The Residents are a writer’s dream, really. Having to achieve a certain word quotient for each review, my job is made so much easier by bands who deliver interesting and unusual releases with fascinating backstories. And in that respect, The Residents always deliver. You see? That makes fifty words already!
Their latest long player (having released over 40 of the buggers!) is based on a series of actual news articles which the band unearthed from the late 19th and early 20th century which highlighted the dangers of train travel. Many horrific tragedies have been recounted and re-interpreted musically, and the overall effect is at once creepy, disconcerting and uncomfortable. Sometimes, things get so intense that it feels as though you are part of the wreckage, trapped in the moment before being engulfed in flames like the poor victims of many of these cataclysmic events.
The stories are varied, such as ‘The Crash At Crush‘, which recalls the story of William George Crush’s intended publicity stunt in front of a huge audience in Texas. The idea was to put on a show in which the collision of two locomotives was staged as a kind of spectacular extravaganza. I mean, what could possibly go wrong there? Told from Crush’s perspective (“I did not mean no harm, nor cause to be alarmed/I can’t escape the fact of Buster’s broken back“) with erratic fairground melodies and harrowing spoken dialogue, it is the musical (and railroad) equivalent to the most sinister of schoolboy campfire ghost stories. That is, perhaps, in essence, what The Ghost Of Hope really is. If it was designed to test the listener’s mettle, it truly is a rip-roaring success. I, for one, haven’t felt this creeped out by anything in a long time! And this is probably one of the least sinister on the album.
Later on, we have the intriguingly titled ‘Train VS Elephant‘, the tale of a Malaysian mammal who charged and derailed a train between Taluk Anson and Tapa in 1894, either to fiercely protect his territory or as an act of revenge for the bull’s calf, which had been killed by the same train not long before. This is arguably the most dramatic composition, coming across like part of the score to a major Hollywood movie in which the beast will, sadly, but inevitably, die.
‘Shroud Of Flames‘ sounds like a brainwashed Devo, unblinking and unthinking, forced to repeat macabre mantras ad infinitum and features the tale of the passenger carriage of a slow moving train in 1884, containing women and children, becoming a blazing fireball and killing all on board. Quite frankly, this is an utterly horrible, chilling album, yet somehow, also somewhat compelling. This is brazen rubbernecking in aural form, and, while fascinating, if you actually enjoy it, I would have to seriously question your mental psyche. Honestly, I feel like I need to watch a few videos of kittens frolicking mischievously now…
The Ghost Of Hope is released on 24th February through Cherry Red.
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