'The Voice of Midnight' is a soundtrack play by The Residents and a very unique album in their extensive catalogue. It is studio album number 32 and their only release in 2007. The vocals are as weird as ever for this band, ranging from male growls, strangled cries, falsetto melancholia and a gorgeous female consciousness. All of these characters are introduced in the first song The Sandman clocking 8 and a half minutes. The chilling story concerns the fears of the Sandman and how this morbid tale to scare kids to sleep is a real creature that sprinkles sand in children's eyes causing death. This idea comes from E.T.A. Hoffman's "Der Sandmann" but you don't need to know about that to understand what is going on.
It plays out more as a theatrical production than other Resident's albums with characters singing and speaking lines. The music is strange synths and percussion on screwball melodies and dissonant sounds. On Mental Decay there are some quirky odd violins and singing that is repeated phrases along with a narration 'I look away, I look a way I've never looked before'. In Claire's Response she retorts 'you're disgusting!' and then sinister vocals state that the sandman is coming. The minimalist lead guitar is classic Residents and then an Oriental musicscape enters. Claire's vocals are off kilter and warped amidst the irregular music. The protagonist Nathaniel renounces his belief in the sandman and apologises.
In the Dark has a jarring phone call opening it with some noise on the line and a ghostly siren 'my apartment's on fire!' Lots of expletives are heard as he realises all his stuff is being burned. The guitar is mournful and there is an ominous string synth heard. A creepy voice is heard 'she slips in the shadows, she slips in the dark.'
We hear in Professor Caligari (based on the German Expressionist film perhaps) Nathaniel's dad has conducted experiments in alchemy. His father's friend Coppelius was with Nathaniel's dad during a chemical accident and the identity of Coppelius becomes submersed within Nathaniel's subconscious combining this with the Sandman folklore, they become infused as one and the Sandman is envisaged as a creature that pours sand in children's eyes and they bleed from their heads. The Sandman then carries these victims to the moon and they are devoured. Not exactly bedtime listening.
In The Telescope Nathaniel buys a telescope and then becomes possessed to ponder on the Sandman's deeds. Nathaniel receives an invitation to a party from Olympia, a girl who will sing and play piano. Her singing and piano playing is then heard as a ghostly apparition in Nathaniel's mind. On True Love, She sings a warped version of Beautiful Dreamer that is barely recognisable, in a high pitched register. There's a cool guitar lead break that is one of the best moments on the album.
Seven Cats has a purring sound and some half decent singing and a narration about heaps of cats doing all sorts of things. Nathaniel sees all these cats and is amazed there are so many doing all these things. He sees a hunched up character coming up the street 'slinking from shadow to shadow' and we can assume it's the guy who sold the telescope. He breaks into the professor's basement and Nathaniel shouts 'I've got to stop him!' He goes in and demands the box from the thief, the box's contents are eyeballs, and Olympia's body without eyes. Then to his horror he sees all these heads on the shelves and the Sandman comes in, perhaps the most disturbing moment on the album; the creature screeches 'eyeless souls and they can't look back at all'. Nathaniel is going mad seeing seaweed, eels coming from a cloudy mass, 'that became a blister bursting open and revealed a dark and luscious liquid that became my favourite meal.'
Catatonia is next, a girl speaking of how she feels about the professor's psychotic behaviour is heard. Nathaniel is now catatonic 'sometimes he wakes up but there's no one there.' We hear inside Nathaniel's head, the sandman is in his mind imploring him to sleep 'just like a rat'. The Proposal has a happy Birthday song sounding as bleak as The Birthday Boy from another Residents album. The boy is recovering; 'it's almost a miracle!' The Sandman warns 'they live for a while then they wander away,
Nathaniel asks for Claire's hand in marriage and in The Tower the dialogue between them is uneasy as to where they could be married. They go to climb a tower, and the foreboding atmosphere signals disaster. The Sandman is still appearing and I can only assume Claire will be thrown off the high tower. Nathaniel says its peaceful looking down at the world. Claire tells him to look at the hill 'does it remind you of something round and full?' She is pregnant and going to have twins, wonderful news but Nathaniel is furious. He accuses her of having sex with the Sandman; 'you want to have his babies, snip snip snip!' He moves her to the tower and threatens her, then he goes stark raving mad 'I'll kill him!' and in an act of sacrifice he throws himself off to rid himself of the Sandman and the torture forever.
His mangled body lies at the foot of the tower and Sandman torments him even in death. Epilogue completes the dark tale with a piano, monotonous synth and some creepy chants. I was surprised at the contents of this album that tell such a coherent story. The characters are well performed, and the irony of the ending when granny Claire tells her boys to go straight to sleep or the Sandman will come and eat their eyeballs is one that is unsettling. It all makes perfect sense for once, unlike most of the other Residents' concept albums.
The horror story will appeal to many but it is creepy throughout and not designed for young ears. I was really delighted with this album as it has a compelling story and is definitely one of the scariest albums from The Residents, one of the better albums in this era of the band, recommended for those who love a good concept album.