Album Review: The Residents – The Ghost of Hope

By Jon Fuchs, Music Director
[Cryptic; 2017]
Rating: 6/10

Key Tracks: “Horrors of the Night”

There hasn’t been a band as obscure and iconic in the 20th century than The Residents. With their rich history going back several decades, the mysterious avant-garde group has made over 60 of some of the weirdest albums known to man, inspiring several artists, from Primus, to Ween to even The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening and entertainment duo Penn and Teller. The craziest part about their lengthy career is that they’ve been able to make all these accomplishments while remaining completely anonymous to the public eye, through visual tricks like flashy music videos, strange interviews and their iconic eyeball masks.

The Ghost of Hope, The Residents’ first studio album since 2013’s Mush-Room, is inspired by train wrecks, both literally and metaphorically. Based on actual news articles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the seven tracks spanned across its 47-minute runtime tell stories of ultimate destruction.

The opener “Horrors of the Night” is one of the most surprising tracks in The Residents’ discography, with its heavy synths, banging percussion and creepy synths matching perfectly with the band’s typical chant-like vocal delivery, singing about train cars going out of control and crashing into each other. The final two minutes of the track sets the mood in an even more unsettling direction, with droning instrumentation being the background for a disturbing story of a mother and son being victims to a horrendous train wreck.

“Death Harvest” is a string-heavy ballad/fast-paced rock ‘n roll opera that makes the band’s lead singer sound almost like Rammstein’s Till Lindemann. His creepy poetic tone-turned-extremely deep vibrato is truly different from anything the band’s ever done, especially with its constantly switching instrumentals, which isn’t really common in a Residents song.

The overall production on this record is a change from the almost rebellious feel the band has accomplished throughout their career; Instead, it feels a lot more theatrical, with songs like “Horrors of the Night” and “The Circus Train Wreck of 1918” having layers of audio piled on top of each other. A lot of times, this actually becomes the main problem with The Ghost of Hope, as it never sounds like a pure Residents album. It has a similar anti-popular music feeling to it, but it can get way too theatrical and unlistenable at times. This happens pretty heavily on tracks like “Shroud of Flames”, which gets so overwhelming, it’s tough to listen to.

In The Residents’ lengthy, decade-spanning discography, The Ghost of Hope is nowhere near their best. But its creative narrative concept, booming production and many other classic elements make this worth a listen for anyone in the group’s cultish fanbase. Newcomers should definitely turn to their older records like Duck Stab, The Third Reich ‘n Roll and Eskimo, but anyone who’s been following them throughout their career will be pleased with this album.

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