A dense operetta with a cohesive musical approach, Not Available would eventually be released by The Cryptic Corporation on Ralph Records on October 12th 1978, as a stop-gap following continual delays in the release of the group's ambitious project Eskimo.
Theory of Obscurity
Shortly after the 1974 release of their official debut album Meet The Residents, The Residents returned to their Sycamore Street studio to conduct experimental recordings, in accordance with their mentor N. Senada's Theory of Obscurity, which posited that an artist does his or her best work in isolation, free of the influence of an audience. If an artist is modifying his or her ideas to suit the tastes of the audience (in order to get better reviews or better sales), then the work is being corrupted.
These recordings were compiled onto a reel which was given the working title "X Is For Xtra (A Conclusion)", and shelved by the group in accordance with Senada's theory. The earliest reference by The Residents to an unreleased album can be found in the liner notes of the group's second album proper, The Third Reich 'n Roll, in 1976.
Judging from this and other writings from around this time, the official word was that The Residents had no intention of ever releasing this mysterious album, claiming that, in strict accordance with Senada's theory, the work must strictly remain "not available" until its creators had forgotten its existence.
Despite this being the widely accepted version of events, the truth of the matter is somewhat different.
In 1974, The Residents were on the brink of collapse. The group had been living together at their Sycamore Street warehouse for three years, and during that time certain personal, creative, and sexual tensions had grown among the members, including the issue of a love triangle involving two members of the group.
Rather than let the loose assortment of creatives splinter, The Residents took the opportunity to isolate themselves, and developed their tensions into a dense psychodrama, conducting "rehearsals" and casting the primary roles with the actual parties involved in the group's tensions: Edweena, the woman at the center of the love triangle, her lover Porcupine, his rival Catbird, as well as a Greek chorus in the person of Uncle Remus, and The Enigmatic Foe, whose role only became clear as the players acted instinctively, leading the drama towards a wholly unexpected conclusion.
Unbeknownst to the other members of the group, while this was happening, one Resident saw the opportunity to turn the ongoing rehearsals into an operetta, and gathered a number of recently-recorded musical scraps, including elements from a proposed score to their then-ongoing feature film project Vileness Fats, into a demo reel titled "X Is For Xtra (A Conclusion)".
The Residents then edited, mixed and re-recorded these elements, crafting an avant-garde symphony in four movements, which they would eventually title Not Available. The lyrics to the operetta had mostly written themselves naturally through the process of rehearsal; "Ship's A Goin' Down" directly referenced the abyss the group was facing (and remains the only track The Residents have ever recorded in which the voices of all four members can be heard).
When the operetta was complete, the group unanimously decided to shelve it. The member of the group who had first compiled the recordings had become an adherent of N. Senada's Theory of Obscurity, and was enamoured with the idea of an album which could never be released. Having now mostly resolved their differences, the rest of the group were happy to heep the album in the archives - they considered the completed work far too personally revealing to ever be released to the public.
PlotNot Available focuses on a love triangle between three characters, Edweena, The Porcupine (her lover), and The Catbird (his rival), narrated by the distant and objective Uncle Remus. Spurred into a complete breakdown by the proceedings, The Porcupine's place in the operetta's climactic duel scene is taken by The Enigmatic Foe, a figure whose purpose up to this point has been unknown.
As the operetta reaches its peak, The Catbird and The Enigmatic Foe aim pistols at one another, while The Porcupine hides in a bush. Finally, the two come to the realization that Edweena, the mutual object of their desire, has eloped with the independently wealthy Uncle Remus. The tension is shattered by the Porcupine, who emerges from the shrubbery to paraphrase Shakespeare.
With illusions of love shattered, the three are then able to forgive, embrace and even welcome the traitorous Remus back to the fold upon his return from his unexpected honeymoon.
The eventual publication of the album came about as the result of further tensions within The Residents in 1978, when they were working on Eskimo, a much-touted (and already delayed) major release. However, after a disagreement with their management company The Cryptic Corporation, the members of the group disappeared to England with the master tapes, seeking refuge with their friend Chris Cutler.
In need of something to release, the Cryptics pulled "some old tapes" off the shelves, releasing them as Not Available. A promotional campaign, announcing "Now It Can Be Sold" (echoing the famous DEVO slogan "Now It Can Be Told") accompanied the release of the album on Ralph Records.
The Residents are said to have reacted to the unexpected release of Not Available with "a shrug", arguing that with the passage of time since the original recordings, and as they had not intentionally released it themselves, the release did not affect the philosophical conditions under which the album had been shelved.
Not Available was reissued by Ralph in 1983, and on CD in 1988 by Torso in the Netherlands and East Side Digital in the US. Torso also reissued the album on vinyl at this time. It was next reissued by East Side Digital on CD in 1997, and on vinyl and CD in 2004 and 2005 by Euro Ralph.
In 2011, The Cryptic Corporation released a new, remastered and extended version of Not Available, which restored approximately seven minutes of previously unheard material to the running time of the album. This material includes an extended instrumental introduction to "Edweena", and integrates the instrumental pieces "Soundtrack Music Piece 17" and "Asonarose" into "Ship's A'Going Down" and "Never Known Questions" respectively.
Original 1978 release
- Part One: Edweena (9:29)
- Part Two: The Making Of A Soul (9:59)
- Part Three: Ship's A'Going Down (6:34)
- Part Four: Never Known Questions (7:00)
- Epilogue (2:21)
2011 extended edition
- Part One: Edweena (10:55)
- Part Two: The Making Of A Soul (10:03)
- Part Three: Ship's A'Going Down (10:10)
- Part Four: Never Known Questions (8:54)
- Epilogue (2:21)
pREServed edition (2019)
Not Available was initially not included with the rest of The Residents' "classic" era albums in their pREServed reissue campaign (2018-present), in order to "pREServe" the Theory of Obscurity which guided the album's composition. It was, however, listed (albeit crossed out) in the liner notes to the reissues of Eskimo and Commercial Album in early 2019, even being designated a catalog number, NRT007.
The pREServed edition of Not Available was finally released in November 2019, alongside the 1971-1972 compilation set A Nickle If Your Dick's This Big. It includes the original 1978 release of the album on disc one, with bonus live versions of the album's tracks recorded between 1982 and 2014, and a second disc containing most of the contents of "X Is For Xtra", the previously unheard 1974 demo reel which eventually became Not Available.
The second disc features slightly longer versions of "Asonarose" and "Soundtrack Music Piece 17" than the edits previously heard on the 2011 extended version of Not Available. The pREServed edition does not include the complete mix of the extended "Edweena" from the 2011 edition, or the piano instrumental section "Available Piece" previously heard on the Beautiful Eyes compilation in 2010.
An unlisted bonus track, a pump organ version of "Rest Aria" entitled "Russian Love Song", is featured at the end of the second disc. A representative of Cherry Red Records has noted that this is the earliest known recording related to the Not Available project. An additional bonus outtake, "Available Nonsensical", was first included in a promotional YouTube video announcing the release of the pREServed edition of the album, and was released by The Residents for free on their official website shortly thereafter. The group explained that they found this outtake too late to include it in the pREServed set before it was printed.
(*) indicates tracks which are previously unreleased.
Not Available + Available Live
- Part One: Edweena (9:27)
- Part Two: The Making Of A Soul (9:52)
- Part Three: Ship's A'Going Down (6:33)
- Part Four: Never Known Questions (6:59)
- Epilogue (2:35)
- Ship's A'Going Down (1982 Rehearsal) (2:36)
- Ship's A'Going Down (Live, 1986) (4:14)
- Mourning Glories (Live, 2014) (3:58)
- Mehico Ron Devoo (*) (3:04)
- Theme From X (With Roman Overtones) (*) (2:29)
- Theme From X (Pt 2) (*) (1:44)
- Salome And Goiter (*) (1:47)
- New Mexico Dream (*) (5:09)
- Ho Ho Bumped His Toe (*) (0:49)
- Where To Begin? (*) (4:22)
- Fairly Well (*) (4:09)
- Love Sprong (*) (2:47)
- Ah, Spare Us Gus (*) (2:09)
- Slow Texture (*) (2:17)
- Tennessee Williams (*) (2:06)
- Little A (An Authentic Folk Song) (*) (2:19)
- Asonarose (*) (2:30)
- Anaconda Montana (*) (2:53)
- Tune Of The Unknown (*) (1:31)
- Soundtrack Music Piece 17 (*) (1:54)
- Oh Solo Meow (*) (3:35)
- Mehico Ron Devoo Finale (*) (2:31)
- Russian Love Song (*) (14:46) (unlisted)
Torso CD edition (1988)
While there are a million stories about The Residents, one of the more intriguing concerns the recording of their second LP, Not Available. Early in the career of the band, the "theory of obscurity" was introduced to them by the German avant gardist, N. Senada. The plan called for the creation of complete projects that were literally not intended to be heard by anyone other than its creators. The Residents realized the truth in this ideal: that music really was difficult to record without considering the audience. They thought the experience gained by completing such a project would prove worthwhile toward achieving an independent attitude toward music. N. Senada had also been quick to point out that such a project reduces the amount of artistic clutter that is quickly swallowing the planet.
Not Available was completed in 1974 and stored. Several years later, in 1978, The Residents were severely over schedule on their opus, Eskimo. The final release deadline set by the record company arrived only to find that The Residents had fled to Europe and taken Eskimo with them. In desperation, the record company pulled Not Available from the masters room and released it. Surprisingly, The Residents were not upset by this fact since it in no way violated their original intent. Eventually Eskimo was retrieved from the bank vault in London but... well ... that's another story.