The band that made aname for themselves by loudly invoking their own anonymity andobscurity since 1972 is not really about secrets anymore. Many of theirprojects from the late 1990s up until now have been very high-profile,with backing from large software companies, international tours, andtons of product ranging from the typical t-shirts to little statuettesand build-'em-yrself model kits. Even the faces and identities of theband members — once the carefully guarded secret around which theybased their marketing — are apparent enough to the fan who does alittle bit of research. 'The Residents' has become, quite deliberatelya brand that is applied to a range of product. That's why the groupwants to be sure that the product with their brand name on it is up totheir quality standards. When it isn't, as in the case of this CDreissue of the "Assorted Secrets" cassette of rehearsals from 1984,when they lose a bit of that control, is when the music gets the mostinteresting.
The band is obviously very interested in its appearance, not just withregards to identity-obscuring costumes, but in the release only ofconcept albums of the highest technical sound quality. Ideas that nevermade it into album form are hardly ever made public or even discussed,and rehearsal tapes are almost unheard of. Their material from the1970's is perpetually being re-recorded on newer electronicinstruments, remastered according to their ever-higher standards, infive-speaker surround sound. The Residents immediately regrettedreleasing something that was as unfinished and poorly recorded (thetunes were, after all, only for their own rehearsal) as these tunesfrom "Fingerprince", "Mark of the Mole" and "Tunes from Two Cities".These songs would eventually become overdubbed, EQ'd, and edited andcleaned up, but the imperfection evident on "Assorted Secrets" linksthe songs more to the post-punk and DIY bedroom-electronic music thatwas happening at the time. One complaint about the Residents' post-1979output is that it's too sterile. That is certainly not the case here.Thus the reissue exists due to massive pleading by their fans, and notbecause the band is proud that it exists. The original tapes werescrubbed as much as possible for the reissue, but hidden in a cardboardwrapper printed with warnings like "Please go away" and "They hateit!". The band's name does not even appear on the wrapper, but theireyeball-in-a-tophat logo does, albeit with the iris covered with alarge black bar of the type that government informants use to protecttheir identity on TV news programs. The reissue is printed in arelatively tiny pressing of 1200, perhaps with the hope that only thatthe die-hard fans will hear it and stop asking about it, and thegeneral public won't even know of its existence.
The last thing the band probably wants is for some reviewer to suggestto his readers to run out and buy this CD, one of the most excitingdocuments of the band yet. The low recording quality and the rawness ofthe playing makes the Residents sound like a performing band comprisedof real people, as opposed to the slick and streamlined, high-techhi-fidelity group that the band wants you to hear. Four distinctplayers can be heard making mistakes, standing too close to themicrophone, saturating the tape at times, sounding rough and alive in away that's been uncommon for the last two decades of the Residents'recorded career. After all, the Residents are a band that printed awarning right on the back cover of their debut CD, "Meet theResidents", to not buy it if you hadn't already heard the subsequentalbums! Clearly, they shouldn't be the ones to judge. In most cases, Iprefer the versions of the songs on "Assorted Secrets" to the ones thatmade it onto the records. The reason they don't want you to hear"Assorted Secrets" is the same reason why it's great. It contains thepassion of a band that's playing simply to hear themselves, not caringabout what their audience will think. When the band started out, theylaboured under their "Theory of Obscurity", which stated that anartist's best work was done without an audience in mind. Their attemptto downplay "Assorted Secrets" proves that they don't really believethat anymore. Available only at their website, www.ralphamerica.com