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Freak Show is an album by The Residents, released in December 1990 on Torso and ESD. Freak Show is a concept album detailing the stories of a number of different characters within the titular travelling carnival freak show.

Following the success of the album, this concept was expanded to include multimedia projects such as a graphic novel and a CD-ROM. Expanded editions of the album have been issued in 2003, 2006 and 2021.

History and concept

Development

In 1989, The Residents debuted their third touring show, Cube-E. A thought provoking retelling of the history of American Music, presented within an hour and a half performance which would tour the world twice. Despite the critical praise and financial success, the group were feeling dissatisfied by the end of the first leg, which concluded in November of 1989. They felt that, whilst the show was amazing, their audiences were filling more and more with people who saw them as nothing more than entertaining freaks and failed to see the bigger picture. When back on tour in December, The Residents began to conceptualize an album about a circus.

In the spring of 1990, the group held a jam session to generate a bulk of the material for their next album. Shortly afterwards they began to develop their circus idea into one about Roller Skating Ponies in a circus. But this was quickly abandoned in favor of an album about a Freak Show.[1]

Freaks: We Who Are Not Like Others

The artists started thinking about traditional Freak Shows of years gone by, which members of the group had watched with curious glee and horror throughout the 1950s. They turned Daniel P. Mannix's book Freaks: We Who Are Not Like Others and watched the 1932 Tod Browning film Freaks for inspiration.[2]

Freaks: We Who Are Not Like Others is a detailed exploration of Freak Shows, written by a man who had spent much of the 1940s working with Carnival Sideshows. The book was first published in 1976 in very limited quantities. It wasn't until late 1989, when it would received a wide release. The Residents, who had always been fascinated with Freak Shows, must've bought and read this book almost immediately after seeing it.

Inspired by these sources, the group began to write lyrics and medleys inspired by the tracks. The songs which grew out of these are character studies. The track "Lillie" is about a member of the audience who, in spite of being a so-called "normal" person, is so disturbing that she manages to freak out the freaks.

When sessions for the album proper began in July, The Residents sought out the assistance of Laurie Amat, a female vocalist who had been working with the band since the very end of the American Composers Series, Tony Janssen, who had previously helped the group with mixing and recording of their Cube-E tour, as well as newcomer female vocalist Diana Alden.

Sessions for the album concluded in October of 1990, after which The Residents began their tour of Canada and the Eastern United States. The tour was concluded after a performance in New York City, when a speaker fell into the audience and caused a fire. Perhaps now feeling dissatisfied with the tour, and getting an oh so familiar feeling that had plagued their minds and stomachs in the final days of the Mole Show, The Residents mutually agreed to never tour again.

Freak Show Back Cover

Release

The album was released in December of 1990. Since leaving Ralph Records in 1986, the band were somewhat in label limbo, they'd been on RykoDisc briefly, but left after disagreements regarding their God In Three Persons Potato Chips Series. Then they'd moved to Enigma Records, which they were dropped from following financial difficulties faced by the label. Having been burnt now thrice by a record label, The Residents gave the release rights to the album to two US record labels, The Cryptic Corporation, and East Side Digital. Whichever turned out best for The Residents, the group would sign to as recording artists. The Cryptic Corporation released the album on CD and PictureDisc, and sent promotional LPs to radio stations across the USA, meanwhile East Side Digital released a standard CD.

Meanwhile in Holland, Torso, The Residents' European record label of 4 years put the album out as an LP, a CD, and a Cassette. In early 1991 The Cryptic Corporation re-released the Freak Show Cassette in the US.

Screencap from the Harry The Head video

The Cryptic Corporation, likely for the same reasons they abandoned Ralph in the 1980s, didn't become the group's primary record label, so instead the artists signed to East Side Digital as recording artists.

To promote the album, a music video for Everyone Comes To The Freak Show, and Harry The Head, directed by John Sanborn & Jim Ludtke respectively, were released.

Freak Show The Mutli-Media project

Tex, and Laurie Amat, 1991

In late October of 1991, The Residents were invited to perform live at The Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, California. Satisfied that it was local, and would only be a one off performance, the group agreed to appear. But with it being such short notice, and having no show in development or being toured, the group decided to quickly put together a live show based on the Freak Show album, using props and costumes from both Cube-E and The 13th Anniversary Show.

The show was a success, and The Residents realized they still had an attachment and excitement for the Freak Show material, so they decided to craft Freak Show into a Multi-Media project, a concept which had grown ever popular in then recent years. Their first idea was to turn it into a comic book. They began designing the comic, and wrote the story, before commissioning several popular comic book artists of the time to complete the project. It was released in 1992 through Dark Horse Comics, alongside a CD single, Blowoff.

Almost immediately following the release show of the comic book, The group started working with Jim Ludtke and The Voyager Company on a CD-ROM adaption of the album. It was released in 1994, and received high critical and commercial praise at the time. After the CD-ROM's release, The Residents began writing a musical adaption of Freak Show, which debuted in 1995. The live adaption of Freak Show seemed to be the end of the road for the project, as the group turned their attention to its follow up Bad Day on The Midway.

Back cover of 13th Anniversary release

In July of 2003, to celebrate the album's 13th Anniversary, a special expanded version of the album was release, which combined the original material with excerpts from the Blowoff single, as well as a bonus disc of live re-interpretations of the songs. The expanded first disc since become the standard version of the album, featured on all re-issues since.

The final attempt at Freak Show, was Freak Show: Animated, co-directed by Freak Show CD-ROM co-director Jim Ludtke. Production on the film continued in secrecy until March of 2004, when Ludtke unexpectedly died. The project was immediately cancelled. As Ludtke had been such an integral part to the best the Freak Show project had to offer, the multi-media project was finally laid to rest.

Legacy

Freak Show has since proven to be a favorite project by The Residents, with material from it appearing in all of the band's 'Greatest Hits' style live shows, Disfigured Night, Icky Flix, The Way We Were, Talking Light, The Wonder of Weird, Shadowland, & In Between Dreams.

Despite the love of live performances of the material, The Residents haven't felt the need to re-record any of the material in the studio, with Harry The Head & Jelly Jack The Boneless Boy being the only examples, found on the Icky Flix DVD.

Three RMX's of Jack have been released, the first being a remix of a 1997 performance of the track released on 12 Days of Brumalia, the second being apart of the RMX abum, and the third being a digital single released in 2014. All three of these are based on the 1997 live version.

Track listing

Original release (1990)

  1. Everyone Comes To The Freak Show (3:59)
  2. Harry The Head (2:54)
  3. Herman The Human Mole (3:57)
  4. Wanda The Worm Woman (4:34)
  5. Jello Jack The Boneless Boy (5:53)
  6. Benny The Bouncing Bump (6:07)
  7. Mickey The Mumbling Midget (4:26)
  8. Lillie (6:56)
  9. Nobody Laughs When They Leave (5:50)

Box set edition (1994)

  1. Everyone Comes To The Freak Show (3:59)
  2. Harry The Head (2:54)
  3. Herman The Human Mole (3:57)
  4. Wanda The Worm Woman (4:34)
  5. Jello Jack The Boneless Boy (5:53)
  6. Benny The Bouncing Bump (6:07)
  7. Mickey The Mumbling Midget (4:26)
  8. Lillie (6:56)
  9. Nobody Laughs When They Leave (5:50)
  10. Holy Kiss Of Flesh (Remix) (14:15)

13th Anniversary Special Edition (2003)

Disc 1

  1. Everyone Comes To The Freak Show (5:24)
  2. Harry's Introduction (0:34)
  3. Harry The Head (3:02)
  4. Herman Watches TV (Mexican Porn) (2:38)
  5. Herman The Human Mole (3:59)
  6. Wanda Does Her Act (2:03)
  7. Wanda The Worm Woman (4:38)
  8. Jack Amuses The Crowd (0:46)
  9. Jack The Boneless Boy (5:57)
  10. Benny Bounces (0:34)
  11. Benny The Bouncing Bump (6:10)
  12. Mickey The Mumbling Midget (4:39)
  13. Lillie (7:00)
  14. Nobody Laughs When They Leave (5:57)

Disc 2 - Prague and Beyond

Tracks 1-10 performed by the Freak Show Band, featuring members of Už Jsme Doma live in Prague 1995.

  1. Everyone Comes To The Freak Show (3:20)
  2. Wanda (Ft. Andrea Nováková) (3:54)
  3. Mickey (3:02)
  4. Bridge (2:58)
  5. Herman (Ft. Vladimír Gut) (4:20)
  6. Harry (Ft. Wayne Doba) (1:14)
  7. Jack (3:39)
  8. Benny (Ft. Miroslav Matyáš) (6:44)
  9. Wanda's Letters (Part 17) (Ft. Andrea Nováková) (10:07)
  10. Nobody Laughs When They Leave (1:28)
  11. Freak Show Remix (2001) (9:00)
  12. Benny Live - Icky Flix Tour (2001) (10:09)

Expanded edition (2006)

The 2006 expanded edition used the same track listing as the 2003 13th Anniversary edition, except with the inclusion of a DVD which features a track listing as featured below:

CD

  1. Everyone Comes To The Freak Show (5:24)
  2. Harry's Introduction (0:27)
  3. Harry The Head (2:58)
  4. Herman Watches TV (Mexican Porn) (2:34)
  5. Herman The Human Mole (3:55)
  6. Wanda Does Her Act (1:59)
  7. Wanda The Worm Woman (4:34)
  8. Jack Amuses The Crowd (0:46)
  9. Jack The Boneless Boy (5:53)
  10. Benny Bounces (0:32)
  11. Benny The Bouncing Bump (6:06)
  12. Mickey The Mumbling Midget (4:35)
  13. Lillie (6:56)
  14. Nobody Laughs When They Leave (5:57)

DVD

  1. Mute Film Presents (0:21)
  2. The Cryptic Corporation (0:07)
  3. Intro Title (0:42)
  4. Herman The Human Mole (2004) (3:26)
  5. The Freak Show Press Release including Harry The Head (1992) (7:57)
  6. Jelly Jack Video (1992) (4:19)
  7. Benny The Bouncing Bump (NEC) (1991) (5:05)
  8. Freak Show Live (Prague) excerpt (1995) (2:06)
  9. Benny The Bouncing Bump (2004) (4:57)
  10. Pickled Punks (2004) (0:16)
  11. Introduction (0:53)
  12. Joseph Merrick - The Elephant Man (3:14)
  13. Chang & Eng - The Original Siamese Twins (3:30)
  14. Johnny Eck - Half Man (3:32)
  15. Prince Randian - The Human Torso (3:19)
  16. The Hilton Sisters - Chained For Life (3:23)
  17. Conclusion (1:17)

pREServed edition (2021)

Freak Show was released in a three-disc expanded and remastered edition by New Ralph Too, Cherry Red Records and MVD Audio on March 26th 2021 as part of The Residents' pREServed series. The release was originally announced for February 26th but was later delayed by a month for unspecified reasons. The set briefly appeared on streaming platforms (including Spotify) on its original release date before quickly being removed.

The pREServed edition of Freak Show contains a new remaster by Scott Colburn of the original nine-track edition of the album with related contemporary material, a full disc of unreleased studio jams and work-in-progress material, and a live disc featuring a new restoration of the Ty's Freak Show performance and live versions of every song on the original album dating from 1995 through 2018.

Track listing

(*) indicates tracks which are previously unreleased.

Disc 1

Freak Show + Bonus Tracks

  1. Everyone Comes To The Freak Show (4:02)
  2. Harry The Head (2:57)
  3. Herman The Human Mole (3:57)
  4. Wanda The Worm Woman (4:37)
  5. Jack The Boneless Boy (5:57)
  6. Benny The Bouncing Bump (6:07)
  7. Mickey The Mumbling Midget (4:28)
  8. Lillie (7:02)
  9. Nobody Laughs When They Leave (5:50)
  10. The Mutes (5:40)
  11. Blowoff (13:38)
  12. All Tha' Freaks (1:04)
  13. The Eyes Scream (2:25)
  14. Jelly Jack (Icky Flix) (4:21)
  15. Harry The Head (Icky Flix) (2:57)
  16. Jelly Jack RMX (3:39)

Disc 2

The Freak Show Evolutions (*)

All tracks previously unreleased.

  1. Spring 1990 Jam 1 (4:52)
    1. Herman Watches TV
    2. Harry's Introduction
    3. Herman Watches TV
  2. Spring 1990 Jam 2 (9:55)
    1. Wanda The Worm Woman
    2. Jack The Boneless Boy
    3. Herman The Human Mole
    4. Wanda The Worm Woman
    5. Wanda Does Her Act
    6. Blowoff
    7. Everyone Comes To The Freak Show
  3. Spring 1990 Jam 3 (8:52)
    1. Benny The Bouncing Bump
    2. Willie's Theme / Anganok
  4. Rough Mix 1 (1:42)
  5. Rough Mix 2 (Jack Amuses The Crowd) (2:35)
  6. Rough Mix 4 (Jack The Boneless Boy) (2:13)
  7. Rough Mix 7 (5:19)
    1. Nobody Laughs When They Leave
    2. Mickey The Mumbling Midget
  8. Rough Mix 10 (1:16)
  9. Rough Mix 12 (Wanda The Worm Woman) (1:42)
  10. Rough Mix 13 (Lillie) (1:48)
  11. Rough Mix 14 (Mickey The Mumbling Midget) (2:59)
  12. Rough Mix 16 (1:21)
  13. Rough Mix 19 (0:50)
  14. Rough Mix 21 (0:44)
  15. Pony Rink 1 (Lillie) (0:44)
  16. Pony Rink 3 (Lillie) (2:54)
  17. Pony Rink 4 (Lillie) (2:22)
  18. Pony Rink 5 (1:55)
  19. Pony Rink 6 (Herman The Human Mole) (1:59)
  20. Pony Rink 9 (Jack The Boneless Boy) (2:12)
  21. Pony Rink 10 (Jack The Boneless Boy) (2:37)
  22. Pony Rink 11 (Lillie) (1:54)
  23. Pony Rink 13 (Wanda The Worm Woman) (1:21)
  24. Pony Rink 17 (Wanda The Worm Woman) (2:01)
  25. Pony Rink 20 (Lillie) (2:32)
  26. Pony Rink 23 (Mickey The Mumbling Midget) (3:03)
  27. Pony Rink 26 (Blowoff / Everyone Comes To The Freak Show) (2:58)

Disc 3

Live Freaks

  1. Ty's Freak Show Restoration (1991) (18:08) (*)
  2. Everyone Comes To The Freakshow (1997) (2:29)
  3. Harry (2014) (3:04)
  4. Herman (2014) (3:18)
  5. Wanda (1995) (4:50)
  6. Jack (1997) (5:53)
  7. Benny (2001) (6:44)
  8. Mickey (2018) (4:14)
  9. Lillie (2011) (5:59)
  10. Nobody Laughs When They Leave (2001) (3:25)

Credits

Release history

Year Label Format Region
1990 Cryptic Corporation LP/CD US
CD
East Side Digital
Torso LP/CD/Cass NL
1991 Cryptic Corporation Cass US
1994 Euro Ralph CD/BOX EU
1995 East Side Digital CD US
2003 Ralph America
2006 Mute EU
2021 New Ralph Too, Cherry Red Records, MVDaudio US & EU

See also

External links and references

  • "Freak Show started out to be about a circus, then it was about a pony circus. A roller skating pony circus" 'Mondo 2000 #5 interview with The Cryptic Corporation,
  • Freak Show 2021 pREServed booklet, Jim Knipfel
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