Album Review: The Residents- Freak Show pREServed Edition

Aaron ConnAlbum Review, MusicLeave a Comment

Freak Show album cover

Freak Show album coverNow entering the 1990s, Ralph Records and Cherry Red Records have released the next installment in the Residents pREServed Edition series. For the first Residents release of 2021, the group’s 1990 effort Freak Show has now received the pREServed treatment- boasting three discs filled with more than three hours of music. Freak Show is a unique release in the Residents’ discography and this reissue does it justice.

The album (w/ some history)
The idea behind Freak Show came after the group’s Cube-E tour, which had a disastrous last leg. At that point, the group felt that the media were more interested in the group’s now iconic eyeball masks and the bizarreness of their live shows. It seemed as if no one cared about the music anymore. With this in mind, the group looked to Freaks: We Who Are Not Like Others– a book written in 1976 by  Fox and The Hound author Daniel P. Mannix. Along with the 1932 cult classic film Freaks, the group had the layout for their next album.

Freak Show Comic

Book cover for the Freak Show graphic novel

The songs on Freak Show tell the tales of freak show performers. The opening track, “Everyone Comes to the Freak Show,” lays this out right from the start: “Everyone comes to the freak show/But nobody laughs when they leave.” The stories told on this album are surreal and disturbing- which shouldn’t come as a surprise given this coming from the Residents. All of the song titles are the names of the performers such as “Mickey the Mumbling Midget,” “Harry the Head,” and “Jelly Jack the Boneless Boy.” While we are told the tales of these performers, not all of them are biographical accounts. Some are just stories involving whatever character. The success of the album, however, lead to spin offs such as a graphic novel and a CD-ROM game- which fleshes out the characters more. For the album, the stories are fairly basic.

Musically, this album is fittingly circus and carnival themed. The group were experimenting more in the then-latest technologies in music- specifically computer technology. For Freak Show, the group heavily utilized in MIDI devices. This could’ve backfired for the group in that it could’ve dated the music. However with the theme being circus and carnival based, it works perfectly. The music on Freak Show is fittingly eerie- matching the tone of the stories told on the album. With all of this combined, the songs really paint a picture here.

Bonus tracks

Residents Ty Freak Show

Screencap from Ty’s Freak Show performance for NEC in 1991

As per usual with the pREServed edition sets, the original album is accompanied by bonus material. For Freak Show, there are three discs here. While the first disc carries the original album, there are a few extra songs on there- with some of them only being available before on a CD included with the graphic novel tie-in. These songs are fine, as are the Icky Flix remixes of “Jelly Jack” and “Harry the Head.”

The second disc is the one that diehards will probably be interested the most interested in: all 27 tracks have never been released before. However, this might become tiresome for more casual fans as these unreleased tracks are simply soundscapes used on the album. While these might be interesting for musicians to hear, it becomes repetitive very quickly. This isn’t to say that they are bad but I just don’t see me coming back to these. What I did find interesting about these tracks is that they could easily be used in fan remixes- similar to what the group did with the 2018 I Am a Resident album and the 2019 Eskimo Deconstructed album.

The third disc consists entirely of live performances. The first track, “Ty’s Freak Show Restoration,” is an 18-minute track recorded on November 17, 1991- which was performed before people from Japanese computer company NEC as a private event. This was filmed and later edited for the laserdisc release of Twenty Twisted Questions– using the NEC video editing software. The performance has not been released in its entirety until now as an audio only deal. As for the rest of the third disc, it features a live performance of all nine tracks from Freak Show recorded live between 1995 to 2018- sequenced in the original album’s order.

Overall thoughts
The pREServed edition of Freak Show is yet another strong entry in the series. While I could’ve done without the second disc, having the original album and the live performances together makes this unique- with the latter being very special in that it gives listeners an alternate version of the album. If there are any downsides to this set- I would’ve loved it if the graphic novel could’ve been included somehow. There’s also some material from the 2006 Expanded Edition that was left off of this reissue. Still if someone wanted to go back to these things (along with the CD-ROM), they could easily find them on YouTube and elsewhere.

The pREServed edition series is set to continue in 2021 and onwards- with future releases including Gingerbread ManWormwood and Icky Flix. For now, fans can dive into the wacky world of Freak Show.


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Aaron ConnAlbum Review: The Residents- Freak Show pREServed Edition