In 1979 "punk" music was all the rage. The Residents had gone though the punk stage three years earlier with the release of "Satisfaction" and were ready for anything that was not punk.
They decided it was a good time to make the jump into world music, since by their own calculations it would not become popular for several more years. They scanned the map for a proper culture to exploit and, not finding one, became discouraged until seeing a large Coke sign featuring Santa Claus. Immediately they realized they had overlooked the North Pole because it is made of ice and therefore didn't exist on their world map.
Immediately rushing out to a library, they gathered all the information they could find on Eskimos. What they found was a government-issued book on Eskimo sanitation, a book of Eskimo legends, and one scratchy record of someone hitting a drum and chanting. Not exactly the rich cultural vein they had hoped to mine.
But it was enough, for it set the Eyeballs spinning off into their own imaginary world of six-month nights, marimbas made of frozen fish, and Eskimo sex lives. For almost four years the ideas tumbled around. Sometimes they would feel elated at some new breakthrough, but usually they moaned that the album would not only make dreary listening, but be pretentious beyond belief.
But when it was finally released ESKIMO was a hit, both in sales and in reviews. Andy Gill of New Music Express said, "I'm not sure quite how to convey the magnitude of The Residents' achievement with Eskimo. What I am sure of is that it's without doubt one of the most important albums ever made, if not the most important, and that its implications are of such an unprecedentedly revolutionary nature that the weak-minded polemical posturing of purportedly 'political' bands are positively bourgeois by comparison."
He says this because the album tells the story, without relying upon words, of the assimilation of a ritualistic society into consumer culture. This story unfolds as Eskimo fables, a lived experience, set to the grinding of sound effects and music. It is a mind movie rich with detail. ESKIMO is, quite literally, a unique experience.