What’s the worst thing you can do to a song? Do you cover it in an excessively sentimental style? Butcher it with horrible vocals? Massively overproduce it? Constantly fire it over the radio waves until the world is sick of hearing it and wishes it never existed? [there is a cover of the Wind Cries Mary by Jamie Cullum out there; if I ever meet Jamie Cullum, I’m going to kick him to death – Ed.] Not good enough, say the Residents. How about taking a bunch of songs, completely decimate them in an avant-garde style and throw them together in a pastiche of pop music with an overarching Nazi theme? How about using an album to lampoon mainstream music by comparing it to a Fascist movement with people blindly following, drooling at the mouths, right arms raised high in a pledge of their ignorant loyalty? What about mashing together a few pop songs in a continuous suite to prove a point that all pop music is interchangeable and sounds the same? That’s more like it.
The Third Reich ‘n Roll is, from start to finish, a complete joke. Look at the cover. Dick Clark with a plastic grin on his face in a Nazi uniform, holding a carrot. Dancing Hitlers – some in drag – populate the clouds. Swastikas in the corners. Red and black fascist colours. Popular songs from the 60’s and 70’s are churned up and spewed out, many to an unrecognizable degree. The whole idea of the album is meant to stun, shock and horrify. Yet like all cleverly planned albums, it has a point. Patricide. Father-murder. Annihilating their musical fathers and predecessors, remorselessly destroying their memory and defecating on the remains. Superbly Oedipal in nature, yet more deliberate: this is a meticulous and perfectly planned step to overthrow. I am the King now, look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Yet like a crazed Caligula The Residents use their power for insanity and depravity. Yes, they have rid themselves of their predecessors, shaken free the shackles of restraint and proclaimed themselves the new Kings of pop music, but their glory is merely in their heads. This is a deliberate action of some extremely crazy individuals.
Beginning with a sample of a German cover of the popular Let’s Twist Again, the album soon devolves into warped lunacy. The infamous “Na, na na na na” of Land of a Thousand Dances is twisted into a languid psychedelic chant, other weird noises appear before a militant marching theme appears, dense percussion and hellish snare drums lead the eternal Nazi parade. The drums continue on for several minutes over a decimation of some big hits: “My baby does the hanky panky” is sung like a nasal Squidward , freakishly destroying the original garage recording and laying it over these Fascist snare hits. Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love) has been assassinated, stabbed 23 times, (beware the Ides of March!) and dragged through the mud. Helicopters and bombers and explosions fly across the channels. We’re doing to pop music what Hitler did to Poland, say The Residents. Thank goodness nobody’s getting hurt this time… well, except our ears. Saxophones snake over submachinegun shots, air raid sirens wail, innocent citizens scream, and another song appears, given the same rough treatment as these poor screaming innocents. Now we’ve got a Cabaret, Weimar Republic-style German rendition of Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag… man, this is too much. Let’s blow this Fascist popsicle stand! Oh wait, there’s still another side left…
Side 2 – Hitler Was A Vegetarian. Just in case you didn’t know. With a grandiose synth opening, beautifully accompanied by whistles, there’s a brief feeling of respite. Doesn’t last long though. Dark piano and a nightmarishly harpsichord /synth or something emerge from the mire; soon the demented vocalist is screaming and telling us we couldn’t get much higher, and to come on baby and light his fire. The sound effects of destruction and militant music aren’t as prevalent on side 2 here, but the inclement deconstruction of the music remains, and that’s enough to instill such dank terror in our minds. I mean, what sort of demented undead nameless soulless monsters throw together some of the most dissonant and discordant interpretations of songs while singing “yummy yummy yummy I got love in my tummy?” It’s scary in its childishness, like Chucky: convince yourself that it’s safe and you’ll end up with a butcher knife through your sternum. The most demented moment of side 2 has got to be the warped take on Van Morrison’s Gloria. But a mere minute or so, the singer garbles and moans like he’s underwater while a Kraftwerk-esque synth riff transforms the garage rocker to an extract from an extraterrestrial’s iPod. Freakish stuff. The last few minute bring us back to the theme of musical deconstruction again; no Nazi comparisons this time, but a mashup of Hey Jude and Sympathy for the Devil is performed on some hilariously out of tune guitars, once again showing the interchangeability of all pop music and possibly the pointlessness of it all. For me this particular segment has extra potency given Paul McCartey’s penchant to pop up and sing Hey Jude at whatever opportunity he gets: it gets more meaningless each time, and it seems The Residents anticipated this nearly 40 years ago.
Admittedly the Nazi comparisons are possibly a little extreme, but the Residents get their point across pretty clearly on this album. Pop music meant to be ridiculed and stamped on, such is the nature of the game, with formulaic pop songs that can be mashed up and combined with ease. The interesting thing about The Third Reich ‘n Roll is that I think it needs a modern revamp. A good number of the songs that have been given such a deliberate mauling on this record are actually classics and genuinely excellent songs. Although the Residents get their point across in hilarious and stimulating fashion, perhaps a modern update could be even more hilarious? I know they’d have a field day trying anyhow.
Words - Adam