It may be safe to say The Residents are not too fond of their pre-Meet The Residents material. Maybe it's not the music itself which, like here, can always be radically reinterpreted. Perhaps they just prefer to move forward rather than dwell on past glories/atrocities. At one point they even denied that the 'first four' recordings existed but as 'The Residents' are a mythical band I guess they are allowed to write their own history. This highly intriguing recording has being launched upon the world with little warning using the recently created Residents Blog to inform and tempt us (a future strategy?). Unlike the recent pricey limited editions it should remain available and is, at the moment, being sold at a knockdown price.
The original Warner Bros Album was recorded in 1971, so the question which springs to mind is: why rework and release it now? The answer could be to do with the popularity of p2p (peer to peer) file sharing software like Kazaa, Soulseek etc. Some time ago a recording of the WBA disappeared from the vaults and bits of this have recently appeared in mp3 form on the net. Despite its creators' wishes the thing is out there, undoubtedly with even worse sound quality than the rough and ready original. The response has been not to release a cleaned up WBA, but a work which remixes/reworks the original to such a degree that we, and crucially 'they', can consider this a new recording. So, past not dwelled on, spunky new material available, rabid fans acknowledged and, since this is not a double pack of old and new versions, I think we have been given the clear message that the WBA, and probably the other early stuff, will never be released (though I wouldn't bet my life on it).
So, what's it sound like then? If they'd knocked out some new tunes and layered some samples from the original over the top that would have sounded ok but this is much more than that. Solid, coherent, a perfect hybrid of two eras floating around in time. I've the feeling a lot of work has gone into getting everything sonically level. If the original material, recorded on a crappy reel to reel by all accounts, was coarse and flat you'd never know it here. Whole phrases from WBA seem to have been sampled and then 'played' creating new tunes or variations, and the old vocals sound like they've being fed through 'virtual' plug-ins. As for the newer stuff, The Residents do not balk when it comes to throwing mangled, delirious bits of world music, hip hop and techno into the mix, making for a very upfront and confident album.
I love this album. If you could go back to 1971, find some sarky snot-nosed punks who can't play but have the attitude, whisk them into the present and let them loose with todays technology (under the guidance of some older and wiser snot-nosed punks) it would sound an awful lot like this.