Corn is another lost album that, unlike Love Is Overtaking Me or Calling Out of Context, was close to being released at some point in the early 1980s, according to some notes and test pressings. That’s somewhat ironic, though, because, of the major Russell reissue projects so far, the nine tracks on Corn sound the most like demos. Solid demos, to be sure, with complete arrangements and decent fidelity, but there’s something skeletal about these tracks that separates it from both the fizzy new wave of Context and the clear, full acoustic tracks on Love. A number of these tracks have also been released in other versions, in some cases with better sound quality, and a few of those are his most well-known tracks. “See My Brother, He’s Jumping Out (Let’s Go Swimming #2)”, best known via the Walter Gibbons mix on World, is one, and the take of “Keeping Up” on Another Thought, with background vocals by Jennifer Warnes, still seems definitive compared to the one here. A more fleshed-out “This Is How We Walk on the Moon” was collected on Another Thought, but in this dry and ultra-stripped down version the smallest unit of sound is given so much weight.
Despite the familiarity, Corn holds together remarkably well. These songs feel like they belong together and are meant to be heard on this record, in this sequence. And where previous Russell reissue projects tended to cluster tracks in a similar style together, this record shows the full range of what he was up to and makes it coherent. Broadly speaking, the record is mostly drum machine-driven electro-pop, without the abandon of Russell in disco mode or the intimacy of his acoustic tracks, but all of his styles are in here somewhere. “Lucky Cloud” is as straightforward a pop song as Russell allowed himself. The two versions of “Corn” and “Hiding Your Present From You” are more free-form jams, with Russell soloing on a cello run through a distortion pedal. And the closing “Ocean Movie” is an abstract instrumental, almost neo-krautrock in its heavily textured spaciness. In a sense Corn feels like a lo-fi, weirder version of The World of Arthur Russell, in the way it serves as an introduction to all his different approaches while also demonstrating so clearly the threads between them.