Published to coincide with The Residents’ 50th anniversary, Faceless Forever is a task only the brave would ever even feeltingly consider. A band who isn’t sure itself as to what has been released, where and when, and whose mysterious identities only add to the confusion and murk which must be sifted through for answers. Jim Knipfel has served as their unofficial biographer for many years, whilst Brian Poole has collaborated with the band as far back as 1981 – their attempts here to collate such a maelstrom of information without making it stodgy or academic are admirable and it’s as fascinating to understand how they undertook the process as it is discovering your new favourite Residents facts to charm your dinner guests straight out of the door.
The introduction is brief and light-hearted, cheerfully acknowledging the folly in even attempting to map out the band’s career. There is a nod to the fact that the book is already out of date, given the band’s continuing prolificacy, and likewise that there will be a Mexican wave of “tuts” from uber-fans and silly sausages eager to point out errors and omissions. The band and the Cryptic Corporation, their shadowy enablers, have attempted to help, which may or may not have been a blessing.
Thankfully, a decision was made to log everything alphabetically – it makes me queasy to even contemplate how harrowing it would have been to both assemble and read if an attempt was made to remain chronological. At around 500 entires and just under 300 pages, concessions have still had to be made and the outcome is both satisfying and niggling – perfect for the band, of course. It’s very pleasing to see all the entries pegged back to managable lengths. Even major milestones like The Commercial Album only get a page, whilst collaborators such as guitar virtuoso, Snakefinger, get under two. This is partly as songs get their own treatment and recurrent characters do just that. It also makes it pleasant to read – neither dyed-in-the-wool fans nor newcomers want to hear ramblings just for the sake of it.
Many entries feel more like bookmarks – reminders to go back and revisit certain albums, to re-evaluate contributions and to simply celebrate that unnamed musicians disguised by wearing giant eyeballs are still confounding expectations over half a century after they formed. Conclusions are often left high and dry – “make your own minds up”; “it’s not known whether this release is considered canon”. An entry for Rico, their live keyboardist from 2015 to 2016 concludes:
“Nothing has been heard of Rico since, and The Residents don’t seem to mind”
It’s this kind of irreverance which really brings the book to life – it’s joyous and grateful for everything that has happened but loses no sleep in trying to fully understand what went on behind the curtain. On the downside, the brevity of some entries means that lives before working with the band are largely skimmed over, as are their careers beyond. However – and this shows exactly how much love has gone into the book – the authors are happy to point the reader to other resources, most notably the Meet the Residents website, a mighty and magnificent depository and online community. Both are well worth spending a few hours dipping into when the world around you isn’t quite strange enough.
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