We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
For 30 years, the Residents have made concept albums. Nuanced, cerebral concept albums on such subjects as culture shock and art vs. commerce. With Tweedles!, however, the faceless quartet gives little nuance or depth to its subject matter—a study of Tweedles the Clown, a sociopathic, misogynistic emotional vampire. Recorded at a state-of-the-art studio in Transylvania (get it?), and incorporating both samples of the regional atmosphere and the Film Orchestra of Bucharest, the 16 tracks on Tweedles! are modal, layered, often ambient soundscapes. Their heavily electronic foundation is illuminated by gorgeous, moody piano passages (“Almost Perfect”), stark orchestral figures (“Elevation”), and tapes of circus musicians and the Bucharest airport. It’s a stunning exploration of musical texture—much more realized than the story line. In fact, Tweedles! feels like the Residents simply sketched out an idea so they’d have an excuse to record in Romania. Unlikable characters are nothing new for the group, having tackled car thieves and family murderers on their last two albums (Demons Dance Alone and Animal Lover), but those characters were always three-dimensional and human, letting the listener identify with them and their unsavory doings. Tweedles, in contrast, shows no growth and few redeeming qualities, making his narcissism all too easy to despise and dismiss. Even worse is the fact that the vocalist is a terrible actor, overemoting practically every word of his spoken reflections. Thus the pathos and heartbreak that elevated those previous efforts are beyond the grasp of Tweedles!, which attempts to replace them with drama. Again, the music accomplishes this better than the lyrical content. Rarely do both peak; when they do, the Residents are at their finest, as on the coldly humorous “Keep Talkin’” and the striking “Almost Perfect” and “Isolation.” The last, however, hurts the context more than it helps: Everything else we learn about the character contradicts the despairing grandeur of “Isolation.” The conceptual dimension (or lack thereof) of Tweedles! handicaps, but doesn’t quite overpower, its bountiful and aggressively experimental music. The group has done compelling and cohesive instrumental records before, usually for soundtrack commissions; since the music was really its focus and strength here anyway, perhaps the Residents should have given their subject matter, instead of minimal attention, none at all.—Michael J. West