Following up the reissues of Eskimo and The Commercial Album, Cherry Red and Ralph Records have released the next entry in the Residents’ pREServed Edition series. Unlike the previous ones, this seventh entry is a box set featuring six discs- all devoted to the Residents’ Mole Trilogy project. The Mole Box is yet another impressive, as it gives listeners the ultimate Mole experience.
Following The Commercial Album, the Residents went to work on their next project. Similar to some of their previous albums, this project would follow a concept. However unlike their previous albums, this project would be an ambitious rock opera: The Mole Trilogy, a series of albums that told the story of the conflict between the Moles and the Chubs. Housed in the familiar clamshell packaging from Cherry Red are six discs. These six discs consist of three studio albums, two live albums and a bonus disc. I will be reviewing the box set album by album.
Mark of the Mole (1981)
Released in 1981, Mark of the Mole is the first chapter in the Mole Trilogy. Of the three studio albums in this set, this is easily my favorite. The album tells the story of the Moles, a hard working race of beings who flea from their home to escape a storm. Digging their way underground, they arrive at the land of the Chubs- a race of hedonistic beings that soon use the Moles for slave labor. While considered a trilogy, Mark of the Mole is the only one in the series that has an actual story as it tells of the conflict between the Moles and the Chubs. All six songs have multiple sections, making for a complex album. Musically, the group utilized in mostly electronic instruments- which gives the album a somewhat darker edge to it.
Bonus Tracks: Res Dance 1982 mixes
The Tunes of Two Cities (1982)
Instead of continuing the story started on Mark, the second chapter in the trilogy instead focuses on the music of the Moles and the Chubs. The album see saws between the Moles’ industrial hymns and the Chubs’ light jazz- showcasing the differences between the two cultures. While a mostly enjoyable album, Cities does tend to drag out at times as the album is almost entirely instrumental. Like Mark before it, the group heavily used electronic instruments on Cities. The album also has distinction of being one of the first albums to use the E-mu Emulator- a digital sampler.
Bonus Tracks: 3 additional songs (Open Up, Anvil Forest, Scent of Mint) plus 1982 rehearsals and the 1982 Res Dance mixes
The Big Bubble (1985)
The tour in support for Cities was a disaster. So much so that the group decided to abandon the Mole Trilogy and continue to release other music. However in 1985, the Residents released another Mole album entitled The Big Bubble. While the third Mole studio album, The Big Bubble is presented as the the fourth part of trilogy. Much like Cities before it, this album doesn’t follow any of the previous stories. Instead, this album is said to the debut recording by the Big Bubble- a group that forefronts the Zenkinite movement. With the Zenkinites being crossbreeds of the Moles and Chubs, the group quickly become controversial- especially after the band perform a song in the banned Mohelmot language. Musically, The Big Bubble consists of synth tunes that don’t really go anywhere. I like a few songs here and there but overall, this is easily the weakest of the three.
Bonus Tracks: “Jingle Bell”, some live performances and unreleased 2 track demos
The Mole Show Live at the Roxy 1982
Originally released as a bootleg, Live at the Roxy documents the group’s Mole Show tour on October 30, 1982. Prior to the Mole Show, the group hadn’t performed in concert since the “Oh Mummy Oh Daddy” show. The Mole Show was a unique concert experience as the group would perform the album in its entirety, with comedian/magician Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame narrating throughout the show. Given that this is formerly a bootleg recording, the production isn’t all that good. It comes to the point where it’s almost hard to follow the show and what’s going on.
The Uncle Sam Mole Show 1983
Performed at the National Building Museum in Washington DC, this live album documents the last Mole Show on October 7, 1983. This follows almost the same tracking list as the Roxy show, aside from the addition of “Star Spangled Banner.” Unlike the Roxy album, this show is instead narrated by then Residents manager Bill Gerber. This performance has never been released before, making it exclusive to this box set. Listening to this and the Roxy show, there’s little to no difference in the performances while Gerber doesn’t seem to have his heart in this.
Miscellaneous Mole Materials
The sixth disc acts as the bonus disc to the set. This includes previously unreleased tracks, including the concreteate track for Mark of the Mole– which goes on for a good 25 minutes. The disc also includes the 1982 EP Intermission, which consists of five songs that were pre-recorded and played via tape during the Mole Show concerts. The last few tracks are all additional live renditions of songs.
The Mole Box is an impressive box set devoted to The Mole Trilogy. While I do enjoy a majority of it, the bonus tracks tend to become repetitive quickly. Without the studio or live albums, there’s close to four hours of bonus tracks. Personally, I don’t see me coming back to listen to most of the bonus tracks. They aren’t bad, mind you. It’s just that it becomes repetitive. If anything, I just might stick with listening to the three studio albums for now.
While a very complete set devoted to The Mole Trilogy, I think that this box set could’ve benefited with the addition of a DVD with performances from The Mole Show. Looking down a list of the Residents’ home videos, I see that there was a DVD released that came in a limited edition CD + DVD combo pack of the first Mole Show performance. Why wasn’t this included? Then again, there are performances of the show all over YouTube.
When it comes to the music of the Residents, some fans do cite that they lost interest in the group somewhere around the time The Mole Trilogy was released. Listening to this music, I can see where these fans are coming from: they aren’t as good as the albums the group released in the 1970s. Still, I find myself liking this box set. Ralph Records and Cherry Records really go all out on these pREServed editions- with top notch packaging and liner notes. With all of the content provided, this box set could make a Residents fan appreciate The Mole Trilogy more for its creativity. If you’re a long-time Residents fan, you’ll want to pick up this box set.
I'm a writer/journalist with a passion for music and pop culture. Having graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2014, I've been looking for a platform in which I can share my passions. Since 2009, I've been posting to my own blog- The Walrus' Music Blog- via Blogger. I'm also the author of two self-published books, "The Camp: Stories from the Summer" and "The College: Stories from King's." Together, the two books cover the story of my life from 2004 to 2014. I've been lucky enough to interview several of my favorite musicians over the years and go to concerts from time to time. I'm also very devoted to the CBS reality TV show Survivor, which I started watching in 2002 when its fourth season started. I currently live in New Jersey.