like a folk rock piece in some ways. Keyboards and sounds like a twisted coyote are heard as the number works outward. After it turns more driving and dramatic  the vocals join. A cool instrumental break as the vocals end bring some real power and charm. The vocals return as they continue to move the number onward. This cut works through the various songs and musical themes that make up the sonic concept piece. There are some decidedly pretty sections along the road here. You get sort of a condensed version of the earlier album, a highlights package, really. It has a different tone and sound than the other take in a number of ways, too.

Black Barry
The gospel elements really come to the fore in great ways as this number gets going. I love the more organic chanting kind of approach on it. It does for "Black Barry" what the previous epic did for "Buckaroo Blues." This is eight seconds longer than that opening epic. This thing gets particularly epic at times, and I really love the "Forty-Four" section. There are some particularly strange and yet effective passages along this road. This whole thing is quite a ride. I really love the full=on prog instrumental section that comes in late. 
Five: The Baby King Live In San Francisco & Recklinghausen
                  
The Baby King Beginning

The Baby King suite begins with the "2001:..." theme. It grows outward from there. They move into something that sounds like "Hit the Road Jack." There are sounds like gun shots heard along with a synthetic choir sound. The piece continues its evolution with this extended instrumental movement. The number is almost 19-and-a-half-minutes long, so there is plenty of room to stretch out and explore. Various melodies and themes emerge as this marches ever forward. There are some classically inspired movements here. We get a return to "2001" as it approaches the seven-minute mark. After the music winds down we get a skit dialog section. From there the Residents-do-Elvis cavalcade begins. This is classy and entertaining, and I'd have to say that I prefer the Residents' versions of these songs to the Elvis renditions.

The Baby King Middle
Even more extensive than the previous one, this is almost 22-minutes long. This comes in with one of the Elvis songs, and then it shifts to another skit. More reworked Elvis songs emerge as it continues. There are some decidedly heavy and dark moments that work so well. After it works through a montage of Elvis songs, we are taken into another spoken skit type approach.
The Baby King End
Another round of Elvis music emerges as this third movement begins. This is the shortest of the three at a little over 14-and-a-half minutes of music. After about half of the length, it drops to another skit. More Elvis music emerge from there. We get into Western movie soundtrack music further down the musical road. That movement ends it.
Plus
              
Mr. Skull’s NYE Song

An electronic version of "Auld Lang Syne" brings this into being. The cut works out from there with more layers augmenting it. Cool synthesizer textures take over after a time. Some piano emerges, seeming like it might take over, but then drop away. The cut begins to intensify, gaining energy and tempo. It continues to evolve with sounds that make me think of something like Synergy.

Untitled
After about three-and-a-half minutes of silence we get an interview with Hardy Fox.
Six: The King & Eye
                    
Blue Suede Shoes

Starting acapella, a bouncy kind of groove emerges after those first vocals. This Residents take on Elvis is pretty darned effective and cool. It gets pretty crazed before it's over.

The Baby King Pt 1
This skit portion is less freaky than other versions of it.
Don't Be Cruel
Percussion starts this number. It works out to a tasty electronic Residents take on the classic tune.
Heartbreak Hotel
I really like this version a lot. It combines a powerful vocal delivery with some cool percussion and keyboards.
All Shook Up
This gets heavier via some guitar, but overall isn't a huge change from some of the others here. That said, it's still very strong.
Return To Sender
This is a cool and tastefully dark version of the old tune.
The Baby King Pt 2
Again, this skit seems less weird and freaky than the other versions we've heard.
Teddy Bear
Percussion brings this into being. Some piano and atmospheric layers are added as the vocals enter. The arrangement is sparse and rather dark. The song has a plodding sort of momentum to it.
Devil In Disguise
I dig the contrast between the slower movements and faster ones on this number. The guitar solo is a killer, too.
Stuck On You
Bouncy and fun, this is a cool little number. There are jazz elements on this number. It also has some definite symphonic edges in the instrumental movement later.
Big Hunk O Love
While there isn't a seismic shift here, the guitar solo movement lends some serious hard rock to the cut.
A Fool Such As I
Keyboards and vocals make up the bulk of this bouncy tune.
The Baby King Pt 3
Another skit section, the backing music on this feels like it would fit in the soundtrack of an 80s action movie. The spoken dialog works well.
Little Sister
There is a rocking electronic groove at the heart this number.
His Latest Flame
With some classy electronics at the heart, this number includes some mainstream female singing to complement the more standard Residents vocals.
Burning Love
I dig the dramatic keyboard arrangement on this. The tune works really well.
Viva Las Vegas
This is harder rocking than a lot of the rest. It's also one of the strongest pieces on this particular disc.
The Baby King Pt 4
Here we get the next skit piece.
Love Me Tender
With audience sounds in the mix as it starts, the instrumental version of the cut includes some synthetic voices. The real vocals come in after a time, and the song intensifies as it moves forward. This gets into some crazed weirdness at the end including a sample of "Blue Suede Shoes."
The Baby King Pt 5
Here we get the final skit.
Hound Dog
I really like this one a lot. The organ playing works well, and the rhythm section drives in with style. The whole thing just gels with style, and the guitar fills really push it over the top.
Bonus Kings
                         
Dog Glue

With some percussive elements at the start, this is a bouncy kind of jam that has a real 80s keyboard sound at its heart. Yet, it's also along the lines of Synergy and acts like that. It's a cool instrumental.

Jailhouse Rock RMX
This remix brings some dance music vibes to the cut. Yet, I'm reminded of things like Kraftwerk, too. The vocals are trademark Residents. I really love this piece.
Surrender RMX
There is a dark and mysterious vibe as this track opens. It turns out to more of a standard dance mix approach from there. The percussive elements on this don't really work that well for me, seeming too busy.
Heartbreak Hotel RMX
With an extended keyboard introduction, this powers out into some killer prog meets dance jamming from there. This is one of the most effective tunes here, remix or not.
Little Sister RMX
I dig the cool electronic groove on this number. It really has a great dance music vibe at its core. This is another standout.
Burning Love RMX
This remix is moody and weirder than the others. It's also packed full of class.
A Fool Such As I RMX
This feels more Residents like than some of the remixes do. There are some hints of country music in the mix on this thing.
Seven: The King & Eye Demos
               
Blue Suede Shoes

With more of an organic vibe than the final version has, this starts with vocals and piano adds a lot to the mix. It gets demented and a bit angry as it continues. It gets into some pretty driving weird zones further down the road.

The Baby King Pt 1
This version of the skit includes just the voices with no embellishment.
Don't Be Cruel
I dig the driving, 80s styled keyboard arrangement at the heart of this version.
Heartbreak Hotel
This is a fierce demo of the piece.
All Shook Up
Starting with a clip of a Presley interview, we hear the sounds of a ship after that. The cut comes up from there. It's more of an expedited Residents sound at the heart of this one.
Return To Sender
Keyboards and vocals make up the arrangement on this twisted and dark piece.
The Baby King Pt 2
Again, this skit just includes the voices.
Teddy Bear
Keyboards and vocals make up the concept of this number here. It's pretty much trademark Residents.
Devil In Disguise
There is a dark and dangerous angle to this one.
Stuck On You
With some symphonic bombast built into it, this is a cool cut.
Big Hunk O Love
The art rock concept here has some definite punk and hints of Devo. It's pretty crazed and cool.
A Fool Such As I
Built around a fun and rather bouncy arrangement, in some ways this is more mainstream than some of the rest. Yet, it's tastefully twisted and weird. It has plenty of electronic music in the mix.
The Baby King Pt 3
You know what you get here.
Little Sister
I dig the 80s rocking concept on this. The guitar sound almost makes me think of King Crimson in some ways at times, but it also gets even heavier and more metallic. I think I might like this version better than the final one.
Burning Love
Fast-paced keyboard jamming brings this into being, and the vocals come over the top of that. The track gets heavier later and has some killer strangeness built into the mix.
Viva Las Vegas
Heavy and trademark Residents, this is another classy tune.
The Baby King Pt 4
Here we have another skit.
Love Me Tender
Percussion and a synthetic choir makes up the extended introduction here and remains as backdrop when the vocals enter. Some keyboards rise up to join after a time as the arrangement begins to fill out. It threatens to power out, but instead drops back to where it came from to continue.
The Baby King Pt 5
We're back to the skit zones.
Hound Dog
There is a twisted dance groove as this comes out of the gate. Energetic and fun, I like this one a lot.
I Can't Help Falling In Love With You
The vocals seem to convey a lot of pain and emptiness. The music is tastefully weird.
Don't
Keyboards make up the central instrumental concept behind the vocals on this number. This twists into some seriously strange territory.
Surrender
An energetic keyboard groove is at the heart of this number. The arrangement fills out in classy ways further down the road.

 

 
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