The Residents

The King & Eye

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Given that the Residents had always been working towards finding out ways to take songs from 'traditional' sources and doing something with them/to them/about them, a whole concept album about Elvis Presley is, perhaps, not too surprising in retrospect. By all accounts, the stage show and tour the group mounted at that point was one of its most fascinating, but as an album this might seem a little too tame or forced. The lead singer's exaggerated Southern drawl may be used to make a point throughout -- and to his credit he's not actually trying to imitate Elvis per se -- but the feeling is almost a bit lazy and often contemptuous, a joke that doesn't quite work. The arrangements are something else again -- everything's slowed down and stretched out to turn the implicit joy of the music chosen into something looming and strange. If there's something which is at once a problem and a perverse advantage to the album, it's the band's choice of musical approach at that time -- namely, very '80s technology through and through, then semi-state of the art keyboards and drum machines. They're used to approximate Tom Waits' approach to music at his most spookily cabaret-like without actually sounding like Waits, and set against the familiar lyrics it's a combination that's at once head-scratching and creepily effective. When vocals and music combine just right the results can be at once contemplative and disturbing, as in "Return to Sender." The occasional skits throughout telling the story of 'the baby king' are more bemusing than anything else, but somehow fit in well enough. This isn't deathless Residents, and eventually grinds down with its fairly one-note approach, but it still has its points.

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