Some bands are easy to describe, you know why you love them,you know why you buy their T-shirts, you know why you put their songs in your personal charts and think about getting tattoos. And then, ladies and gentlemen, there are The Residents. Even if you have never heard this art project/emotion amalgam, you have probably seen them on posters or in magazines, just great big eyeballs wearing top hats. No one knows who they are or what they look like, their interviews are done by a spokesperson, hell this film tells you that sometimes they were not even in their own videos, supplanting dancers instead, because, why not? At times, they feel like a Warhol dream and at other times a pure Cronenbergian nightmare.
I first heard of The Residents around the time of grunge, I guess Kurt was talking about them and me and my friend Ant were listening to Primus who often referenced them. And MTV had a news piece on their artshow/album Freakshow. For a Fangoria reading horror fan who was falling down plenty of musical rabbit holes, this seemed too good to be true. Of course in the modern age, you can just go to Spotify and get whatever Residents records you want, but back then they were difficult to learn anything about, ironically except for what MTV was feeding you. I remember being in the Oxford Street HMV with my dearly missed dad and just standing astounded in front of their Residents section, a myriad of different ideas, different styles, each more bizarre than the last. And expensive, I remember them being expensive, CDs at thirty quid a shot, you were not going to fall into this world casually, once you became a fan of The Residents, you were in for life. I bought The Residents Commercial Album, which turned out to be an extensive collection of one minute songs, like the entire top 40 was made up by songs from just one band. I ate it up.
Theory Of Obscurity still makes you feel like you are part of a special family, like something out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre perhaps, but stunning and original at every turn. Les Claypool of Primus is obviously here as is a bigger hero of mine Dean Ween of the classic band Ween, who like The Residents will follow a three minute pop song on their records with a 15 minute noisescape. The joy just seeing Dean Ween go out fishing and smiling with his catches is worth the price of admission alone, hey if you are a fan of the eyeballs, you probably were not expecting your usual talking heads to pop up. It is interesting too to see Penn Jillette who played the narrator in The Residents Mole Show epic and he basically thanks this opportunity for his act later with Teller. Most of the interviews are with artists who may have just turned up to see The Residents one day and ended up taking part in a piece of art. It is interesting to see the museum dedicated to the band as well as The Museum Of Modern Art’s exhibit on the band, which features all of their albums and an original eyeball, displayed in a fridge. Yes, really. Is it just telling you that arthouses merely keep old artworks cool rather than letting them out to play or is it suggesting that all music is devoured in the same way as that pot of mayonaise that you suddenly needed? The beauty of Theory Of Obscurity is that you leave it with just as many questions as you had going in, that again is the magic of the band, some of the footage will make you laugh, others wll give you chills down your spine, the only thing you won’t do is fail to have an opinion. There is love of The Residents or there is not. Nobody on the planet ever heard The Residents and thought “Hmm, that is alright, I might check out more…” and that is why you need this film. And maybe a tattoo.