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"Is it alive, does it writhe, can it survive under the sun? I can't put my finger on it!"

Class B

Main Category: Meta-Rock
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: From Grunge To The Present Day
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Sometimes I catch myself thinking the same silly thought - "why aren't these guys as big as the Beatles?" Then I catch myself giving myself the same silly answer: "Well, you know, after all, when the Beatles came out to greet the world, they greeted it with 'Well she was just seventeen - you know what I mean'. But when Ween came out to greet it, all these stupid nitwits could offer it was 'You fucked up! You bitch - you really fucked up!'" What other reasons would you need, then?"

It goes without saying that you need to be a little more forgiving and a wee bit more insightful in order to let Ween into your personal world. I mean, it's okay. Ween aren't any more dangerous than the Beatles. Heck, they're less dangerous. That Beatles quote, come to think of it, fairly certainly propagates the pleasures of intimate relationships with underage partners, you know what I mean. Ween, now, they don't do that. They're really nice clean lads, and something tells me neither Mickey Melchiondo nor Aaron Freeman childhood was anywhere near as rowdy as that of some of the Fab Four's. And if you thought that was enough Beatle comparison for one intro, let me tell you I'm just getting started.

Anyway, let's get it proper since this is, after all, the greatest band of the last decade and yet no one outside the US is even aware of their existence. Ween are a couple of musical brothers - and I don't mean "brothers" either in the direct genetic sense or in the Afro-American one. "Spiritual brothers" is more like it. Here they are: Aaron Freeman, a.k.a. Gene Ween, and Mickey Melchiondo, a.k.a. Dean Ween, or just Gener and Deaner for short. The thing that's for certain is that Gener is the main singer and thus the "frontman" for the duo, whereas Deaner is the lead guitar player and the one who doesn't talk nearly as much. The thing that's a bit less for certain is that Gener is the gimmick provider of the band - you know, the lyricist, the stuntman, the extravert - whereas Deaner is its musical backbone - the guitarist, the melodist, the introvert. Maybe it's not quite like that, but it's combinations like these that usually yield the best results, and Ween don't accept anything less than best.

Although the two of them actually teamed up as early as the mid-Eighties, having shared the same class in junior high in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and engaged in quite a few homemade recordings at the time, their first "major" album did not really come out until precisely 1990, and if you ask me, it ain't just a coincidence. Ween are - did I hear someone scoff? - the embodiment of the Nineties. Now before you start waving this off with a "what does he know about the Nineties, he didn't even have his site up before 1998" snigger, let us consider this important question: is there any one band that you could claim to have embodied the Nineties? The way the, er, B*****s embodied the Sixties and, uh, maybe Led Zeppelin embodied the Seventies? And, say, U2 did with the Eighties?

Aha - a tough one. Well, here's my two cents on the matter. By the time the Nineties rolled on, the world had run out of... nah, not melodies, worse than that - emotions. It did not start with the Nineties, of course. Much earlier. But by the Nineties, the emotional crisis was obvious. The tender love song, the aggressive punk clamour, the deep philosophic stutter of the singer-songwriter, the passionate soul baring of the gospel singer, all of these things had become too dangerous. You had to really work your ass off to try and find new ways of expressing all this, and even when you did, you could still be laughed off by the cynics. And we all know how the cynics ruled the day in the Nineties - and still do.

All of which essentially gives you two choices. One is to fuck the cynics and just trudge along with the same old trusty emotions disguised as innovative artistic statements. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but if you lose, you bite the dust real hard, and even if you win, there's no chances at all that you won't bite it the next day. The other one is not even try to fool anybody and just suck up to the good old cliches - because, after all, one thing good old cliches can still do for you is make you rich and famous, especially if you're subtle enough to be friends with MTV and the major labels.

But there's also a third choice, and that choice is - dispense with emotions altogether. Or, rather, with the usual kind of emotions. Make music that would treat "emotion" as an object of study rather than a direct goal. Music that can be angry, or tender, or funny, or sad, or optimistic, or melancholic, but where every song would be structured as a conscious exploration of that emotional state rather than a direct channeling of that state through your personal experiences. Music that relies - very, very heavily - on the artistic experience of the previous three (or more) decades but not because the music of the past inspires that new music; rather because it is used as "brick material" for that new music.

All of this, in a nutshell, is called "post-modernism", and when it comes to "po-mo" in rock music, Ween are its ultimate and consummate priests. Way, way too often, they are casually dismissed as a "parody band", "novelty rock", "clownish act", etc. The boys themselves always take offense when they're lumped in together with Weird "Al" Yankovic, of course, but to hell with the boys (never trust any artist when he starts speaking of his own work, anyway): I would take offense at that, and for the moment, that's even more serious. Ween are frequently - heck, almost always - funny, that much is true. But first and foremost, let us not forget that a regular "parody band"'s main occupation should always be to parody their contemporaries, and first and furthermost, famous contemporaries. Were Ween a parody band, we would expect them to rip the entrails out of everybody from Kurt Cobain to the Backstreet Boys to Ricky Martin. For all their incredible diversity, though, this never happened. Instead, Gener and Deaner were quite happy with "parodying" just about everything that was lying a bit out of sight, including such 'long-abandoned' genres as 60s psychedelia and 70s art-rock. These days, what would you call a "parodist" who were writing lengthy spoofs on, say, The Iliad instead of, say, John Irving?

Second, for being a pure 'parody' or 'novelty' act, Ween really have overworked themselves. Not only does their music cover just about any pop/rock genre in existence (and if there are a few they have left out, you can tell it's only a matter of time), it is also tremendously professional. In particular, Deaner, over the last decade, has grown to become one of its greatest, if not the greatest, guitar players. He does not have any individual style - he's way above that; his only trademark would be his insane love for special effects and gimmicks (and if there are a few guitar tones left he has left out, you can tell it's only a matter of time). But he's got this knack for combining serious professionalism and sturdy technique with real rock'n'roll excitement. You can tell he's not a true "virtuoso" along the lines of mastodonts like Page (whom he worships) or Satriani (whom he mildly despises), but for every gap in the finger-flashing department he compensates you with chords selected and felt so masterfully that me, no matter how good any select Ween song is, I can hardly wait until the solo comes by. "Novelty"? Not according to what my ear tells me.

It is true that there is no particularly high (or low), let's call it, "ethico-musical" purpose in Ween's work. No matter what they do, it's hard for the listener to believe that Ween actually believe in what they're singing and playing about, from which the listener often draws the expected conclusion: "It's all a joke, oh ha ha ha, very funny, assholes!" It does not help matters much that throughout all of their early career they have accompanied themselves with this silly teenage mythology about the Supreme Being called Boognish and themselves being his select prophets. I mean, yeah, the Boognish is nice for a laugh and all (and I openly admit to having had that laugh as well), but he's much more suitable for high school age when they were still making homerecorded tapes bearing names like Axis: Bold As Boognish and displaying the well-known teenage stubbornness about being obsessed with a meaningless joke to the point where the joke becomes not just meaningless but also unfunny. It's no surprise that the Boognish eventually became sort of a stone around their neck - and that ever since they entered their "grown-up" phase with Chocolate & Cheese, the Boognish no longer appeared on their records, although the concept is still well-embraced by the fanbase.

But not having an "ethical" purpose does not immediately make the music a "joke". Ween are not clowns; they are ardent, fearless, and hard-working explorers, with a great sense of humour to boot. In fact, I almost feel sort of a common bond between their work and mine own. I, too, am fascinated by music's effect on the listener, and trying to offer my two cents on why the particular genres and styles - or, at least, their best representatives - have this kind of magical effect over our (well, my) senses. But I'm doing this by using longwinded phrases and only maybe succeeding once per a couple dozen reviews, if ever. Ween, on the other hand, do that in music's own terms, by taking artistic legacy, deconstructing it, examining the bare parts and reassembling them in such a way as seems to best reflect the essence of the music. Thus, if it's loud guitar rock, they make it very loud guitar rock, overdriving the instruments to the point of absurdity. If it's misogynistic cock-rock (or misogynistic country-rock, for that matter), they make sure the lyrics double and triple the "commonly accepted" norms of obscenity - just to "see what happens", not because they're filthy-mouthed brainless fucks. If it's Latin stuff, they gotta go with a really grotesque Spanish accent; if it's be-bop, the bass gotta overshadow everything else because it is more important than everything else; and if it's pop, the main hook gotta stick in your head the very first time you hear it, because otherwise, what kind of a pop hook is it?

Now all of this looks nice on paper, but none of this would have produced awesome results if it weren't for one more plain simple fact: Gene and Dean Ween are musical geniuses. It does take a bit of gall to proclaim that, and even more gall to hold on to that opinion when you're past thirty (and I soon will be), but currently I'm not about to complain about my gall stocks. With all this never ending, wild, reckless experimentation and genre-jumping going on it would be amazing if even a third part of it would succeed; reality, however, suggests that about 90% of everything Ween ever did can, and will, be enjoyable simply because the brothers really know how to nail a great melody, in fact, displaying a better grip on the essence of the pop hook than just about anybody in the business since the days of Paul McCartney and Ray Davies. In short, Ween are simply blessed with the gift of songwriting, and in another age, they could have supported an entire army of aspiring young artists with cover material. But they're crazy and they put words like "guava" and "weasel" and "turd" in their lyrics, so nah.

And finally, you know their experimentation succeeds when, to your biggest surprise, you discover that yes - the brothers are capable of grabbing that emotional state, disassembling it into little bits, artificially rebuilding it from scratch and putting it back so it actually starts working again. If somebody told me, for instance, that I could get a warm, pleasant, fuzzy feeling, loading me with some much-needed optimism and sunshine, from a song called 'Pork Roll Egg And Cheese'... well you know. But it does! A song like 'Mushroom Festival In Hell', technically, is little more than a spoof on the "hard rock meets psychedelia" subgenre (Hawkwind and the like), but on a basic emotional state it works just as fine as Hawkwind itself (new dimensions of the mind and all kinds of hippie talk like that). An excursion into the sonic depths of prog rock such as 'Buckingham Green' will have you run for cover, trembling in awe, provided you play it real loud - and it's only your mind that will tell you "hey, wait a minute, they're not supposed to believe in this stuff, why are you allowing yourself to be duped that way?", but definitely not your senses. The senses will be fooled, especially if the mind has not yet been overloaded with too much factual knowledge about the Boognish and his tricks.

And then there are all kinds of cool minor details about Ween. How they got signed on a major label (Elektra) and made their first release even goofier and less 'accessible' than the previous two. How, when you thought you already knew all about them, they suddenly turned the cards back on the entire musical underground and, of all places, went to Nashville to fool around traditional country musicians. How they have this continuity strewn over all their albums, with the Boognish and his attributes like "guava" and "weasel" giving way to the concept of "brotherly love" between Gener and Deaner, and how many of the songs have these little links between them to ensure cohesiveness amidst all the diversity. How they show this fantastic knowledge of pop music and pop culture in general and how one's appreciation of whatever they're doing only keeps growing in direct proportion to the number of 'golden oldies' you have become aware of. How their live shows (and yes, they do have a regular band with a rhythm section assembled for the live shows) are so different from studio recordings and how they're not afraid to prolong them with lengthy, twenty-to-thirty minute guitar jams without being afraid of accusations of wankery and self-indulgence.

Most important, maybe, how they constantly find new ways of reinventing themselves and displaying musical growth. As time goes by, their records become more and more "serious-sounding", without, however, losing any musical integrity or the knack for great hooks. Today, it is even possible to make a Ween "best-of" compilation that no neophyte could dismiss as "puerile", drawing heavily from albums such as The Mollusk and White Pepper (I am so far missing their latest album, Quebec, which seems to be in a similar mould). Of course, we sure know better than to trust this "seriousness", but that's what makes the listening process even more exciting - trying to guess whether they're still playing that old deconstruction game or have finally moved on to the 'writing from the heart' level.

And one last word. I normally wouldn't give out this kind of high-class rating to a pack of "deconstructivists" (well, I have been a bit harsh on Zappa and Beefheart, after all, two of Ween's most obvious spiritual gurus, if the word 'guru' is even applicable here). But in Ween's case, expert deconstructivism comes hand in hand with melodic genius, and so far, I have not encountered any other band that would be able to conduct such a happy marriage between the two. Or, to paraphrase that, I have not encountered any other band whose music was so obviously fake in terms of resonance and yet was still able to come out more resonant than most of the surrounding competition. Naturally, this uniqueness deserves a unique reward.

Not that I have any false hopes about this lengthy introduction changing the mind of anybody who's already made up his mind about Ween in a negative way. It goes without saying that my way of looking at it is, well, just one of the possible ways. If you refuse to accept Ween as a pair of musical giants just because they have written songs about pussy licking and pissy dribbling, or because they have not blazed any serious new trails in modern music (which they haven't, but then I'm still not convinced that anyone has), it's your dice, and you may brand them as "novelty-rock" once and for all. Let's just remember that the greatest "novelty-rock" album of all time was actually released a long, long time ago, and was called Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band. So maybe "novelty-rock" isn't quite as bad as it sounds, either.



Year Of Release: 1990

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Wouldn't be so funny if it weren't so mind-blowing, and vice versa.

Best song: YOU FUCKED UP [and everything that follows]

Track listing: 1) You Fucked Up; 2) Tick; 3) I'm In The Mood To Move; 4) I Gots A Weasel; 5) Fat Lenny; 6) Cold And Wet; 7) Bumblebee; 8) Bumblebee Part 2; 9) Don't Laugh (I Love You); 10) Never Squeal; 11) Up On The Hill; 12) Wayne's Pet Youngin'; 13) Nicole; 14) Common Bitch; 15) El Camino; 16) Old Queen Cole; 17) Stacey; 18) Nan; 19) Licking The Palm For Guava; 20) Mushroom Festival In Hell; 21) L.M.L.Y.P.; 22) Papa Zit; 23) Hippie Smell; 24) Old Man Thunder; 25) Birthday Boy; 26) Blackjack; 27) Squelch The Weasel; 28) Marble Tulip Juicy Tree; 29) Cloudy Cloud.

In 1990, grunge wasn't around. Not much of it, at least. The world was still dominated by green dragons and frizzed hair. Those with better tastes stayed (relatively) underground and only gave themselves away by not having their hair frizzed. Into this fucked-up world came Ween, and by fucking it up some more, managed to cure some of its problems.

Initially, the most amazing thing about GWS is that it is a debut album. How many debut albums - even by self-consciously "shocking" acts - run for maximum CD length, contain over twenty five different tracks, most of these in completely different musical styles, and, above everything else, frequently feature lyrics like "Morgan's pain/Succumbs to the frame/In a zany combination of Wayne's Pet Youngin'"? Granted, the songs didn't exactly appear out of nowhere. Ween had spent at least three years inventing, honing, and practicing them (a few are even available in early versions on some of the brothers' earliest tape recordings, most notably 'You Fucked Up' and 'Bumblebee'). But then so did almost everybody else. What matters is that Ween are coming to the table so fully equipped that this record alone would be enough to guarantee them a place in the annals. They may have made more likeable albums ever since, but they haven't made a single album that would better justify the very need for their existence - or more precisely symbolise their essence, whichever you prefer.

Of course, GWS is juvenile. It flaunts its offensiveness so much that you don't even need to be a PMRC sympathiser to feel a little uncomfortable around many of these songs. I mean, what does one expect from a record whose very first lyrical line reads as "YOU FUCKED UP, YOU BITCH, YOU REALLY FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP, YOU FUCKIN' NAZI WHORE!"? (Admit it, it's hard to imagine a review of GWS that will resist the temptation to quote that in all caps). Even if you're above finding this stuff offensive - you may very well not be above finding it childishly stupid. And I can see that. But the saving grace lies in realizing that GWS is never offensive for the sake of being offensive, a feature in which it even beats some of the obvious Frank Zappa competition. The Weeners aren't being gross because their very nature is gross, or because they're just two dumb hooligans, or even because they're testing the limits of freedom of speech. They're being gross because they're impersonating - more exactly, because they're making caricatures - even more exactly, because they're deconstructing. And since the matters they're deconstructing often happen to be gross in nature - well, rock music is basically gross in nature - they can't help being grosser than the gross.

But only where they find it necessary. Contrary to the expected impressions of a listener who falls upon this with no warning, being gross is just one of the brothers' numerous talents. Others include superb guitar playing, not tremendously advanced in technique but completely mind-blowing in terms of styles and moods covered; a great knack for hooks and grooves, many of which stay with you even if the song itself barely runs over one minute; an unsurpassed knowledge of everything that constitutes pop culture and the ability to use that knowledge without looking too much like pretentious dicks; and, above all, the talent to make GWS look like a thrilling Wizard of Oz-style musical adventure, telling the saga of Gener and Deaner's twisted and exciting journey through the bowels of the Boognish. (The mission itself is explained about midway through in 'Up On The Hill'). And I haven't even mentioned the awesome sounds and arrangements.

The one big mistake, I think, that people often make about this and the following albums is that they are trying to distinguish between the "great songs" and the "joke tunes". Try as I might, I'm not able to make such a distinction. There are certainly some numbers on here that are more fleshed out than others: longer ones, with properly structured verses and choruses, perhaps a slightly lesser degree of open offensiveness, and you might even find Gener and Deaner not screaming their heads off frantically on some of them. But in no way are they more "serious" than the one-minute running gags, unless, of course, one wants to purify the cult of the Boognish by stating that it is improper to say the word "pussy" in front of the Boognish whereas licking the palm for guava is just all right. (Or vice versa?). Especially since many of the one-minute running gags, upon second listen, actually turn out to be fully-fleshed songs as well. Take 'Papa Zit' or 'Tick' - there are verses, there's a chorus, there are instrumental parts, there are codas, everything just like the good doctor prescribed. So what's wrong with being one minute long? Surely what used to be good for Wire may be just as good for Ween.

About the only flaw of this record that may occasionally give me cause for annoyance is that, despite all the diversity, the Weeners obviously have one preferable groove - the guitar-heavy fast screamish distorted one; there's little doubt that hardcore was one of their main inspirations. It's not so much the very sound that annoys me, mind you - it's more like the realisation that they could have achieved even more if they'd traded in two or three of the weaker heavy numbers for something, uh, completely different. As it is, there's a couple stretches on here that sound monotonous, even if they aren't really monotonous. Of course, we do have to remember that it's a debut album, and debut albums by "radical" bands generally tend to be noisier and angrier than whatever comes next; already on The Pod, Ween would be toning it down a little, and Pure Guava, in comparison to GWS, is like a pansy folkie festival.

But I'm not in the mood to quibble, not about such a particularly joyful musical ride, anyways. Twenty-nine blistering musical parodies that actually transcend the concept of parody ("intertextuality" would be a better word to use if I were absolutely sure people would welcome a word like that in a Ween review, but I'm not, so let's forget all about it). The main trick up Gener/Deaner's sleeve is hyperbole. For all of the album's diversity, the brothers' hunting style is remarkably similar. They track down the musical style in question, pin it down with hoes and mattocks, suck the essence out with hypodermic needles, and concentrate upon, well, how do you say - okay, the oneness of it. Many of these songs, throughout all of their duration, sound like they're just starting - and then starting again - and then again - and you keep wanting for them to go somewhere, and then they're over and you say 'That's it?' and they say 'Well, what else did you want?' and you say 'Oh! Well I...' and then you don't know what to say, really, because you weren't really supposed to expect anything else, and besides, you didn't really need anything else.

Example. 'I Gots A Weasel' is bebop - but with bebop, you'd expect the composition to do something after the 'gots a weasel, it's a teasel, mah pleazel, mah pleazel' line. But it doesn't. It just gets repeated several more times, then veers off into some crazy unpredictable direction for a bit, then gets back and does its schtick some more. What's the deal? The deal is that, face it, if it were a "real" bebop-based song, it would most probably never really advance, emotionally and impression-wise, beyond the initial level of that first line. In other words, the 'weasel-teasel' thing would still be the best thing about it. So why should they develop it further, risking boredom and predictability, when they've already given you the best?

Or take 'Fat Lenny'. The opening two chords - and the opening lyrics delivered in between pauses - make it look like the typical beginning to a typically generic hard-rocker. But then it doesn't behave like a typically generic hard-rocker; instead of growing into a "real" riff-driven song, it just keeps swirling around the same trick! As if the frontman has all of a sudden forgotten about the burning down the house mission and stuck in scratched-record mode, spitting out the verses like mad and getting backed up by the same two chords. Again, the same mode: they are taking the song-opening hook that is supposed to grip the listener and get him to enjoy the rest of the song... and blatantly stating that there's really nothing else to the song other than that hook - and there needn't be anything.

Of course, this doesn't mean that all the songs are necessarily short. Keeping it all one to one and a half minute long would be a self-imposed limit, and Ween are not known for limiting themselves. Twice at least, they break the sonic range with huge nine-minute statements of power. 'L.M.L.Y.P.', in particular, is hard to imagine being shorter; after all, if you're doing a Prince send-up, you can't get away with a two-minute groove. Thus, even if I don't really enjoy all nine minutes of it, I do understand the length. Besides, it isn't really just a Prince parody, even if many of the lyrics are taken directly from Prince's songs and the title, appropriately enough, deciphers as 'Let Me...', well, you know the rest. The guitar solo at the end, for instance, almost takes us into Eddie Hazel-esque heaven, and it's as much a nod to the old magic of Funkadelic as it is to the new one of Prince.

In fact, speaking of old magic, here's a great argument why GWS shouldn't be really judged as a straightforward "parody" album. Its influences are too old. Every song on it can be weighted, measured, analysed, and traced back to some prototype, but very few of these prototypes were actual in 1990. There's nothing on GWS that sounds like a parody on synth-pop; nothing that can be described as a mockery of late Eighties hair metal. Instead, they take on genres as bearded as classic (old) funk, doo-wop, acoustic folk, psychedelia, and even Latin pop; and if they're moving closer to their own time, they still prefer "elitist" styles like industrial or death metal to the obvious, commercial crap of the day. A "parody album" would mock the current industry, so you could buy it, carry it home and proudly say 'hey, finally these shit-eaters are getting their due!' But not here.

Going back to the actual songs - I'm certainly not going to go through all of them, but a few random observations nevertheless:

a) Do not bypass the nine-minute doo-wop-fest of 'Nicole'. Its construction in the latter half reminds me of Roxy Music's 'Bogus Man' - a steady, never-ending rhythm against the background of which all kinds of weird shit are going on. Except that 'The Bogus Man' was weird from the beginning, and 'Nicole' gets weirdified gradually and with much gusto.

b) Few gentlemen in the business can impersonate real fucking anger and delirium better than the brothers. Ninety percent of the charm of 'You Fucked Up' consists of Gene screaming 'you fucked up, AAAAAAHH!' ten times as convincingly as your random hardcorer, as if the fuckin' Nazi whore had just chopped off his manlyhood. The same with 'Tick' - I can almost see them rolling on the floor with out-of-orbit eyes and dribbling saliva as the 'I'll get you, I'll burn you, I'll crush you' lines come along so realistically.

c) None of the album's hilarious moments (and there are plenty) get me rolling on the floor LOL-ing as much as when Gene (or was that Dean?) says 'Cordoba!' in the third verse of 'El Camino'. I'm still trying to figure out why that is. 'She's a bull of a machine, beauty like I've never seen' - classic.

d) "Mushroom Festival In Hell" currently holds one of the top spots in my head for "Song That Best Matches Its Title". I'd eat my hat to see Opeth or Blind Guardian cover that one. 'All the hippies gonna lick the mind of god, they've already been immersed in the wad' - classic.

e) If you thought Ween were incapable of writing "high-style" lyrics, check out this: 'Squelch the little weasel/Crush him before he spawns/Break it to me gently/But with merriment and song'. Steeleye Span, eat your heart out. 'My flesh betwixt my skin' - classic.

f) 'I'm In The Mood To Move', the only tune on the album where Ween are actually helped out vocally by David Williams, over its one minute blasts "black machismo" to pieces more directly than a million parody pieces could ever blast the bastions of "white machismo". Political corectness be damned? Did it ever exist for the Weeners? 'I'm in the mood to whip your body with a tire iron' - classic.

g) I have no idea whatsoever why 'Birthday Boy' commences with the singer going 'Oh, Jesus Christ... PAIN!' as if he were doing the recording with a breadknife stuck between his ribs, or why the song ends with a brief snippet of Pink Floyd's 'Echoes'. And you know what? I don't even wanna know.

Aw shucks, it's not for nothing that DeRogatis called this Ween's "psychedelic masterpiece". I certainly doubt the spiritual brothers really smoked as much pot as they proclaim to have in the album closer, the barely audible 'Cloudy Cloud', but at the very least they can pretend to - very effectively. It's not like I'm calling on anybody to open up your mind and let in the almighty Boognish, but it'd be nice to at least check in every once in a while and see if he isn't already there, by any chance. You'll probably know he is if your reaction to this surrealistic mess is anything like mine.

PS. Three of the 29 tunes weren't originally present on the album; they have been added in later for the special "25th Anniversary Edition" (sic). All three fit in so well, though, that you'll probably never guess which ones they actually are.



Year Of Release: 1991

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

One thing's for certain - you don't wanna mess around with the Boognish. There's some real scary shit on here.

Best song: DR ROCK

Track listing: 1) Strap On That Jammy Pac; 2) Dr Rock; 3) Frank; 4) Sorry Charlie; 5) The Stallion (part 1); 6) Pollo Asado; 7) Right To The Ways And The Rules Of The World; 8) Captain Fantasy; 9) Demon Sweat; 10) Molly; 11) Can U Taste The Waste; 12) Don't Sweat It; 13) Awesome Sound; 14) Laura; 15) Boing; 16) Mononucleosis; 17) Oh My Dear (Falling In Love); 18) Sketches Of Winkle; 19) Alone; 20) Moving Away; 21) She F***s Me; 22) Pork Roll Egg And Cheese; 23) The Stallion (part 3).

Where Ween and Zappa really connect with each other is their reluctance to make completely self-sufficient records. Thus, The Pod is not so much an independent collection of songs as it is the logical (or, rather, illogical - with Ween, you don't always know where one ends and the other begins) continuation of GWS which, in its turn, then flows straight into the basin of Pure Guava, and so on. There's always the Boognish, and there's always Gener and Deener as his faithful prophets, and there's the swearing and profanity, and there are whores and stallions and funny accents and fuzz effects and guava and ever so often, you'll come across pork roll, eggs and cheese. You know you'll get it all, or much of it at least.

And yet, The Pod is seriously different from GWS; so much so that there are people who have officially registered as loving one and hating the other and vice versa. Me, I tip my non-existent hat to both, but for different reasons as well. With GWS, the brothers announced their presence and that of the Boognish, implying that Boognish is all, and all is Boognish, no matter if it's funk, metal, country, doo-wop, flamenco, or bebop. Implying the same thing for the second time in a row could be superfluous, and maybe even sacrilegious in the face of the Almighty. Besides, they have staked about as many claims as was theoretically possible; now comes the obvious time to start digging deeper.

Thus, The Pod - if this kind of word is even applicable to anything Ween-related - is more serious than its elder brother. Even if there are no more nine-minute rants, the average length of the songs is much longer this time around (23 numbers in as much time as was necessary for GWS to pack in 29). They are also slower, taking more time to develop, often emerging and dissipating in dreamy, foggy shrouds; many are donwright mantraic, begging you to gently sway along their unhurried groove and maybe seriously annoying you if you're not in a gently swaying mood at the time. The exhilarating juvenile humor is all but gone; even the obscenity is at a much, much lower level than on GWS (only 'The Stallion' and 'She F***s Me', I think, come across as the musical dick jokes they are, compared to at least a good quarter of the GWS entries). And it's DARK, too.

In fact, it's so dark that by the time 'Pork Roll Egg And Cheese' rolls along, my nerves are positively on the edge. I don't exactly feel it while it lasts, but if it weren't so, I'm not sure that hearing an upbeat chorus go 'so mama if you please, pass me the pork roll egg and cheese' would trigger the kind of immediate positive reaction that it does. In this context, it's not just a cutesy poppy spoof - it has the same function that, I dunno, an uplifting Tom Waits spiritual song does at the end of his bleak-sounding musical apocalypses. Only for Ween, true hope and salvation are epitomised by pork roll egg and cheese - on a kaiser bun. Don't forget the kaiser bun. That's the key, goddammit.

Throughout, the accent is on nasty, nasty, nasty. Nasty guitar tones. Nasty vocals. Nasty arrangement tricks. It all feels like jagged parts of a really, really bad trip, as if Boognish were concentrating them on the negative side effects of his cult - or as if they were trying to distill all the dirt and nastiness of hard rock, heavy metal, and related genres from Led Zeppelin to Nine Inch Nails and throw it in one heap. That's not to say it's a heavy metal album or anything. It's simply tough to listen to, and in a way, it only gets tougher with time, but still, strange waves of masochism are driving me forward and plunging me into its nightmarish soundscapes and physically unpleasant absurdity.

Who knows, maybe it's just because it's so awesome, though. One of my favs is 'Can You Taste The Waste', which is just a minute and a half of the most monstruous death metal guitar tone ever invented repeated over and over with the song title chanted over it several times in an ominous echoey whisper. In a different setting, the melody would have been genuinely creepy. Here, you know it's just Ween and it can't be creepy, but it's still unsettling because you can't simply hear this melody and go about your business innocently whistling along. Especially if you play it real loud - especially if the speakers face the street and people outside are running in search of a suitable bomb shelter. Whatever it is, whatever is its purpose, it works, and I almost get to really "taste the waste" with it.

Another highlight is 'Captain Fantasy', Ween's take on escapism and superheroism. Here, the guitars are just heavy, and the vocals are just echoey, but it don't really make the results more positive - there's no fooling the audience what Captain Fantasy's true desires really are. Okay, to be perfectly honest, I have absolutely no idea what they are, but I get nervous all the same. Good thing the vocal melody is so immaculately catchy, even despite the nasty vocals.

One thing that's common about all of these songs is how they sound so forced - not in the "written under great pressure" sense, but in the "made to look as if they were written under great pressure" one. Many of them are continuing the line of 'Birthday Boy', the grayishly-gloomiest looking song on GWS, with its 'uh, Jesus Christ... PAIN!' intro. That 'PAIN!', bold letters and all, should have been the true title of The Pod. It's as if each and every song on here was, in diameter, twice as wide as the vagina that gave them birth, if you'll pardon a dirty metaphor. Some songs even end up as true invalids at birth, most notably the album opening 'Strap On That Jammy Pac', which opens in, well, opening mode with scattered guitar trills and drum fills, pretending to lead into some merry countryish ditty after the first verse... and then proceeds to stay in that same opening mode for the rest of its duration. It's the brothers' hyperbolic needle working again, and I dare say it's a good job.

Other songs are born and reared all right, but still end up looking like sonic Quasimodos. 'Frank', for instance, starts out like a cross between slow Eighties R'n'B and greasy cock-rock, but then is taken over by a psychedelic mega-guitar-fiesta and ends in dissonant wailing so unbearable I have to play it at near-inaudible volume levels to avoid a headache. But I can't skip it! That's the most absurd thing - I can't skip it, because it's got a point. I love its blazing, searing, uncompromising, unprofessional, nauseating guitar cacophony - just as I like the wall-rattling howls they get out of the instrument in 'Mononucleosis', some of which are practically Hendrix-like in nature. Where else in 1991 can you encounter Hendrix-like guitar that openly invites you to open your mind and scoffs at the very idea at the same time? No other place you can go. Where else can you get something like 'Right To The Ways And The Rules Of The World', a five-minute wobble-on-the-waves drama of prog-rock proportions, driven by a solemn keyboard sound (how the heck did they tamper with their electronic equipment to imitate a Mellotron?) and the most desperate Gene Ween vocals on Earth?..

For all these goodies and more, much more, I am even willing to put up with occasional misfires like 'Laura' (a rather pointless guitar epic after the far superior 'Frank') and 'She Fucks Me' (a little too much stupidity against a little too little excitement). Especially if they can compensate me for the latter with a few classic rockers like 'Sketches Of Winkle' - some of the best Ween riffage to ever be captured on tape - and 'Dr Rock', a grand, swooping glam-rocker with, for once, plenty of energy and speed. (Is it just me, or does the opening vocal hook of the song really have something to do with Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell', by the way?).

All in all, The Pod is far from an easy listen, but whoever said life in the shadow of the Boognish was a rose garden? It takes a little time to suck in its hidden charms, crack all of its hidden influences and references, and finally, just bring yourself to enjoy all that there is. Luckily, dark or not, there's still plenty of humour in here, and one thing that the brothers never do is going against the laws of melody and, uh, harmony, even if their conception of harmony is a little whacked. (Unfortunately, that taboo would be broken on Pure Guava). Almost every song on here, in the end, is memorable in some way, once you finally get through ('Alone', for instance, has avoided me for about twelve listens in a row, until I finally understood that its - rather obvious - catchiness was simply overshadowed by the bare-bones arrangement and almost inaudible vocals. Sure you can't hear them, but they are singing a catchy tune!). But yes, a little suffering is required. Even Ween themselves are personally suffering on the album, as told in the tragic story of 'Mononucleosis' - what makes you any better?



Year Of Release: 1992

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

Perfunctory. But when it's applied to Ween, you can never be sure about the meaning of that particular word.


Track listing: 1) Little Birdy; 2) Tender Situation; 3) The Stallion Pt. 3; 4) Big Jilm; 5) Push Th' Little Daisies; 6) The Goin' Gets Tough From The Getgo; 7) Reggaejunkiejew; 8) I Play It Off Legit; 9) Pumpin' 4 The Man; 10) Sarah; 11) Springtheme; 12) Flies On My Dick; 13) I Saw Gener Cryin' In His Sleep; 14) Touch My Tooter; 15) Mourning Glory; 16) Loving U Thru It All; 17) Hey Fat Boy (Asshole); 18) Don't Get 2 Close (To My Fantasy); 19) Poop Ship Destroyer.

I don't have any documental proof, and won't get any unless I apply for the position of Ween's Official Biographer (and since such a position probably requires the applicant to have close encounters with Scotchguard, I guess it's tough luck for me). But I still feel positively sure, from the pork roll in my head to the eggs and cheese in my toes, that the reason why Pure Guava sounds the way it sounds had something - a lot, in fact - to do with Ween being picked up by Elektra Records. Now the reason they got picked up completely escapes me; maybe somebody saw that one of their songs was called 'Can U Taste The Waste' and thought they were the next Doors or something. (Yes, some people can be that stupid, otherwise, why would bands like Ween exist in the first place?).

However, if the guys at Elektra were maybe expecting Deaner and Gener to come up with something more polished and accessible, Deaner and Gener were much more concerned about not being taken for a bunch of sellouts. At the very least, if they really wanted to sell out, their first move would have to be so radically non-sell-out-ish that it'd forever pacify the dissenters and the doubtful ones. That's my interpretation for the moment; stay tuned for further changes.

What is pretty much obvious is that Pure Guava is the most baffling and hard-to-get-into Ween album released up to that point; and, worse, pretty often it looks like it's baffling for the sake of being baffling - and little else. The strength of GWS lay in its amazing diversity and versatility. The Pod, throughout, read like a pretty whacked postmodern variation on a bad acid trip. In dire contrast, Pure Guava doesn't read like much of anything. It's short (a bare 55 minutes compared to the CD-packing sprawl of its elder brothers), rather disconnected, and, for the most part, sounds like it was recorded in about two days on about two meters of recording space. All the great historians have put down the fact that it was the last time the spiritual brothers recorded on a four-track - but they sure made that last time sound like the most important one, celebrating the four-track virtues like there was no tomorrow.

It's also amazingly static. Mantraic even, I'd say. There used to be lots of development going on within Ween songs - except for the times when the songs were way too short to be subject to development, which was, like, half of the time. But on Pure Guava, the songs are relatively long AND if you've heard the first minute of each of them, you may be sure that you're not missing anything important if you just skip over to the next track. Many just basically consist of one repetitive (always weirdly processed, of course) guitar groove over which the Weeners grumble something equally repetitive and monotonous, and fairly frequently the grumble is so low in the mix it's almost like they're whispering the melody. Also, the electronic treatment obsession reaches its apex - practically every song distorts Gener's voice that way or the other, running the gamut from chipmunk to Cookie Monster but mostly staying somewhere in between.

In short, everything is poised for a crash - but somehow, the plane always gets to land safely at the last moment. I don't really know why. Maybe it's simply because, after all the complaints have been voiced, the grooves in question are still awesome grooves, and once you get used to the idea that each of them is going to run long enough to try your patience, the overall mood changes from disappointment to reluctant acceptance, and from there, to subtle enjoyment. And from there, sometimes, to ECSTASY!!!!

Okay, no fashionable drug references in this perfectly safe, family-entertainment-level review of a Ween album. Let's discuss the songs instead, steadily moving down the line from the general to the individual. 'Little Birdy'. The title might bring up images of idealistic, get-back-to-yer-roots folk-rockers, clad in bear coats and strumming their lutes and mandolins, and you're hardly far from the truth - except that the lutes and mandolins sound like guitars being plucked underwater by specially trained dolphins, and the bear-coated folk-rockers seem to have swallowed one too many of these mysterious Celtic mushrooms that force people to go dancing with sprites under the eaves of Sherwood forest. Also, the lyrics more or less read like the bear-coated folk-rocker who wrote them had just turned six years old of age. But what else did you expect from Ween?

Or: 'The Stallion Pt. 3'. Nothing to do whatsoever with parts 1 and 2 of the song of said name apart from a devilish 'hey dude, he's the stallion' refrain from time to time. Lyrics are very much prog-rockish, pompous and egotistic to the point of bursting except it's all Ween; some, in fact, could easily be mistaken for the clever effects of a computer program trained to write artsy drivel (ever tried the 'Electronic Jon Anderson?'). Music is... mmm... non-descript. U2-ish guitar loop, possibly, with a drum machine on top and shit like that. Cool, classy guitar solo - actually, one major thing that saves Pure Guava is the amount of fat, juicy guitar tones and catchy passages the Deaner plays on them. Any particular point they'd want to make? Hardly. The mock-prog routine has already been done to better effect on The Pod, and 'The Stallion Pt. 3' is way too minimalistic to be classified as true mock-prog in the same vein as 'Right To The Ways And The Rules Of The World'. But none of that explains the feeling of ridiculous giddiness I get every time I listen to it.

Maybe it'd work to describe Pure Guava as Ween's Big Guitar Album, now that I think of it. That's not to say it would have worked better without the vocals, but I really, really dig all the little tricks and bends and loops and syncopes that are met here in abundance. 'Big Jilm', for instance, is basically just one simple blues-rock loop played over and over again (the vocals, I highly suspect, are completely improvised - indirectly proven by the fact that I've been whistling the song for several days, each time effortlessly adlibbing something new), but the song sort of gives that loop the proper attention and even admiration it deserves - which would never have happened in a normal world. 'Springtheme' works like a tender love song with concealed menace on the inside - mainly due to the subtle shifts in the guitar tone rather than the chipmunk vocals. And the powerhouse double-tracking on 'Flies On My Dick' is the only reason anybody might need to listen to that particular track in the first place - just to catch that glorious moment when the guitars, like Jack's beanstalk, spring out of the seemingly barren ground.

Then again, not everything on Pure Guava can be reduced to "much guitar = bwana like", "no guitar = bwana split". 'Push Th' Little Daisies', for instance, can't. In true Ween fashion, this was the only (minor) (alternative) hit the duo ever had - "true Ween fashion" because there's no explaining why that song ever became popular and/or why that song ever became popular. It just happened, 'sall. Maybe the perspective of pushing th' little daisies and making them come up kinda appealed to some people. Or maybe it's just that the vocals are so overdriven that it's impossible not to notice the song. Whatever. Even if you know nothing about Ween except for this song, it's impossible to take it "seriously".

In other news, there's pretty little, if any, guitar, on 'Reggaejunkiejew', arguably Ween's most un-PC composition up to that point (if not ever). Again, though, it's deliberate chaos throughout, because the melody of the song seems to be poking fun at the electronica thing - pushing that ridiculously dumb (but unforgettable!) bass/keyboard loop on you - while the lyrics consciously provoke poor innocent Rastafarians, throwing in a slice of anti-Semitism for good measure. 'Matzofarian reggaejunkiejew' - whatcha think of that? I bet some people got seriously angry. The ones that took the time to examine the lyrics, I mean. Those that didn't probably only discerned 'fuck you', because at one point they almost use 'fuck you' as a rhythmic device. (And yes, I laughed when they did that - what a perfect pretext to sue me for immaturity).

And over all of this come several relatively normal pop compositions - maybe the ones they were duping their Elektra bosses with - gorgeous Fleetwood Mac-ish balladry like 'Sarah', or straightahead jolly country-rock like 'I Saw Gener Crying In His Sleep' (only given away by some deliberate out-of-tune singing in the chorus), or the almost sincere-sounding dream-pop of 'Don't Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy)', which seems all right until the melody unexpectedly... disappears and the last two choruses are sung accappella. And it would be nice and homely and friendly if it weren't interspersed with looped recordings of somebody with an Italian accent screaming 'hey fat boy! asshole! come here! you killed my mother! I wanna kill you!' or with a story about three pumpkins told over radio feedback superimposed on a Martian invasion ('Mourning Glory', arguably Ween's 5-minute tribute to Metal Machine Music - don't forget the seatbelts), or with a fast-paced piece of social critique that just might be the most obscene piece of social critique ever recorded ('Pumpin' 4 The Man'). In short - it's Ween.

I don't really know what to make of Pure Guava. Part of me wants to dump it for being so obvious a piece of musical hooliganry aimed at testing the limits of their label's patience. But the other part of me recognizes that it's the same musical combo that's responsible for The Pod, and that one should not be judged for intentions, but only for the results. I'll tell you what: if every second song on Pure Guava were cut in half, and the remaining space were occupied by more of the same, I'd have rated it higher. As it is, I only rate it what I rate it and I only recommend it for those who have already succumbed to the charms of the preceding two records - and by all means, don't make this your first Ween purchase. Keep in mind that you might be alergic to pure guava - it is perhaps wiser to start off with something a little less concentrated.



Year Of Release: 1994

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Looks like variety is no longer the spice of life - it's its chocolate and cheese.


Track listing: 1) Take Me Away; 2) Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down); 3) Freedom Of '76; 4) I Can't Put My Finger On It; 5) A Tear For Eddie; 6) Roses Are Free; 7) Baby Bitch; 8) Mister Would You Please Help My Pony; 9) Drifter In The Dark; 10) Voodoo Lady; 11) Joppa Road; 12) Candi; 13) Buenas Tardes Amigo; 14) The HIV Song; 15) What Deaner Was Talkin' About; 16) Don't Shit Where You Eat.

Finally transferred to a brand new studio where they can mess up some brand new equipment, the Weeners finally get back to what they used to do best of all - that is, everything at once. Somewhere out there, I see potential battles on the horizon, fought over the issue of what's more diverse - Chocolate And Cheese or GodWeenSatan. Well, running ahead on nothing but pure intuition, I'd say that in pure technical terms, the latter covers more styles, but the big difference between the two is that for C&C, Ween have consciously undergone a crash course in maturation. That's not to say they have gotten "traditionally serious", or that they dropped the dick jokes. That's to say they are crafting actual songs now - songs that can stand on their individual own. As cool as something like 'Can You Taste The Waste' ever was, it only really stood on its two legs in the general context of The Pod. Furthermore, you could never mistake it for 'the real thing' - the tongue was so firmly in cheek you'd be spotting the fleshy bulge a mile away.

With Ween's fourth album, you can take any song off it - okay, almost any song - play it to your unsuspecting neighbour (preferably with poor English language skills, so he can't be too offended by innocent lines like 'baby baby baby bitch, fuck you you stinkin' ass ho') and watch him go 'Hmm, nice tune. So THAT's what they sound like, eh?'. Then you can take another song off the same album, play it and watch him go 'Okay, and who's THAT now?'. Repeat process a dozen times, then astonish him with the ultimate revelation.

The major trick of C&C is that the songs... aren't very good. In fact, this might just be the simplest bunch of tunes Ween have ever come up with. When people call this Ween's most accessible album, they're not just referring to the cleaner, easier-on-the-ears production or the decreased level of smut humour or fewer of Deaner and Gener's caricaturesque vocal stylisations. Even more important is that they're referring - perhaps subconsciously - to how little technical effort it took to actually write all these tunes. Aiming to cover as many styles as possible, Ween compensate for it by taking only the utmost basics of these styles, only the bare skeletons, and almost stubbornly refusing to grow any lush vegetation upon them.

Take, for instance, the completely straightfaced instrumental 'A Tear For Eddie' - Dean's tribute to the late great Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic fame. It's a relatively quiet mid-tempo instrumental, just a guitar solo, really, carefully constructed by using Eddie-like psychedelic guitar tones and emulating a tragic, funebral mood along the lines of 'Maggot Brain' and the like. Listen to it clearly, though, and you'll see that Dean does little but replay the exact same four bars over and over for an extended period of time; the first part of the song is completely "samey", the second one adds some (not too many) heavier variations but in the end still returns to the same four bars. Would Eddie do that? Sure he wouldn't.

Or take the lengthy, seven-minute spaghetti-western 'Buenas Tardes Amigo'. You may be expecting some development within such a long space of time - don't hold your breath. All you're getting is sort of a mock-Ennio Morricone guitar solo "a la desperado" (the same minimalistic passage played exactly the same way twice in a row), stuck within a never-changing "primitive" acoustic melody. Even the lyrics aren't as funny as they could be expected to be, and the Mexican accent wears thin after one verse. Compared to this piece, 'El Camino' was a Mahler-proportion masterstroke.

Now induce this onto every other song on the album. Extremely few have more than one hook in them, and even fewer wander beyond the realm of the worn-out cliches of the particular genre they happen to be exploring. Throw in this "safer" production, and the final result is... uh... pleasant mediocrity at best. That's what my cool-headed, fairly logical, analytical reasoning suggests me to accept as fact, even if it may be wrong in occasional small whiny details.

However, this is one of those infamous cases where analytical reasoning must step back at the urges of the heart. Unlike the previous albums, I loved C&C upon the very first listen, and I'm not getting away with that. Yes, it might be the only Ween album to grow off the listener a bit, but never underestimate the first impression either, my friend. The songs really aren't very good. They're simply awesome. That four-bar Hazelesque melody? It's every bit as moving as the best bits off 'Maggot Brain' itself. Wonderful, subtle, deeply emotional bars that convey feeling a-plenty. Looping them two hundred times in a row might be overdoing it. Looping them ten times in a row just about does it. That quasi-Morricone solo? Love it! Even more minimalistic than Morricone himself, but all the right notes are left in, and all the notes that are left out might be deemed as potentially superfluous.

And now it all comes full circle: yes, the songs on C&C can stand on their own fairly well, but they're still much better off when they're all together. Combination completes the puzzle: as is the case with every successful post-modernist piece of art, you can never tell when the artist is being "serious" and when he's being "parodic" - mainly because these concepts are simply unapplicable. You could say that the album opener, 'Take Me Away', presented as an aggressive blues rocker, is a mockery, with Gene sounding like a Tom Jones clone who's even more obnoxious than Tom Jones himself. The 'before I go craaaaaaaazy!' climax to every verse is quite suggestive of that. But what do you make of 'Spinal Meningitis'? Think of that song as a "parody" and this is probably sufficient reason to be turned off Ween for the rest of your life, because only a bunch of braindead dickheads would want to "mock" a little kid suffering from a horrible disease. On the other hand, it's impossible to apply the word "serious" to a song in which a cartoonish, electronically encoded "kiddie voice" keeps on saying "am I gonna see God, mommy? am I gonna die?". And then there's the 'Tear For Eddie' bit - taken out of the album's context, it can't be interpreted as anything but a straight-faced, heartfelt tribute to a departed genius.

Let's just not talk in these terms anymore. Let's deal with the goddamn feelings. One of the stronger feelings of the album is the one of happiness, for instance. After the hooliganry of album number one and the creepiness of album number two and the trippiness of album number three, C&C is so much of a happy album, which feels pretty good for a time period in which happiness is generally considered so overrated. 'Freedom Of '76' is sort of a nostalgic "soul" number, with Gener giving out a deliciously credible falsetto performance and capturing the essence, if not necessarily the technical features, of all those mid-Seventies soul-gospel-pop black vocal bands to a tee. 'Roses Are Free' is killer power pop with a vengeance; the lyrics are deliberate gibberish but the atmosphere is gleeful and carnivalesque (and I wrote the word "carnivalesque" even before remembering there's a little bit of actual circus music thrown in), and there's a fuzzy guitar solo replicating the vocal melody that just takes you away.

Other parts of the album are dreamy. 'Baby Bitch', for instance, which, lyrically, is just a piece of offensive misogyny, but it's misogyny like you've never seen before, clad in the form of a lush folksy ballad, in which the protagonist doesn't even care about getting riled up or pissed off. You don't see the words 'fuck off' pronounced in such a nonchalant, carefree way much too often, do you? (Sidenote: the line 'wrote 'Birthday Boy' for you babe' can't help but remind me of Dylan's 'writing 'Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands' for you' in 'Sarah', the desperate ode to his ex-wife. Coincidence or subtle allusion? With Ween, it's so hard to tell, but also, if there's one band in the world fit for asking that kind of questions, Ween it gotta be).

And only minor parts of the album are weird in the classic sense. The weirdest one is probably 'I Can't Put My Finger On It'. The main body of the song is sort of a punk-hiphop hybrid, but the interludes, what with that lonely romantic guitar and those lonely romantic seagulls, are almost proggy in essence (are the seagulls sort of a precursor to The Mollusk or are they not, by the way?). That's one of the few songs that doesn't openly emulate anything... well, I guess it emulates Ween. Or maybe it's 'Candi' that emulates Ween. 'Candi' is the one song on the album I could weasily do without, by the way. Sounds like an inferior reject from Pure Guava (which itself is usually considered to consist of inferior rejects from The Pod, so...).

But nevertheless, happiness is still the overriding concern. For me, the most magical moment on the album is the transition from verse to chorus on 'What Deaner Was Talkin' About', the glorious two-minute album closer (technically, 'Don't Shit Where You Eat' is the closer, but it's really not a closer, it's an encore - just as on The Pod, 'Pork Roll Egg And Cheese' is the legitimate closer and 'The Stallion Pt. 2' is sort of an afterthought). Gleeful, carefree dream-pop, the most user-friendly song Ween had ever written and the happiest voluntary descent into fantasy land since the times of Paul McCartney (I'll never understand the eternal Wings comparison, though - this is so much more Beatles than Wings!) and, uh... Jeff Lynne?

You know, maybe with a little image cleanup this could have become Ween's moment of commercial triumph - maybe even international breakthrough, who knows? But God's in the details. I can't imagine the possibility of presenting this album for parental consideration, for instance - because I know not too many people will want to calmly sit through 'Spinal Meningitis' and still want to listen to the rest of the album. Not too many people will want to buy a record that has a tune called 'The HIV Song', either - even if melodically it's one of the most innocent ditties on here, merely punctuated with spoken words like 'HIV' or 'AIDS' from time to time. And last but not least, a guy on said he'd never buy another album that exploits the concept of sexiness in such an offensive manner. (Or maybe it was a girl, but then how many girls are actually coming within ten miles of a Ween album in the first place?).

As it is, Ween have once again missed the chance of becoming one of the 90's bigger "non-underground" names. Which certainly does not prevent Chocolate & Cheese from being one of their most accessible - and finest - releases and, I'd guess, one of the defining moments in whatever we call "post-rock", "meta-rock", or something with a still different Latin or Greek prefix. Enjoy the cool melodies and revel in the sophisticated intertextuality. 'Nuff said.



Year Of Release: 1996

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

The rating kinda matches the title, but may also be as deceptive as the title. Reader beware.

Best song: PISS UP A ROPE

Track listing: 1) I'm Holding You; 2) Japanese Cowboy; 3) Piss Up A Rope; 4) I Don't Wanna Leave You On The Farm; 5) Pretty Girl; 6) Powder Blue; 7) Mister Richard Smoker; 8) Help Me Scrape The Mucus Off My Brain; 9) You Were The Fool; 10) Fluffy.

If somebody came up to me in mid-1996 and asked, 'if Ween were to select just one musical genre for an entire album, what genre would that be?', I wouldn't know what to answer because I'd never heard any Ween at the time. (Which is a good thing - in 1996, I would probably have hated the band's guts and then some). If somebody came up to me today and asked the same question without my knowing the answer, though, I'd probably say something like "Melanesian polka with mushrooms"...

...and blissfully lost whatever chance I'd have to win that Ferrari, because in order to answer that question right, you have to reinstate it as the following: "Which musical genre would you least expect to associate Ween with?". In that case maybe 'country-western' would appear on the horizon as the correct answer. Granted, a couple of their earlier songs, most notably 'Drifter In The Dark' and 'Don't Shit Where You Eat', could be taken as possible pointers to the future. But why should they? Despite all the diversity, people were still willing to peg Ween as "alterna-rockers", and if there is a musical genre less hip with that kind of crowds than Nashville muzak, lemme know. (Okay, so modern electric blues a la Robert Cray and the like does come close, but even that one I could see as having a drop of respectability under extreme circumstances).

From a target-audience-oriented point of view, Ween have committed (temporary at least) musical suicide here. Certainly no traditional country fan will ever want to hear this. So the Weeners have managed to hook up with some real Nashville legends - including, among others, the harmonica-playing Charlie McCoy, whom even non-country-educated boors like me will eagerly remember from playing on Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding album (and others as well). Big deal. Even if all the store owners in the world took special care to put the record in the "country" section (and I'm sure most did), just a brief glance at titles like 'Piss Up A Rope' or 'Help Me Scrape The Mucus Off My Brain' would fair well be enough for yer average "scum-suckin', lip-puckin', fat ol' truck drivin' man" (Ween's words, not mine!) to leave it rust in peace. It'd be akin to a heavy metal fan buying that infamous Pat Boone album.

From a Ween fan point of view, then, this is sort of the ultimate loyalty test. Are you strong enough to withstand ten country-western tunes in a row? (Not twelve - twelve, as everyone already knows, refers to the number of musicians involved). Not everybody is. Critical opinion, already pretty disfavourable with Ween, mostly just smashed the album to pieces, and many of the fans were obviously annoyed as well. Especially since much of this stuff doesn't sound like they're satirizing or mocking the genre at all - no, it's quite straightforward, serious-sounding country music. In fact, if it were all just a parody record, I seriously doubt all those Nashville folks would have let them within ten miles of their recording studios.

The bottomline is that 12 Golden... is just as much of a typical Ween puzzle as anything else. Are they joking or are they worshipping? They're doing both at the same time, and woe to anybody who isn't open-minded about such things. There's no clear separation; quite often, they're joking and worshipping within the exact same song - within the exact same line. Take a chorus like 'I'm holding something more precious than fine ore, baby, I'm holding you'. Replace 'fine ore' with 'fine gold' and see a whole pack of sense layers miraculously evaporating from the song. As it is, it's a heartfelt romantic tribute and a bit of fun-poking at the "redneck mentality" at the same time.

But that's still not the coolest thing about the album. The coolest thing about it is that Ween are teaching their fans not to be afraid of country music - that even country music can be enjoyable as heck if you only give it the right twist. "I hate country, but I loved this album" - that's a line that you can often meet in people's comments, and while I don't exactly "hate" country (in order to truly "hate" country you have to be living in an environment where you're being saturated with it every day of your life; my regional hatred is predictably reserved for Russian folk music instead), I've never been a big fan of the genre, and yes, yes, yes I loved this album. From beginning to end, all the thirty-two minutes of it.

Not only do Ween offer us some of the catchiest country ever written - they manage to offer us ten different sub-styles of country, this time continuing their fetish for diversity by being as diverse as possible within such a limited framework. (Well, maybe to a certain extent 'Japanese Cowboy' and 'Mucus' are interchangeable; the latter is the only song on here that I feel could have been replaced by something superior). Add to this a bunch of lyrics that cleverly mixes traditional cliches with Ween's individuality, and you're all set. Remember the last time you were listening to the Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, painfully trying to understand the album's swollen reputation? (And no, I'm not afraid to ask this question - if you love that Byrds album, there's very little chance that you'll be reading this review, much less wanting to take it seriously.) Forget the pain. Ween make it all right and comfy.

Admittedly, the ride does start out a little slow, with 'I'm Holding You' riding a well-recognizable country ballad groove and never picking up any steam. But there's still the fine ore aspect of that song to be tasted, and the hilarious aspect of Gene Ween doing it so authentically cowboy-style. Once the ride changes tempo, though, it's a breathless chase that never lets go, uh, well, from track 2 to track 7 at the very least. 'Japanese Cowboy' is fast, exciting and dreamy at the same time; 'Pretty Girl' is a unique take on the honky-tonk landscape; and 'Powder Blue' is charming melancholic minimalism - maybe if Mark Knopfler ever decided to go country... but then I'd better not mention Knopfler in a Ween review. (On the other hand, it's fuckin' Ween - I can namedrop anybody in a Ween review, from Gilbert & Sullivan to Mother Theresa, and get away with it just fine).

Major highlights, however, would include 'Piss Up A Rope', 'I Don't Wanna Leave You On The Farm', and 'Mister Richard Smoker'. The former of these is the main reason Rolling Stone gave the album two out of five and condemned it as another stupid piece of scatological misogyny. Silly, silly Rolling Stone - instead of accusing Ween of misogyny, how about targeting the band that gave you your name to begin with? Oh yeah, I keep forgetting, Mick Jagger still has to use the wordgroup "pissy dribble" somewhere. Whatever. Just because Ween are being, er, uhm, a bit more direct in their misogynistic attitude than such an enormous amount of country tunes they're mocking with it (many of which are much more serious in their misogynistic attitude than Ween could ever hope to be), they're being swept aside as a lame unsuccessful joke? No way, buddy. 'Piss Up A Rope' is one hell of a fun, catchy, hilariously angry musical trip. Just respect your parents' feelings and turn the volume down a bit when you get around to that particular entry.

Then turn the volume all the way back up on the innocently pretty 'I Don't Wanna Leave You On The Farm'. The title may sound elitist if you read too much into it, but the lyrics aren't really snubby at all - just a sad, mildly romantic tune about separation. But then maybe you should read that much into it; the more you read into it the more depth it seems to convey to the song and its beautiful, simplistic chorus. Yes, and then there's the 20s sendup of 'Mr Richard Smoker' - not exactly a ready-made country-western motive, more of a honky-tonk lounge tune if you ask me, but these Nashville cats, they'll play anything, and what you get is a delightful, delicious little romp featuring the talents of almost every one of the 12 musicians, and as an added bonus, you get lyrics like 'Mr Richard Smoker / You're an Ono Yoker' - which makes me wonder just what exactly Mrs Ono Lennon would have to say about these guys.

To top it all, they end the record with the most baffling tune of all; 'Fluffy' really belongs to the "lonely singer-songwriting" direction than to full-band country music, and the weeping, sensitive vocals on that one are more Bruce Springsteen than they are Garth Brooks. Nothing really happens in the song - well, it's about a dog and a... a porch? - but it's so lonely and tragic and introspective and desperate and... and... Fluffy, furry buddy, why'd you do it Fluffy? (I have no idea what "it" was, and I'm too scared to know).

Certainly if I were to say something like "this is the best country album I've ever heard in my life" it'd look ridiculous; Hank Williams and Johnny Cash would probably take turns whipping my ass in my dreams. But this is definitely the most unique country album I've ever heard in my life, and, want it or not, it does actually help me have a little more appreciation for the overall genre as well. And for that alone, I have absolutely no qualms about giving it that kind of rating.



Year Of Release: 1997

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

As deep and, uh, green as the front cover suggests.

Best song: BUCKINGHAM GREEN - OCEAN MAN - or just whatever.

Track listing: 1) I'm Dancing In The Show Tonite; 2) The Mollusk; 3) Polka Dot Tail; 4) I'll Be Your Johnny On The Spot; 5) Mutilated Lips; 6) The Blarney Stone; 7) It's Gonna Be (Alright); 8) The Golden Eel; 9) Cold Blows The Wind; 10) Pink Eye (On My Leg); 11) Waving My Dick In The Wind; 12) Buckingham Green; 13) Ocean Man; 14) She Wanted To Leave (Reprise).

So, affter the country detour (a fabulous one, but a detour nonetheless), it's time to get back to business. The Mollusk is frequently described as the brothers' "prog rock album", but this can give a slightly false perspective on the scope of Ween's sixth studio record, especially if you're like me and have a narrow understanding of prog rock as the kind of classically (or, at the least, jazzily) influenced music played by the likes of ELP, Yes, and Genesis. Not that there aren't any direct references to that kind of sonic wizardry on The Mollusk - there's much - but were this merely a concentrated parody on prog rock masters, there's no way I could call this the band's ultimate masterpiece.

What really matters about The Mollusk is its cohesiveness. It is, strictly and formally, a conceptual album: most of the songs have sea-related themes, which show up in the lyrics as much as the music - yes, the music, as this is Ween's best produced album to-date, boasting a depth of sound like you've never heard from these guys before, and often relying on echoey, "watery" guitars, electric as well as acoustic, to get those maritime visions right in front of your eyes. And yet within this somewhat restricting scheme, wond'rous story as it is, Ween manage to preserve their usual level of diversity and eclecticism. If you ever fell upon a description of The Mollusk as "an ELP parody" or something like that, let me relieve you by saying there's as much ELP here as there is folk ballads, pirate songs, country-western, adult contemporary, power pop, and music hall.

Okay, so there's no doo-wop or Philly soul or bossa novas, but this is not GWS, nor is this Chocolate & Cheese. It's Ween's newest reincarnation: deeper, more concise, and diverse not necessarily for diversity's sake alone, but diverse for the sake of keeping the listener entertained through all the fourty-three minutes of "conceptual exploration". It's their post-modern schtick carried on to a whole new level, and the leap from C&C to The Mollusk is, in that respect, well comparable to the Beatles' leap from 1965 into 1967. Certainly The Mollusk does not carry any more "message" than any of Ween's previous records, but hey - neither did Sgt Pepper, if you get to the bottom of it. It simply has more layers, that's all.

Perhaps the most admirable thing is how well Ween are able to handle their newly-found "artsiness". We all know they're excellent musicians and sonic geniuses, but it does go without saying that neither of them has the kind of exhaustive musical training it usually takes to produce outstanding "art rock" or "prog rock". How do they deal with that problem? Simple - by finetuning their usual instincts and making their artsiness as catchy and concise as possible. There is no space for lengthy show-off-y jamming on the record; even if most of the songs do have the obligatory instrumental parts, they're always kept nice and short. But the very structure of the songs is, more often than not, unpredictable and "weird" in the classic art-rock tradition.

A perfect example is 'Buckingham Green' (a song I have seen lauded on a King Crimson fan message board, no less!). Its main melody is blissfully simple - the chords are laid out on the line for you to make them hummable in a matter of moments. Yet the vocal melody twists and turns in a most bizarre fashion, a little reminiscent of classic Genesis (right down to the vocals, so Peter Gabriel-esque that I could almost see the thing fit for inclusion on Selling England By The Pound). At the end of the second verse you are then treated to a delicious acoustic passage emulating the same vocal melody; then the fury is unleashed and you're engulfed in a sea of roaring Mellotrons and wildly howling guitars; and then the early guitar melody returns, but it's no longer a guitar melody - now it's strings, and the song's ending is at the same time exactly the same as and absolutely different from its beginning. Maybe as an ultra-complex or technically outstanding feat, it wasn't all that awesome. But it would be futile to assert that you weren't interested - admit it, you were.

And I haven't even touched upon the 'meaning' of the song. Obviously, the lyrics are goofy: 'A child without an eye/Made her mother cry/Why ask why/She kept her child clean/On Buckingham Green'. But first, it wouldn't take a whole load of editing work - maybe just change a few words here and there - to make this stuff completely parallel to all the starry-eyed mysticism of early 70's prog. 'Child without an eye' is funny, 'kept her child clean', too. But 'a sign from God/descending from the sky' is not necessarily so, nor is 'it was alright to dream/On Buckingham Green'. Certainly the words mean nothing, which does not signify that you can't make them mean something - after all, you could say the same about, oh I dunno, 70% of Jon Anderson's lyrics? And second, who cares about the lyrics? The music betrays not one sign of "parody"; if anything, it's a clear-cut "homage". When the stormy part cuts in, turn the volume up loud and feel the electrons jiggling all over your body. That spooky Mellotron is no joke - it's sincerely spooky, and the unbelievable sonic depth of the passage is no mirage - I feel like being thrown into some kind of apocalyptic Malstream. Parody my ass.

Nay, if you ask me, it is obvious that the Weeners, as usual, love the music they're paying homage to. But since their very existence depends on how proudly they can carry the post-modern banner, they obviously cannot dig into it with the same kind of naive idealism and overblown feel of self-importance that was almost a sine qua non of "artsy" music in its heyday. So it's always a toss between clever, inventive, meaningful, and - quite frequently - emotionally resonant music and clever, inventive, meaningless, and - quite frequently - self-mocking lyrics. Not that the music on The Mollusk is always serious sounding, of course; but for the most part, when it isn't serious, it comes in the form of separate "intermissions" that break up the cohesiveness a little (without doing much overall harm) rather than in the form of intentionally "bringing down" the sound of the "serious" compositions.

These "additional components" show through, for instance, in the form of a couple tunes that seem like obvious outtakes from the Country Greats sessions, only this time recorded without the participation of the actual "greats" and therefore suffering some drastical rearrangements. 'I'll Be Your Johnny On The Spot', which I can almost picture as a stomping banjo-driven fiddle-lovers' paradise is done as a whacky synth-pop/techno hybrid, all harsh electronic processing and robotic talkbox soloing that stands seriously at odds with lyrics like 'I wake up early in the morn/I slop the pigs, mama shucks the corn/I wake up early in the morn". And 'Waving My Dick In The Wind' - no Ween album comes without its fair share of grossness, after all - is done in a style that I could only define as 'Martian boogie'. Yet the primary aim of these tunes, as fun as they are, is, I think, to provide me and everybody else with an argument like: 'Don't you be pulling my leg - Ween doing an art-rock album? Art-rock albums don't have songs titled 'Waving My Dick In The Wind', you doofus!'.

On the other hand, there's stuff on here which is completely straight-faced from head to toe, something that I'd only witnessed so far on 'A Tear For Eddie', and that was an instrumental, too. The ballad 'It's Gonna Be (Alright)', for instance. Dressed up as plain old adult contemporary, but written with active musical genius participation - the closest analogy would be an occasional latter day John Lodge ballad, I guess. (And when I say 'genius', I mean it: the Weeners are up to their usual heartbreaking tricks here, making mine jump and pump every time the 'and if the mist ever lets the sun through' line comes along and reminds me that at their best, Ween can measure right up there with Paul McCartney in the Godlike hook department). Or the old folk standard 'Cold Blows The Wind', redone by Ween with heavy support from the Mellotron and sung with the utmost conviction - and respect. You can only tell there's still that cynical twinkle in their eye by examining the subtitle - 'a traditional Chinese spiritual' (why Chinese? might as well be Papua New Guinean or Klingon), but you'd have to locate that subtitle first.

And finally, I do not think I even need to mention that there is not a single second wasted on the entire disc. The weakest link might be the instrumental 'Pink Eye (On My Leg)' (somehow Ween's weirdness is always better appreciated on the more "shapely" vocal numbers - in a similar way, 'Candi' was the weakest link on C&C), but even that one has hilarious "dog barking percussion" splattered all over it and catchy synth riffs and a nice toe-tapping rhythm. It simply looks a bit pale next to the blistering, exhilarating power pop of 'Ocean Man'; the fresh, sparkling beauty of the title track which is as much a kind joke at the romantic innocence of the art-rock epoch as it is symbolic of a nostalgic yearning for it; the hallucinatory "rapped" stream-of-conscience refrain of 'Mutilated Lips'; the jagged, broken riff and the cosmic menace of 'Golden Eel'; the drunken sloppiness of 'The Blarney Stone' (with the most fantastic contextualising of the word 'claymore' I've ever met), replete with authentic pirate vocals and obligatory inebriated crowd noises; and the epic climax of 'She Wanted To Leave' that closes the album on the most pompous - and the funniest - note of them all. In other words, you already understand that if I really wanted to, I could write a thesis on this stuff. Maybe someday I will. It's deserving of a thesis - and not even because it's that good (which it is), but simply because there's so many layers to it. When it comes to knowledge, understanding, and capacity of reinterpretation, there's nobody to beat Ween in these departments. (Granted, Britney Spears' cover of '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' could provide some competition, though).

Is The Mollusk the best 90s' album, then? Absolutely no idea whatsoever. But it does combine a huge amount of the things I love and respect in music - such as being smart, memorable, reasonably easy on the ear, wild where necessary, restrained where possible, and combining fun and seriousness in several different ways. It's defiantly timeless, being grounded in musical values which few people paid much attention to in 1997, yet never ceasing to be valuable all the same. At the same time, it's defiantly message-less, with each and every listener being able to write in his own spiritual/emotional meaning or leave the spaces blank at his/her own wish, and in that respect embodies the sceptical, "intertextual" mood of the intellectual Nineties to a tee. As for the rating, well, it's still very much a toss between this and GWS for my favourite Ween - but let's regard this outstanding demonstration of respect as sort of my equivalent of Peter Jackson getting the Oscar for Return Of The King: no one really knows which part is the best one, but it can feel reasonably natural to crown the winner at the end of the race rather than at the beginning of it.



Year Of Release: 2000

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Maybe "Grow Old With Me" might have been a better title, but I am growing older and it suits me just fine.

Best song: EXACTLY WHERE I'M AT or FLUTES OF THE CHI [or I don't know]

Track listing: 1) Exactly Where I'm At; 2) Flutes Of The Chi; 3) Even If You Don't; 4) Bananas And Blow; 5) Stroker Ace; 6) Ice Castles; 7) Back To Basom; 8) The Grobe; 9) Pandy Fackler; 10) Stay Forever; 11) Falling Out; 12) She's Your Baby.

God I thought I was the only one but looks like the Pitchforkmedia reviewer guy beat me to it. But what the heck, I did think of it meself, so here goes: if the title of this album isn't anything other than an obvious superimposition of the names of two of the greatest albums ever recorded, I still won't believe in it, because there are coincidences and then there are impossible coincidences.

What is actually a little harder is understanding the reason behind this title. Okay, White Album is understandable; Ween aren't getting behind in their penchant for diversity, even if from a purely technical standpoint (the number of genres covered or referred to) Chocolate & Cheese would have suited this treatment somewhat better. But Sgt Pepper? What's so particularly Sgt Pepper-ish about it? I mean, it's even impossible for Ween to impersonate a different band than they are, because they've been "impersonators" since friggin' high school!

Maybe it would hit closer to home if I said that with White Pepper, Ween are finally "coming out of age", or at least they're trying to, and the title is a veiled hint - nay, a veiled plea for the world to start taking them more seriously. (To which the world did respond, sending the album as high as #121 on the charts, although that might have been due to the boys' appearing on the Letterman show, I dunno). For the first time in their lives, they actually write a few lyrics that may be - oh gosh! - whaddaya know? referring to themselves, and I mean the real themselves. Yeah, take a look at this: 'Let's begin with the past in front/And all the things you don't really care about now/It'd be exactly where I'm at/And to think you got a grip/Well look at yourself/Your lips are like two flabs of fat/They go front and back and flappity flap/I'm all staged/It's all an act/I'm really scared that I may fall back on the abstract/It'd be exactly where I'm at'.

No poetic jewel here, but that's not the main thing: the main thing is it's actually written about Ween! (Of course, Gener and Deaner will always be glad to tell you that so was 'Mister Won't You Please Help My Pony', but it's one thing to use Scotchguard as a mediator and another thing to do it all with a clear head). With a song like 'Exactly Where I'm At', nobody will be able to call this 'joking material'. It's a real "song", and even if it's all swamped in heavy psychedelic daze, with hallucinatory vocals and backward droning guitar, they aren't used simply for the sake of another "see what happens" genre tampering. And does it succeed? You bet it does. The melodic genius, after all, doesn't just go away.

Things have changed indeed. Obscene lyrics are at an all-time low (I think the dicksucking reference in 'Pandy Fackler' is pretty much the only gross element on the entire record); so are the tendencies to jiggle and juggle those knobs, meaning that Deaner does not run wild with the world of crazyass guitar effects, nor does Gener sound like a castrated chimpanzee on any of the tracks. The songs are more or less straightforward and even predictable: most of the time, once you've gotten through one minute of the song, you may be sure that nothing else is going to happen in the remaining two or three minutes. And finally, at least half of the album, if not more, JUST. AIN'T. FUNNY. AT ALL!!!

So has Ween become a "normal" band, then? By all means no. First of all, the genre-hopping fetish is still firmly in place. You'll get your psychedelia, your power-pop, your speed metal, your lounge jazz, your bizarre instrumental, your country-western, and a wicked Jimmy Buffett impersonation to top it all. Second, they're still gleefully out of time with the times, grudgingly accepting the existence of grunge and "alt-rock" ('The Grobe'), but otherwise concentrating their blasts on the usual kind of old derelicts of the pre-Autechre age. And third, I still don't get the feeling that they're being perfectly serious even when they try to make you believe they're being perfectly serious. In fact, it's the opposite: the more they try to make me believe they're being perfectly serious, the less I feel inclined to believe that they are being perfectly serious. I'm simply inclinded to believe that they're getting a little older, which is, after all, a biological fact.

And as for not being funny, well, starting with 'A Tear For Eddie' and ending with 'It's Gonna Be Alright', these guys have already been claiming their stakes at not being funny for half a decade now, and considering that they have been pretty successful at it, I can cope with it. Especially if "not being funny" results in such glorious slabs of psychedelic buzz as 'Exactly Where I'm At' or the gorgeous 'Flutes Of The Chi', which, again, captures the essence of a romantic hippie caught up in the webs of Eastern mysticism to a tee (or should I say to a chi?). The line 'everything that you are, that you'd like to be, will come in three, my friend' is so fantastically pseudo-Chinese that I can't help but wonder if Gener took a crash course in Taoism in between Mollusk and Pepper. And that's not mentioning just how catchy the song is, and just how perfectly real Eastern instruments merge with Deaner's psychedelic 60s-tone guitar.

My only complaint is that none of the other songs on the album are able to reach the heights of the first two numbers - even if a few do come close, and no single song is a particular lowlight. The one that tries to rival them in majesty is the ballad 'Back To Basom', mood- and melody-wise stuck somewhere in between Abbey Road Beatles and No Answer ELO, but it's a bit too lazy for its own good to reunite me with ecstasy. Maybe it could have benefited from a lengthy cathartic guitar solo (hey, what was Deaner thinking about?). Nevertheless those stern burning-bush 'call is waiting...' countervocals do get me every time I hear them.

Everything else is relatively laid back and quite un-anthemic in nature. In fact, very little of it actually rocks in any way, which is why the speedy, Motorhead-like 'Stroker Ace' (the title formally comes from the name of a movie, but is obviously a throwback to 'Ace Of Spades') almost ends up feeling displaced, wedged between the Buffett parody and the trance-like baroque of 'Ice Castles'. Still, it's been a long time since we last heard Ween doing real heavy, real speedy rock'n'roll (unless you count 'Johnny On The Spot' which wasn't really rock'n'roll), and I'm pretty glad to learn they haven't lost their touch at all - improved it, if anything, because of Deaner's terrific bumble-bee riffage on the chorus.

But overall, the atmosphere is quite relaxed. 'Even If You Don't' is at least electric-guitar based mid-tempo "martial" McCartney-like power pop, but 'Stay Forever' is straightahead acoustic Badfinger sissyness (yet no less sonically glorious, and a should-be radio classic for every soft rock station in sight); 'Falling Out' is country-rock, generic to suffocation yet so catchy it has caused me twenty four hours of suffering when I literally couldn't get the "cards are up, the chips are all cashed in" line out of my head; and 'She's Your Baby' is one hundred percent dreamy snooze-folk, pretty in its own way but working on atmosphere rather than hook and therefore inevitably losing in the Ween ballgame.

New to the Ween ballgame are the already twice mentioned 'Bananas And Blow', not so much because of its dabbling in the Caribbean subject as because of its perfect capture of the decadent essence of the Hawaiian shirt-clad Me Decade (yep, Ween know their 70s just as well as they do with their 60s); and 'Pandy Fackler', an excourse in jazz-pop that shows that Ween could easily be Steely Dan had they wanted to become another one. Again, what's so eerie about the song is not how they manage to professionally solo along the lines of all those endless guest stars on Dan albums, but how they recreate the claustrophobic, sterilized essence of the Dan sound, recording the music as if nothing in the world existed aside from their instruments and the little two-by-two padded cell within the confines of which they were playing it. And it's all Ween for you.

In the end White Pepper is not as immediately captivating as either The Mollusk or C&C, nor is it as immediately baffling as The Pod, but with just a couple listens it can become as enjoyable as all of these. It's just that this time around, Ween's weapons are not "set for stun". They have grown a little older, and so has their music, but they have lost none of their intelligence nor musical genius, and they're still doing their "deconstructive research" thing, and I don't really see anything that could stop them. They're even too old to sell out now, and besides, it's not that easy to sell out when your lips are like two flabs of fat and they go front and back and flappity flap, you know.


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