Album Review: The Residents’ Intruders

This article was originally posted to my blog, Perfect Pop Star Academy on


Yesterday upon the stair
I saw a man who wasn't there
I saw that man again today
Oh, I wish he'd go away.

- Hughes Mearns

And Who Is Left To See? (Intruders)

Several years ago I wrote a review of The Residents' Ghost of Hope, about a week or so before the album was to be released. A few years later, I did a review of The Residents' newly released Metal, Meat, & Bone. I liked the idea of collecting my thoughts on Residents albums right when they came out, and I wanted to make it a recurring thing on my blog to review the newest Residents albums. Maybe the goal was that I'd eventually have a collection of first impressions similar to that of Mark Prindle's or perhaps even Grandpa Gio.

Anyways... it's been several years and I only have two such posts. For some reason, when Intruders came out in 2018, I never ended up posting my thoughts on the album at all. I think at the time it was just hard to collect my thoughts. In the years since, it seems that the general fan consensus is that Intruders was indeed a thing that happened... and not much else. Does this album even really have fans?

When I first heard this album back in 2018 I wasn't sure what to think of it. The stories were spooky, and the music wasn't bad or anything. But unlike Ghost of Hope or Metal, Meat, and Bone I couldn't even guess as to what The Residents were trying to do or say with this album. All I knew was that the theme tying the album together was very clearly defined in the liner notes: Intruders is about doppelgangers! And ghosts. And lovers...? And arson? And a guy going bowling? Do scarecrows count as doppelgangers?

I think this is really what made Intruders so difficult to me at the time. Even the theme that The Residents spelled out in the liner notes felt nebulous and fuzzy: what defined an Intruder anyway? Well, whatever, clearly within a few listens, I'd totally have this album figured out...

When it comes to analyzing Intruders, I still like Home Age Conversations' theory of doubles. They argue that each song in the album, besides the final track Shadows, has its own thematic doppelganger. Both Bobbie's Burning Blues and Frank's Lament feature characters who seems to deal with alternate selves. Voodoo Doll and The Scarecrow are both about humanoid but inanimate objects that nonetheless have a haunting presence. There are two songs about doppelgangers... the list goes on (although the evidence for the remaining songs is admittedly weaker; I feel like you could pair up the remaining songs in any combination of doubles and it'd make sense).

This is a fun theory... but is that really all there is to say about this album? That they maybe wrote songs in doubles, scrambled them up, and released them with an extra closing track? Something still feels incomplete. And I can't put my finger on it...

In 1982, a new entity formed as the result of natural cell division. As foretold in The Book of IBBUR, the entity known as The Residents would divide into two charged entities: the positively-charged Residents who would continue to exist and be perceived, and their negatively-charged TAR lurking in the shadows: Black Tar and the Cry Babies.

Well, that's what Hardy Fox said in a newsletter anyway. The lore of his few Black Tar releases were that they came from this group that were supposed to be the un-Residents. They split off from The Residents at some point and had a whole obscure musical career in the meantime. But really I think it was just an excuse to have some fun under an alias that wasn't The Residents.

Eventually this mythology got pulled into the mythology behind Hardy Fox's character of Charles Bobuck, which got weirder and weirder until the character stopped existing at the end of The Stone. And I thought nothing more of it... Black Tar's releases established the concept of the TAR and The Stone finished said concept.

But as I think about it more, it seems like Black Tar and the Cry Babies was really presenting a subtle question the whole time: What does it mean when a member of The Residents quits? The backstory of Black Tar mentions that the cell division happened in 1982, and that's probably not just a random year. In 1982, Jay Clem quit the Cryptic Corporation and not long after John Kennedy left as well. There really was a split in The Residents at this time (which may have possibly split the fanbase a bit).

Now John and Jay did not end up actually creating their own rock band double of The Residents, and The Residents did not implode upon their departure. But I'm sure as Hardy Fox was planning on retiring, there were a lot of questions about what was really going to happen to The Residents. Hardy Fox still loved to make music and it was clear that he planned on having a productive solo career after his departure. In a way Hardy Fox's departure really was going to split The Residents into two different entities, just as foretold by Black Tar and The Cry Babies.

Since Hardy Fox had a strong influence on The Residents' sound, The New Residents that came out of this cell division would naturally sound at least a little different as new collaborators filled in Hardy's place. And Hardy's solo work would continue to sound different from The Residents. These two entities were like doppelgangers to each other: both a result of The Residents' cell division in 2015.

In 2017, The Residents released their train-themed The Ghost of Hope. And the same year Hardy Fox released the doppelganger to that album Nachtzug. Perhaps the nature of this cell division was understood by The Residents, and they decided to write an album about this concept of division in the aftermath of Hardy Fox's departure... maybe. I can't really say for sure, but this concept of doubles reminds me a lot of The Residents' 2018 album Intruders... right?

As discussed in my Metal, Meat, and Bone review, I think Hardy Fox's departure made The Residents focus in on the question What do The Residents sound like now? The invented blues persona from Metal, Meat, & Bone was one way of asking this question, but what about the album that came before it?

Intruders is an album made up of doubles. Doppelgangers. TARs. Positive and negative charges that threaten to annihilate each other. You can see this in the album cover itself. We see a lot of black and white stripes that may represent these contrasting doubles.

A big visual motif of the album is mouths. We also tend to see distorted faces inside each big mouth. What does this imagery possibly have to do with this album? Maybe it's supposed to be the negative double of the familar Residents eyeball. Instead of a human form with a giant eyeball where a face should go, we get a floating face with a mouth surrounding it instead.

This "anti-Residents" imagery matches the very title of the album as well. After all, what is the opposite of a resident? A landlord? Or maybe an Intruder? Sure... let's make an album about intruders.

At times Intruders feels like it could be the ghostly doppelganger of another Residents album. It uses the same format as Animal Lover, combining songs with lyrics with stories that give an extra point of view to the song. The track Still Needy is actually a cover of Neediness from 2002's Demons Dance Alone. That one in particular blew me away when I first heard it; outside of Our Finest Flowers, The Residents really haven't done a cover of one of their own songs in a standalone studio album release like this before. Listening to it for the first time, my only thought was Is this even allowed???

This is just a guess that I'll never be able to confidently prove, but perhaps the doubling up of song themes came about from the same process that gave us the dual versions of songs in Metal, Meat, & Bone? In other words, perhaps each pair of thematic doubles (Bobbie & Frank, Voodoo & Scarecrow, etc) represent the divergent ideas between The Residents and their double: The Intruders.

That is, of course, just a silly theory. But... one interesting thing is that for each pair of songs that share a theme, The Singing Resident is always present in at least one of the songs. That means that among the many guest singers (are they technically Intruders?) who show up in this album, they are never pitted against each other as doppelgangers, but instead their songs are always contrasted with one sung by The Singing Resident. Under my theory, The Singing Resident's song would represent something that sounds traditionally residential, and the Guest Singer's song would be the Intruder.

(I do think that the concept of Intruders the album brings up are supposed to be the Anti-Reisdents, but I'm not fully sure about this double songs theory from Home Age Conversations. This is just a fun consequence of trying to reconcile both theories at once.)

I'm kind of glad I waited so long to write up this blog post, with the hindsight I now have after the release of Metal, Meat, & Bone. I should also note that while I liked the album when it first came out, I really began to click with the album much later as I was going through some life struggles. The idea of these psychic intruders in the album really resonated with me since uh... my mental health state wasn't the best in those days. And poor mental health really feels like something is just... intruding. I went through a phase where I thought that Intruders was actually about mental health.

I have always appreciated Intruders, but as time has gone on I've become a real fan of the album. (The sole fan of Intruders???) Intruders solidified the roles of several new collaborators that have worked with The Residents since, so it really feels like a good stepping stone between the transitional Ghost of Hope and what the group has accomplished since in the 2020's. I'm a bit sad to see that most Residents fans don't really think much of Intruders. But I guess it makes sense; it would be a bit awkward to be a fan of your favorite band's doppelganger.

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