Characteristically eerie, detached, and ironic, the Residents' first album in four years is a collection of skewed pop. Like other Residents albums, it's all over the place, traversing the plangent "Loss," the dreamy "Caring," and "Mickey Macaroni," a ridiculously catchy kids' song with a razor's edge. The lyrics are often murky and unsettling, even when the music is soothing: "Neediness" starts smoothly, like a classical chorale, devolving into an unsettling swirl; "Wolverines" juxtaposes Balkan strains with Vincent Price vocals to create a carnival-like atmosphere. The Residents are masters at twining thrills and terror, and even though this album seems superficial at first -- many of the 28 tunes are more tantalizing than satisfying -- the hooks come fast and furious, and they stick, making the ride substantial. This is surrealist San Francisco pop from a band that's been around, and on the edge, for 30 years.
Word is that the Residents, who have never identified themselves and who appear exclusively as eyeballs dressed in top hats and tails, will tour this fall. The theatricality of this subversive record suggests that the group's stage act will be a spectacle unlike any other. The band's publicity claims the Residents have been together, without personnel changes, from the start. Clearly (make that opaquely), the Residents still have much to communicate.