Throughout their career, the Residents have been storytellers. Many of their releases (if not most) have been concept albums with varying degrees of straight (or not so straight) narrative storyline. The River of Crime takes that a step further, offering what are basically a connected series of radio plays. They're stories from an unnamed narrator whose early childhood obsession with crime stories seems to attract crimes to him (although he maintains he is NOT a criminal, kind of like Tweedles). Each episode starts with an observation or historical background on some subject fascinating to the narrator (the electric chair, alligators in the sewer, perverse child molesters) before the subject matter eventually manifests itself somehow in the narrator's life: the only woman in Louisiana to die in the electric chair lived next door to his grandmother; one of his mother's friends was (presumably) fed to an alligator and the child sadist episode has the narrator himself being accused of molestation. Each episode is told by the narrator as remembrance, but each character (including the narrator as a younger man or child) has their own voice and there's something of a Greek Chorus that furthers the story periodically (a device used by the Residents before). Of course, the 'singing Resident' is the narrator, and the episodes take place in Louisiana (where the Residents are originally from), so is there an autobiographical element to these stories? Since it's the Residents, we'll almost certainly never know for sure (although they've dropped other personal tidbits from Louisiana in recent works like Demons Dance Alone DVD). The episodes vary in creepiness, but the Residents' very dark sense of humor is never far away. The music sets the scenes perfectly (especially the 'Termites' theme), but the second disc of instrumental versions demonstrates that the music works equally well by itself. There is the 'standard' Residents instrumentation, but there are also ambitious orchestral passages (the Film Orchestra of Bucharest appeared on the almost simultaneous release of Tweedles and probably appear here uncredited). Given their penchant for telling twisted stories, it's a bit surprising that the Residents took more than 35 years to eventually find their way to this particular storytelling format, but once again, they show that they're brilliant and unique in nearly every artistic medium.
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AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2