Mole Trilogy

In 1983, The Residents were not content to continue creating a series of single, isolated music albums and wished to pursue more ambitious projects. Consequently, The Mole Trilogy was the first venture in this new direction. Initially the project was designed to be a collection of six albums: three of the LPs were intended to tell an epic story, connecting several generations of two fictitious races, while the three additional albums were designed to serve as musical "illustrations" for this story. It was to be a trilogy of pairs, with each contributing both to the narrative and cultural context of the ongoing saga. In addition, a live tour was planned.

Alternating between the two cultures, the plot line used a form of lyrical storytelling to follow the races through their inevitable ideological clash. In contrast to this narrative form, the pseudo documentary "music" albums demonstrated the musicology of the two cultures, then followed its evolution as the societies began to merge.

As only parts 1, 2, and 4 have appeared, it seems in retrospect that the project was perhaps overly ambitious. In addition to the three albums, the highly anticipated Mole Show world tour was unleashed upon unsuspecting audiences, along with an album of pre-show, intermission, and post-show music.

Mark of the Mole(1981)

After the New Wave music press decided that The Residents weren't any fun anymore, the band began to feel angry, confused, and frustrated. Deciding that "a disaster was in order", they set about composing an album which told the story of a culture driven from their homes by a storm and forced into a confrontation with another people. This album was the first part of a planned Mole Trilogy.
The Mark of the Mole draws on various tales from the Great Depression, such as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It opens with a radio broadcast (narrated by Penn Jilette) of a warning about a storm brewing over the lands which contain the tunnels of the Mohelmot. The Mohelmot are strange race of cloaked figures who prefer to live underground and who are known as "Moles" as a result. The storm arrives quickly and floods the Moles out of their homes, forcing them to migrate across the desert to the sea where the Chubs live.

The Chubs are a chubby, vacuous people who live for pleasure in a cozy pop culture. They embrace the arriving Moles, seeing them as a good source of cheap labour. The hard-working Moles soon alienate the Chubs, however. The latter start to complain about the Moles taking all the good work and marrying the Chubs' daughters -- all the usual redneck complaints about immigrants, of which The Residents had heard plenty when they were growing up in Louisiana. The tension between the two groups comes to a head, breaking out in a short war which resolves nothing. Afterwards, everything reverts to they way it was before the fighting, with the situation just as tense as ever.

The Tunes of Two Cities(1982)
OverviewTracksUncle Willie

The Tunes of Two Cities is Part Two of The Mole Trilogy. It collects and contrasts examples of the music of the Mole and Chub cultures. The tracks alternate between the fluffy, Art Deco music of the superficial Chubs and the dark, tribal music of the Moles.

Chubs are only concerned with leisure and want nothing to do with real-world problems. To emphasize this, many of the Chub tracks are mutated covers of escapist big band songs from the 1920s and 1930s. For example, Mousetrap and Happy Home cover Stan Kenton's Eager Beaver and Machito respectively, and Smack Your Lips (Clap Your Teeth) is a version of In the Mood.

The Moles are a tribal, hard-working society who worship a dark god called "The Evil Disposer". The music of their songs features the Harry Partch-influenced use of invented instruments and languages, as did The Residents' other tribal culture album, Eskimo. In fact, one can look at the Mole music as being an extension of some of the ideas which The Residents examined at in that album, just as the Chubs' twisted versions of 1930s popular music harkens back to The Third Reich 'N' Roll's versions of '60s pop. The Mole tracks feature dark, primitive vocal lines made up of chants and prayers, while the Chubs' music is entirely instrumental. The only exception is the last track, Happy Home (sung by Nessie Lessons instead of the growling Residential lead singer found in the Mole tracks). The song is billed as an "excerpt from Act II of Innisfree", though no clue is given as to what that might mean. One theory is that Innisfree is a Chub musical about Moles roughly analogous to George Gershwin's Porgy & Bess (a musical by a white American about black slaves).

The Tunes of Two Cities was the first album The Residents made featuring their new toy, the EM-U Emulator. The Emulator was the first commercial sampler and The Residents were among the first to buy one (theirs was #00005 off the assembly line). That Emulator provides most of the instrumental sounds on the album, with the exception of the guest musician's contributions: Snakefinger's guitar work and Norman Salant's saxophone playing, both of which appear in Missy.

The Big Bubble(1985)
OverviewTracksLiner Notes

Part Four of The Mole Trilogy expands musically on the events of the story in Part Three. After Ramsey, lead singer for The Big Bubble, was released from prison (thanks to of the outcry his arrest caused) the band was signed by Frankie DuVall of Black Shroud Records (named after the Mole's traditional form of dress). Their eponymous first album features the Mohelmot songs sung at the Zinkenite rally, including the new Zinkenite anthem Cry for the Fire.

The music on The Big Bubble is a synthesis of the Mole and Chub music found on The Tunes of Two Cities, performed using traditional Rock music instruments. These two albums make a set of three kinds of music in a way echoed later by the three parts of The Residents Cube-E tour, which featured white American music, black American music, and rock-n-roll -- the synthesis of the two.
The Residents wanted a just-about-live sound to the album so they recorded the vocalists lines first and lay down the other tracks over that. The results are -- well, people don't really agree what the results are. Some fans loved it, some hated it. Cole Gagne, author of Sonic Transports, calls the album "brilliant", while Ian Shirley, in Meet the Residents, says that it was evidence that The Residents were "treading water". A UWEB poll suggested that it was tied with Not Available as the weirdest Residential album, which makes some sense, since both albums were created in order to work out some problems and stress within the band.

One place where the album was an unquestioned success, however, was Japan, where it had been released on Wave Records (along with a rather inaccurate lyric sheet which Wave reversed engineered from the album). The popularity of The Big Bubble there inspired Wave to invite The Residents to Japan for their next tour.

Oh, and by the way... The four figures on The Big Bubble's The Big Bubble album cover (which is featured on The Residents' The Big Bubble album cover) are not The Residents without their disguises. The band advertised in local acting papers for people to pose for this cover. Coincidentally, a German fan who was visiting San Francisco happened to drop by the Cryptic Corporation that day, and they grabbed him and stuffed him in a tuxedo for the photo shoot as well (he's the one on the right of the three behind Ramsey on the cover, or the extreme right in the gatefold picture). The actor who posed as Ramsey (the one in the front on the cover or the back on the gatefold) went on to work for The Residents 13th Anniversary Show as the stage-lighting ninja.