Saturday, 18 July 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 7)

White Pepper

The Mollusk is amazing. And this one is... well, not better, but virtually as good as it. It should be noted, though, that I can see a clear difference between these two albums; not really in terms of musical quality, which is as high as ever, but in terms of humour. The Mollusk was quite openly mischievous and playful in its essence, and it bounced along from song to song keeping an air of lightness all along. White Pepper, oddly enough, is more ambivalent. At times the songs sound quite serious, to the point where I sometimes can't tell whether they're being earnest or just pretending so in order to play a prank on me. This time around the genres are more spread apart, and they put A LOT of effort (as well as budget) in order to sound just like those actual genres sound. Sometimes the humour is dead on obvious, but when it isn't, it seems sort of unsure. In fact, the first song seems to address that quite directly. So, let's get the walkthrough started.

Exactly Where I'm At opens with straight 4/4 drum beats, and soon enough we get encoded vocals and an organ-like drone. First thing: the melody is dead catchy, and the singing isn't exaggerated or obnoxious, even though the lyrics are kind of silly. Also, I LOVE this little guitar riff. And, soon enough, the whole band kicks in. I'm all staged / It's all an act / I'm really scared that I may fall back in the abstract? Are they, like, being honest and saying their "comedy" act may end up preventing them from being earnest and serious when they want to?... hmm, either this is a VERY elaborate prank, or they're trying to reach out the their audience somewhat. I honestly think it's not a prank, even more because the music is so beautiful and layered and elaborate, and this isn't at all a "parody" of anything: it's a wonderfully crafted and arranged rock song with great guitar solos and sounds. I love this song. The coda goes on and on, and it could just go on forever and I wouldn't mind. The ending falls back with the encoded drum beats, some guitar picking and theremin-like noises. And we're off into Flutes of Chi: wow, beautiful! Great little meandering melody, and this time around, it's easy to tell they're reaching back into the "psychedelic" era with sitar-like sounds, starry-eyed lyrics and a bendy and contemplative vocal melody. And it's amazing. I actually like how this song is a lighthearted and funny commentary on hippie tunes, and yet it's perfectly enjoyable as a hippie tune in its own right (though 'three times thine inequity' may be a dead give away, but who wants to keep picking apart Ween lyrics?). We have a pair of solos, one sort of George Harrison-like and dum-dum-dum-dummm, and the second more meandering and loose. Love that. Great vocals by Gene, and again, that great main theme—the kind of stuff that gets stuck to your head for days on end.

It's over now, and after a lengthy final guitar note, we kick into Even If You Don't, and it's an obvious Paul McCartney parody, with beats borrowed from Your Mother Should Know and Getting Better (*ting!* *ting!* *ting!* *ting!*). The melody is wicked! Absurdly catchy and sing-along, and it's nicely coupled with vicious and desperate lyrics. You know, actually I get all irked when bands borrow this ding! ding! ding! beat, but Ween sort of nailed down the way to make it work both as an acceptable pop cliché AND as a parody. Parody? It's more like a homage, or something, I don't know. Look at the album title: White Pepper. Beatle-y much? Awesome guitar solo, too. I sort of like the verses more than the chorus in this song, in fact, but heck—it's all good. And it ends greatly, we're into the HILARIOUS Jimmy Buffet parody Bananas and Blow. Ween are doing with Buffet here more or less what the Mutantes were doing with Sergio Mendes decades before, and it's great: the atmosphere, melody, instrumentation and Dean's vocals are all dead spot on, yet the lyrics—with a full on pseudo-Castillano style—talk about being stranded with only bananas and cocaine for sustainment. Some reviews suggest this ain't exactly a "fan favourite", but heck, I easily elect this as one of the cleverest, most intelligent pieces in Ween's catalogue—AND, of course, it's catchy as hell. The conviction with which Dean opens the chorus with "bananas and blow!" already makes the whole thing worthwhile. And, oh yeah, that mean Spanish guitar solo (I dunno if it's an actual Spanish guitar, but it's meant to sound like one). And now we're into? A Motörhead parody! And, heck, Stroker Ace is SPOT ON YET AGAIN. The one note singing, the riffage, mad screaming in the chorus—plain awesome, and again the lyrics are obviously silly and over-the-top. The two amazing things are: the song is plain awesome, AND it comes hot off the heels of a Jimmy Buffet parody tune and it fits perfectly. Maybe it's just a personal bias of mine in favour of the album, because it's a completely broken flow, but it works. And now? It's an instrumental called Ice Castles. Now THIS may sound utterly strange to you, but the trick is not that obscure: it's a joke on the Mellotron, the famous keyboard loved by Prog rock bands. The song has a mood of 70's Prog mystique, very slow and waltzy, but the sounds are fluctuate up and down in pitch wildly, pretty much like a Mellotron that's been worn out a little TOO severely. The melody is actually quite pretty, but if it weren't for that "skit", this track would probably be quite a blank. But, yeah, it's just a comedy skit. Whether that's good or bad is up to you. We close off side A and move on to the flip side with...

... Back to Basom, and we're, yet again, into completely different territory. This time, this is full on into "soft rock" ballads, with melty singing, wailing David Gilmour-esque slide guitars, Strawberry Fields Forever Mellotrons going "DOO-doo-DOO-doo", synthesizer flourishes and a very, very, very beautiful melody. Yet, this is meant as parody. You know? The song works on its own and it's actually quite gorgeous and dreamy, but the lyrics try to pull you in the other way, going "NO, this is a JOKE! See the lyrics? Let to locate the last trace of waste / I picked it up and it was smiling?" Sorry, folks, I don't know why I should laugh at this. This humour is kind of self-defeating, you know? You're making fun of yourself because you're a good musician and can do great, varied music? (and yeah, I can praise their "diversity" here because they're doing GREAT songs, not merely pastiches) I don't know, I love the song but I can't take this as comedy. Bananas and Blow? It's hilarious. This? It's not. I don't know, I may be rambling and the song is already ending, but I just love it as great music. Love those sounds! Great use of synthesizers and effects. And we're off to The Grobe, a parody on alt-rock, grunge, or whatever the cool kids call this: the guitar is distorted beyond recognition, the rhythm is slow and the riff is low-pitched and catchy. The vocals seem to run through a rotating speaker ("leslie") and the lyrics are catchy beyond imagination. Yet, once again, the music is awesome. Is this a parody on self-aware and "philosophic" rock? Maybe. Once again, the music and humour seem to be in entirely different planes of existence. The humour at least seems to have a point here, and, I dunno, but it doesn't seem to be so self-defeating here as it were on the last track. Maybe it's because I'm already used to ignoring it in favour of the music. But I don't really ignore it: I think the lyrics are clever in their silliness—and, like I said, have a point. But the music? It's great, catchy, and kicks massively. And we get into Pandy Fackler, a Steely Dan parody. That is, I hear it called a Steely Dan parody everywhere, but it doesn't quite sound like it to me; it's too fast, too jazzy and lacks the harmony vocals. But, well, it isn't too far from Steely Dan, and the lyrics aren't too absurd or too senseless to defeat the music, and I love the sound they concoct here. But then again, coming up with this sound is pure studio trickery, there's no "magic" involved. One George Starostin used this song as an example that Ween COULD be a Steely Dan-like duo if they wanted to. They could? With THIS absurdly banal and ridiculous instrumental theme? I'm sorry, Mr. Starostin, but you don't pull off jazz-pop merely going up and down the scales. This works as an imitation and nothing else! The electric piano solo is brilliant beyond thought, though! Great freak-outs and uses of effects. And, well, the instrumental theme is kinda catchy, but absolutely childish. Not that that's BAD, you know...

And now comes Stay Forever, a romantic "country-rock" ballad sort of thing. Is THIS a parody, folks? How can I POSSIBLE take this as a parody? It's gorgeous, dreamy and sweet, and it warms my heard like nothing else can: "When I'm away, I wanna put my arms around you / And I wanna know, do you feel the same way? / 'Cause if you do, I wanna stay forever with you". THIS is the real deal. Why can't I imagine Ween are being honest and earnest in this song? If this IS a parody, then it's an awful one. Yeah, it sounds a lot like romantic ballads you could hear on the radio on the 70's or something, but that's not funny on itself. It's a brilliant song and one of my favourites on the album, in fact. Wonderful melody, and great vocals by Gene. Maybe this is what they were referring with "falling back in the abstract"? Who knows. Now we get into Falling Out, once again sort of country-rock but faster, and far more bitter. Now this song has a better tinge of humour, but it's a lighthearted, inviting touch of humour. And the song is hella catchy too. Great song, toe-tappingly catchy and fun. And, to close the album, the gentle ballad She's Your Baby. It's the same thing again: there's nothing here that makes me take it as humour, and to be fair, I just think I shouldn't. I love the song, and the romantic and dreamy mood absolutely carries me away. Great melody, really nice arrangements and the usual great vocal and guitar performance by the folks, and also a great little guitar solo to close off the song and the album.

The complaints about self-defeating humour DO NOT detract from the fact that this album is brilliant, though. Yet, it is part of the reason why I find it inferior to The Mollusk. But, to be blunt, the real reason why is that The Mollusk is fantastic beyond comparison, and nothing else Ween did can even dream of being next to it. White Pepper, though, comes very close. Don't miss it.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (parts 5 and 6)

12 Golden Country Greats

Unless I'm terribly mistaken, I've listened to this record exactly ONCE so far, so I'm extremely "fresh" on it, and this review will be every bit as "real time" as it can be. Two things I can say: as far as I can recall from the first listen, this is far better than Chocolate and Cheese (which shouldn't be too surprising), and being so surprisingly short (barely 33 minutes long), I think I'll be able to review TWO albums in a row. This also means you guys will figure out why I am so eager on making this "annotated discography" thing.

Well, first things first: it's a country record, coming from a band that enjoyed the pleasure of hopping from one genre to the other (without me caring at all). Also, everyone who talks about this record has the moral duty of saying there ARE NOT twelve songs here, and the title refers to the guest musicians invited for the sessions. However there WERE twelve songs written for the album, but two of them got cut from the album. So, what do we get from a country album written and recorded by Ween? Read on.

It starts with I'm Holding You, and it's a country ballad that already sets off the sound with slide guitar and all that follows. It's surprisingly mellow and beautiful, though it's obvious the "I'm holding something more precious than fine ore, baby, I'm holding you" isn't meant to be actually romantic (though it's funny more in an endearing than outright outrageous way). What can I say? It's a genuinely beautiful, well written and performed song. I guess it's meant to get us scratching our heads, as in, is this WEEN? Yep, it is. And I say, as much as there definitely is comedic value in the song, I'm far better off enjoying the song itself. Anything wrong with that? Okay, not we get Japanese Cowboy, and it's a more upbeat boppy country tune. Don't know much of what to say here, and the only thing that strikes me is that the vocal melody is amazingly similar to the melody of Vangelis's theme for Chariots of Fire. It's most certainly unintentional, but it's still a quite pitiful similarity. Not that it makes the song bad, or anything. It's an enjoyable song. Maybe I have nothing to say because I know shit about country music, so there. Piss Up a Rope is on now, and this is more with that rock-ish 4/4 beat instead of the 2/4 march of the previous song. Okay, we're back with the crude words and Ween-ish humour—LOTS of it. It's funny, though, for the way they use those strategic breaks with lyrics like "On your knees, you big booty bitch, start suckin'", and the solo is really crazy. My foot is tapping, so that's a good sign. Now we get I Don't Want to Leave You on the Farm, a fast but more mellow tune, cute and also enjoyable. The lyrics are more of that quirky, stereotypically-country romanticism. "I'll keep truckin' and keepin' myself stoned". Yeah, that. The last song on side B is Pretty Girl, probably the most upbeat song here so far, quite intoxicating and with some serious fiddle playing. The lyrics are hilariously and exaggeratedly stereotypical: "There's a scum-suckin' lip pucking fat ol' truck drivin' man on town / There's a boot lickin' hiney ticklin' dude around". Neat. I love that fiddle. You know, I know shit about country and I don't really hate country music in general (maybe that's because I don't live in the USA?), and this album makes me feel like listening to more of that music. I guess Ween takes bonus points for that. Again, great fiddle. Side B is over.

We move to Powder Blue, a more bluesy affair. Bluesy? I don't know how to describe these songs, really. It's got the rhythm of Piss Up a Rope. The ascending riff is nifty, but the melody and lyrics are awfully repetitive and monotonous. I like the backing vocals, though (credited to the Jordanaires). Now Gene is "introducing" the musicians. Great soloing! Oh, and he "introduced" Muhammad Ali, and the song was cut off (yeah, it was a mess up with an unauthorized sample. Sucks, doesn't it?). Mister Richard Smoker, more upbeat than before, and with funny "doodley ba-boo!" vocals and great soloing. "You smoke big dick"? Yeah, it's Ween alright. Wow, they just modulated the song up a tone FOUR times in a row in the coda. Were they aiming for a Guinness record or something? Hehe, great trick. Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain; yeah, more of those cliché Ween terms and running gags. The song itself, though, is good. But the stuff is starting to get awfully repetitive, you know? I guess THIS is the problem with country music; when it begins to repeat itself, it REALLY repeats itself. And even having merely 10 songs and 30 minutes of music, the album still suffers. But I won't complain about that yet, ok? Maybe the next two songs will present something new and invigorating. The solos in this song were, once again, great, though. Now it's You Were the Fool, another ballad; the beat is quite unusual, though. Hey, I did right in persevering: this IS different! And quite beautiful, too. I enjoy the beat, the melody and the mood all around. Great stuff. Yeah, I'm not writing much right now and just enjoying the song. Now we get some distorted guitar and feedback? Cool! This is also a quite long fade-out ending, too, and would be an excellent ending to the album. There's still one more song, though. Fluffy is... yeah, another ballad. Wait, a ballad? Well, there is just a mellow acoustic guitar and Dean moaning some pretty weirdly silly lyrics about a dog. Ok, it's quite bizarre, i.e. a very apt way to end a Ween album. Heh, this is awesome; only Ween can make an "emotional" song about a dog sound so genuinely silly; because songs about dogs ARE silly. Go ahead, call me insensitive. Great, now the album is over. Guess what? It's quite great; and again, if I had got myself acquainted to Ween following the chronological order of their albums, I'd be dangerously afraid that they would have to devote themselves to country music in order to make great albums—after, you know, the complete train wreck of Chocolate and Cheese. But no, we keep trudging ahead and reach:

The Mollusk

And THIS is why I started this whole thing. Ok, be ready guys, because I'll be raving madly in this review. I listened to this thing dozens and dozens of times and it only gets better. Basically, we're back to the more "diverse" side of Ween, but not exaggeratedly diverse; once in a while they bounce into something unpredictable, but overall they have a more down-to-earth theme. Many reviewers will talk about its maritime and oceanic sound. I think that's bullshit. Yeah, they mention the beach, the ocean and ships once in a while, but that doesn't make a "concept"! Besides, the sound is way too layered for me to stamp a label on it. Yeah, that's right: LAYERED. This doesn't merely sound like an album made on a big budget: you can clearly sense the effort they put in here. And this time around, as much as there are jokes and humour here, they don't overshadow the musical content. You can laugh at some bits, but I think it's a much, much better deal to listen to the music instead. So, follow me now.

Man, this will be a hard review.

I'm Dancing in the Show Tonight is a send-up of show tunes, starting off with a boppy electric piano and bizarrely processed vocals. What effects are these? Wow. The sound is entirely synthesized, but it's very, very convincing, and the melody is clever as hell. THIS is the big deal: intricate, careful and entertaining arrangement, with a great mix of weirdness and true technical accuracy. These guys surely learned their business! And we're straight into the title track, and right off the bat, it's gorgeous. The signature flute-y sound sets the tone, and they follow it up nicely with a "dialogue" between two voices, each one trying to sound more pompous than the other. "Bring forth the mollusk cast unto me"? YEAH, man, THIS is the unique kind of Ween humour I've come to love. "Does it speaketh of the trinity?" Keep going, guys! What more could I ask? Gorgeous, catchy music coupled with lighthearted mock-prog-rock lyrics! And a great synthesizer solo using a "trumpet" sound often used by Rick Wright. It might even be the same synth; but it's something of a cross between the "synth trumpet" of Wright with that of Vangelis. And I missed the "voiceover" bit. Great stuff. More great soloing. Awesome instrumentation. All that. Yeah, I'm caught in it already.

Polka Dot Tail is a far stranger thing, with a waltzy, pounding rhythm with lyrics that are silly without pushing it too hard. Fun mix of "folk" with whatever they're mixing here. I like these lyrics: they're absurd but somehow evocative. And the melody is great, also counting on buzzing and squealing synths and some psychedelic guitar soloing. And the way Dean (I suppose) calls "Billy..." before the solo totally owns me. And the synth freak out before the last solo is purely brilliant. I don't know what happened to these guys, but they became true masters of the business. I love this thing; and as soon as it's over, we're dumped into the insanely fast and fuzzed-out I'll Be Your Jonny on the Spot, which is sort of "electro-country" or something like that, with almost moaned, monotonous vocals. I'm not crazy about this song on its own, but it's position here is necessary, a great way to pump up the energy. I love the solo, though. It ends suddenly and we're left with the "contemplative", dreamy, phased-out ballad of Mutilated Lips. The sound in this song DRIVES ME NUTS! The acoustic guitars, groovy percussion, well-timed licks and the heavily processed vocals are a true work of art. The lyrics might be a little over-the-top with their absurdity. Yeah, of course they're trying to get over-the-top (it's a parody, after all), but that in itself achieves little. I love the "Find me the skull of Haile Selassie, I" bit, still. And, again, it's the music that matters, and it's amazing. I love the sound of the guitar in the solo; it matches the song perfectly. I'd love to hear Mike Oldfield playing that solo, heh heh. I love this song, simply. And next comes... The Blarney Stone, which is an Irish "drinking song", with AMAZINGLY convincing throaty vocals. The lyrics are extremely clever, and they went to real extents to recreate the drunken mood of an Irish pub, yelling in the backing, bagpipes (it sounds like an accordeon, though) and glass noises all around. This is awesome, really. Plain awesome. I just wonder why they rhymed "eye" with "eye" in the chorus. Intentional? Who cares, the song is still awesome. Was it Dean who sang this? Dude must have got his throat aching for weeks after that.

And it leads into what? A soft-rock ballad, It's Gonna Be (Alright) (I love that awkwardly parenthesized title). Once again, the sound is amazing, even if it's meant as a straight, no-nonsense parody of soft-rock, it's still beautiful and well crafted. Wonderful melody, too, and the lyrics never make it clear that they're meant to be a parody. Maybe they aren't?... nah. As much as I thought Joppa Road was a brilliant satire, this is so much better, it's unfair to compare. Maybe I'm reading too much in the song: perhaps it's not a satire, a mockery, and more of a harmless imitation. Either way, though, it's nothing short of brilliant. The Golden Eel comes next, with its nearly indescribable sound; distorted and sparse, almost reminding us of those stupid jokes like Candi—except there's a MELODY going on, and a good one. And the chorus comes in and bursts things up completely, with a heavy rhythm and keeping up flawlessly with the humorously pompous lyrics. That solo is GROOVY, too, sounding as if it was recorded on a faulty tape unit, and then launching into an awesome, heavier instrumental take on the chorus. Awesome way to close side A.

Side B starts with Cold Blows the Wind, and it's the only song that doesn't live up to the standards. I know that it keeps up with the "pompous" lyrical thematic of the album, but placed smackdab in the middle of the album, it's almost as monotonous and dull as Buenas Tardes Amigo. Ok, that was nasty; let's not compare anything to that atrocity: the sound here is far more profound, crafted and thought-out, and it's shorter too. The synth sounds are cool, too, but already by this point, I already stopped caring about the singing and the lyrics. But, wow, they do an awesome imitation of a Mellotron near the middle of the song. Is that an actual Mellotron? If it is, great! If it isn't, wow, great job in recreating the sound of it. A Mellotron makes anything better, especially a song like this. The sound is already far more interesting than in the beginning of the song, so my attention is already caught. Right, it's over, and we're into Pink Eye (On My Leg). Surprisingly, it's an instrumental—we haven't had much from Ween, have we? The H.I.V. Song was sort of one, but this is ridiculously better, with an actually clever and catchy melody and a very interesting and amusing combination of sounds, and it's much more than a stupid skit. The dog barking sounds are awesome, too! Ah, I really like this one; it's always great to have a melody like this in an album. Hehe, another awesome sample; it sounds like a man groaning, or something. Brilliant. And we're off into another "electro-country" song, Waving My Dick in the Wind. Great tune! Catchy as all hell, and the fast rhythm really does it justice. For some reason, I feel it would work more if it were a bit shorter. But, oh, whatever: we're into Buckingham Green, and it starts off as a stately, solemn prog rock number of sorts, with vocals caught somewhere between Gabriel-led Genesis and early King Crimson. The vocals give space to an acoustic guitar solo, but the sound is still eerily quiet and haunting. Awesome solo. And more Mellotron sounds? This time it sounds like the "choir" patch. Man, these guys REALLY know what they're doing. And off we go with a heavy, stomping instrumental part with distorted guitar and everything else. Very, very prog rock. And now it leads into another quiet part, but even more solemn and serious, with synthesized "marcato" strings and tympani. Awesome. Awesome song. And we're off into Ocean Man. Wow! Poppy, bouncy and boppy, and with an awesome strummed mandolin! Catchy as hell! And it caused these reactions in less than 10 seconds! I love this song, though it sounds like a tune they'd put in an automobile advert. It's awesome either way, with lovely guitars and a catchy as hell melody sung with a funny, somewhat slowed-down (I guess) voice. The lyrics are great, too, pompous and inane as only Ween could do it. And we reach the last track, She Wanted to Leave, a stunningly gorgeous ballad with a hollow, echoey sound and a guitar sound that seems to embody all the sadness in the world. Really! If the vocals and lyrics weren't so openly parodic (it's a story of unrequited love in a pirate ship, or something??), it'd be one of the saddest songs in my entire catalogue. In fact, if these exact same lyrics were sung in a serious way, it'd STILL be one of the saddest songs in my catalogue: the melody is gorgeous and the arrangement is fantastic. Yeah, it's titled She Wanted to Leave (reprise), but the reprise is of the first track, played in a VERY slow and sad instrumental arrangement. Wow, if I didn't know Ween very well, I'd honestly take this as a very depressing outro for the album. But, well, it's just a lighthearted little joke.

Honestly, this album is amazing, and Ween's existence would be entirely justified even if they stopped making music after it. But no: this is the first album in a streak of three great albums. The Mollusk, though, is to me their best album ever, and one I'm not ashamed to put in the highest ranks of my favourite albums of the 90's. I like it THAT much, and that's why I'm not bitter the band even after listening to Chocolate and Cheese. Spinal Meningitis? I forgive them. Honestly, Mr. Freeman? Mr. Melchiondo? DON'T fuck you. You guys are awesome. Thank you for this album.

As a post-scriptum, I have to say: this was my first Ween album (if I recall correctly—maybe it was GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, but right now I don't recall), and my feelings weren't THAT positive on first listens. It took me quite a while until I started to unveil those layers of cleverness and beauty, and create such a strong link with the album's mood shifts and deep sounds; but once that happened, the whole album worked like a charm. Give it a thorough, careful listen, without haste. It should give you an idea: I've harshly criticised the "mushy" stretches of The Pod, and I've stated distaste for the "diversity" of Chocolate and Cheese, yet THIS album totally enraptured me for not falling in either of those pits. Give it a try.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 4)

Chocolate and Cheese

What a great day to review a bad album!... well, not really. Today would be a great day for SOMETHING, and certainly not to review a bad album—but that's what I gotta do, right?... actually, not really. I'm doing this because I want to. But don't question me on that, right? You can question me on the assessment of this album... oh, man, why do I have to do this? Couldn't I review a GOOD album, like Albedo 0.39 by Vangelis instead? I could, but that would break the flow. Matter of fact, screw Chocolate and Cheese: I'll review the Vangelis record, which in fact is a strong contender to my favourite album ever (except Amarok by Mike Oldfield really holds that spot).

Look, let's get this done quickly.

Take Me Away is a swingy rocker, with slightly processed vocals and jangly guitars. WOW, the production is far better than last time around. It now sounds like they're actually on a major label. And the song is snappy and upbeat. They're parodying something here, but I can't be sure what it is. Dean (I guess) has sung the same verse three times in a row. And now we get a fuzzy guitar solo. This is a pretty great way to kick off the album; it's a fun, though completely nondescript song. You know, it's neither very catchy, nor sufficiently funny to stand on its own, but it doesn't annoy me. Great ending, though! And now it's Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down). Actually, it isn't: I set Amarok to stop playback before that song, and I won't listen to it. I know, I'm supposed to walk through the whole album and review it in real time, but I refuse to listen to this track. Aside from being not at all good, it's painfully unfunny and preposterously stupid—it doesn't sound at all like the cool, smart guys who did Push th' Little Daisies and Right to the Ways and the Rules of the World! I know what "dark humour" is, I can more or less define it: it's a joke regarding death, sickness, or overall something very disturbing. That's not what this song is: it takes a child with a fatal illness and passes that AS THE JOKE. That's not dark humour, and it's not even humour at all. It's not even creepy, or interesting, or thought-provoking or anything at all: it's just trying to thrive in shock value and shock value alone. That doesn't cut it. And, of course, such an offensively idiotic song features a kid dying of meningitis. I don't wish either of them any kind of bad, but if they had lost a child to a disease like that, I doubt they'd ever write that song. It's not a matter of taboo: it's basic common sense. Honestly? Mr. Freeman? Mr. Melchiondo? Fuck you. BUT, let's get on with this album and skip straight to Freedom of '76, a quite faithful imitation of soul. I guess the only remarkable thing about this song is how precisely they emulate the sound. But so what? I think I stated this before, but the fact that an artist can perform different styles doesn't mean he's amazing and impressive: it means he's DECENTLY COMPETENT. It's the least I can expect from a good musician. Gene's singing is quite brilliant, but who listens to Ween for the singing? And should I care about the lyrics? Oh, what the hell. I Can't Put My Finger on It. Yeah, neither can I. It brings back some of the humour of the previous albums, with a cheap drum machine sound, fuzzed-out guitars and processed vocals, a stomping rhythm and weirdly blurted lyrics. Good track? No. Well, the "quiet" interludes in the middle add an interesting aspect to it just for being so completely out-of-place and out-of-context, and I guess that's the point. And, oh, there's an "Indian" instrument (synthesized) playing at the end. Side B kicks off with A Tear for Eddie, and it's at least a relief for being completely instrumental. Supposedly, it's a homage to Eddie Hazel, from Funkadelic. It's a pretty faithful imitation of the style (Funkadelic was one of their big influences), with that deep phasing effect, and if this is a genuine homage (which is unclear, of course), it's a good one. The distorted solo at the end is good. Roses Are Free is a piece of faux-psychedelic pop with a boppy, heavily electronic sound, randomly meaningless lyrics, and a cleverly written chorus. I don't know what to say, really: it's not a bad tune, and the lyrics are not at all bad, but what is to be found interesting here? They did the "fuzzy-psychedelic" sound much, much, MUCH better on Marble Tulip Juicy Tree, which was invigorating, fun and dynamic; this one just drags and marches along lazily. The instrumental break adds some energy, but the rest is just the same on and on and on.

Now comes in the best song in the album BY FAR: Baby Bitch somehow recreates very nicely that 60's acoustic ballad schtick with Lennon-esque voice and singing, and the combination of laid back and "thoughtful" melody with completely crude and nasty lyrics has never been as good as here. I guess. The "baby, baby, baby bitchhhhh" chorus is brilliant, and the melody is catchy! I hope it's NOT an actual attack at an ex-girlfriend. They namedrop Birthday Boy from GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, sort of like Bob Dylan namedropped Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands on Sara. Hehe, great. Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony came in and, ergh: more of that "hahaha look how funny it is to be creepy" shit. At least the melody is kind of catchy, which can't be said about Spinal Meningitis, which barely had any melody at all. Look, I just won't say anything because I have nothing good to say about this song. I'll just prepare the next paragraph for when side C starts off with...

Drifter in the Dark, a pretty spot-on imitation of "Barbershop" tunes. It's spot-on and... ... ... um... ... yeah, spot-on. Look, I KNOW we don't find many albums out there that skip from rock 'n' roll to psychedelic pop to 60's folk to soul to barbershop quartet, and maybe that's because NOBODY CARES. I could be listening to, I dunno, The Cure right now. You know Faith? It's 40 minutes of the same thing, but it's GREAT. It's AWESOME. It's the same mood, the same sound, but THAT DOESN'T MATTER. Okay, now it's Voodoo Lady, a very, very, very awful piece of crap with an "ethnic" percussion beat (synthesized, of course) with tuneless singing and idiotic lyrics; yeah, I get the "boogie-oogie-oogie-oogie-oogie-oogie-oogie-oogie" is MEANT to be idiotic, but that alone doesn't make it good, does it? Erk, I hate this song; so completely dull and un-groovy! Oh, there come the fuzzy distorted guitars rising up and up and up and making noise all around. Yeah, the noise is cool, but unfortunately it's just a pale, pale ghost of a shadow of what the Mutantes were doing in Bat Macumba; it's so bad it doesn't even work as a joke. It's over now, and now it's Joppa Road, a quite funny and convincing parody of soft rock. The melody is obnoxiously repetitive, but this time it WORKS, because the jangly acoustic guitar and the "one-octave-apart" vocals are very, very spot-on. Yeah, Drifter in the Dark was also "spot-on", but at least this time it's a very relevant parody. Who cares about barbershop quartets, really? Now, this kind of sleazeball soft rock really deserves a comedic treatment, and it gets on. But yeah, it could be way shorter and the effect would have been far better. Now it's Candi. Sparse drum machine sounds bouncing left and right, a bit of bass guitar, a bit of guitar, a bit of muttering and NOTHING GOOD going on at all. Except for some of the noise, which is faintly entertaining. But the noise effects here are just trying to support the "joke"; what joke? I don't know. If this were one minute long, it would be okay, but it's actually four times longer than that. Eww. I almost wish I were listening to The Pod right now. Actually, I do wish. Man, WHY didn't they put the noise more on the centre of the song and get rid of the vocals? Damn. I dunno. I don't want to know.

Side D starts with Buenas Tardes Amigo, a song that gets all the critics wild with praise. It's a "spaghetti western" epic, seven minutes long, with solemn guitar strumming and Gene (maybe) singing slowly with a faint Mexican accent. It's awfully long, but it builds up as time goes on. It has a powerful solo and a "twist" at the end. I hate it. And it's followed up by the "amazing" H.I.V. Song. Do I need to say anything? No, it's NOT funny; this kind of "idiotic" and "offensive" humour needs EFFORT to work, and there's no effort here. What Deaner Was Talking About came in to wash the shit away, and yeah, it's a neat song. Not impressive or brilliant, but Gene's vocal delivery is good and the imitation of "heavenly" pop is very well done and all, but doesn't really achieve much more than what Pork Roll Eggs and Cheese achieved. But I won't complain. Now it's Don't Shit Where You Eat, a laid back acoustic tune. Okay, now it's over. Finally. And I complained about The Pod. Silly me! I didn't get their albums chronologically, but if I were doing that, I'd NEVER have guessed that they'd come up with such a wretched album.

Let's recapitulate: the good songs here are Take Me Away (sort of), A Tear for Eddie, Baby Bitch, Joppa Road and What Deaner Was Talking About. I'm not even sure about that list: some of those are only good when compared to the rest, because overall, they're just passable. Also maybe Roses Are Free and Don't Shit Where You Eat are not bad, but I don't care about them. The rest is either pure garbage or mindless fluff, and Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down) holds the honour of being the single most horrible song Ween ever put on a record (well, not including those cassette releases, but I never heard them and I don't think I really want to). Maybe it's the only Ween song I'd call "horrible"—I wouldn't call any of the other tracks here "awful". Either way, those "good" songs I singled out aren't even good to the point of me wanting to fish them out of the album for my enjoyment. Maybe Baby Bitch, but that's it. The rest can go to hell; including that album cover. What an ugly thing! Yeah, that's right: I'm not "offended" by it. It's just plain ugly, aesthetically unpleasant, and—of course—moronic, and NOT in the usual Ween way.

But stick around, guys. We're warming up.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 3)

Pure Guava

Hooray! Finally the time comes for me to take a look at Ween's third offering. Actually, is ISN'T Ween's third offering if we consider all those cassette tapes made in the 80's, but, you know, let's not get into that discussion. This album, either way, is a landmark: it's Ween's first album on a major label. Elektra signed these guys, based on whatever criteria they came up with, and so Ween had a much larger budget and a pretty wide range of new possibilities to try. The result was... an album made on a 4 track recorder. Yeah, just like The Pod; the difference being that the sound is pushed way, way far into the "clean" side of it, and the songs, on average, seem to be far more entertaining. This is still a really huge polariser, though. Like The Pod, yeah; but better get into the actual walkthrough instead of try to explain it here, right?

Off we go!
And it's Little Birdy, which helps set the tone for the whole album. You got a lazy drum machine snapping away a mid tempo poppy ballad thing, a guitar that's weirdly caught between a fuzzy distortion and a clean strummy sound. Difficult to describe, like much in this album. It also seems to fluctuate very, very wildly up and down, as if they've got a very unreliable tape recorder. And the vocals? Very zoned-out kind of trippy, muttering rant, about a little birdy. Very, very, VERY The Pod-ish. Ok, now Gene Ween is ranting in a very nasal, whiny monotone. I think the thing that makes this stand out from the average Pod-mush is the bizarre mix of fuzz and cleanness in the sound. Also, the lyrics aren't trying too hard to freak you out -- it's the kind of stuff that some people would sing with all seriousness in the world, somewhere in the 60's; but it's vastly exaggerated here. And now we're into Tender Situation. Alarm bells go off; slow, sparse drum machine pattern, very sparse guitar picking, whispered vocals (yeah, as in, you gotta STICK your ears to the speakers to make out the words), and they're saying "taste the waste, man, taste the waste". Yeah, I know I'm supposed to take this song as a gag, but it goes on and on and on. Right, now we bump into a very amusing synthesizer "solo"; ok, glad to know they're up to SOMETHING here, not just the whispery whispers -- but the song still goes on and on. Now-- WOW, what is this? It's The Stallion, part 3, but it's unlike ANYTHING in the previous two parts. Man, barely 20 seconds into the song you can tell it's going to be AMAZING. And it IS. Somehow, they came up with a mix of drum machines and clean guitar picking (with a heavy flanging effect) that's plainly gorgeous, and the vocals are helium-powered (Gene or Dean? Can't tell), and it's doing a VERY convincing imitation of 70's prog rock pomposity. It's amazing, truly. And it ends with "Hey dude, he's the Stallion!" muttered in a hilarious, idiotic moron voice. Great guitar solo, too. Okay, I'm hooked.

Big Jilm. Slowed down vocals muttering some garbage, and every line ends with an exclaimed "Big Jilm!". It's not too slow, and the guitars are strummy and sort of bluesy. It's funny, in a way, and it doesn't get to the point of being too repetitive and annoying. It knows when to shut up, fortunately. Push th' Little Daisies is on now. I LOVE THIS TRACK. Gene's delivery is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and combines obnoxiousness and catchiness in a completely irresistible and spontaneous manner. Awesome rhythm and guitar work! Love it, just love it; this track tramples about 90% of the songs in the two previous albums. It was Ween's "big hit", too, featured on Beavis and Butthead. Shame people didn't get the joke and thought Ween was the stupidest pile of shit goin' on. But, then again, are we gonna expect anything from the MTV audiences? Heh. This helped give Ween their image as a "novelty band", though, sadly. I STILL love the song, though. The Goin' Gets Tough from the Getgo is on now. Is this a sort of parody on hip hop, or rap, or something like that? Funky rhythm patterns, spoken lyrics. By the way, the lyrics are really funny -- the mixture between inane cursing and "serious" life messages is SPOT ON, and the constant exchanges between the two come just in the right time to highlight how absurd the thing really is. I'm already halfway convinced THIS is the album The Pod should have been all along.

Reggaejunkiejew -- what? What kind of title is that? Wait until you listen to it: it kicks off with a totally crazy rhythm on a drum machine. The vocals have a "telephone" filter applied to them. They're violently cursing and insulting some wosshisface Rastafari figure or something. Might probably be a comment on marijuana smoking kids who think rastafarianism is "cool", or maybe Ween are just being dicks. Who knows, this song still has some of the best uses of "fuck you" in a song. Check it out! And the synth solo? Freaky. As far as I can guess, each of them is playing a very rudimentary, toy-like synth. Unbelievable sound here; I'm already impressed by this album. Now we get into I Play It Off Legit. The music so far is sparse, again, with some loud percussion sounds and vibraphone-like sounds, and moaned words. The guys really have a field day rhyming "shit" with "legit". I think I can just get into the song alright after the amazing stuff I heard on this track. But, yeah, if this song were on The Pod, it would merely help to bog the experience down even further. In this context, this imitation of a completely stoned, fuck-the-world atmosphere sounds quite convincing. Now, Pumpin' 4 the Man? Wow! Lightning fast, sort of a country mockery -- the drum machine just speeds along, and the vocals follow suit! I can barely review it! All I know it's very entertaining; great vocals there. It's one minute and a half long, of course; blink and you'll miss it. But DON'T miss it. And now, it's a ballad. Sure enough, Sarah has helium vocals and spaced out guitar strumming, so don't get it confused with a "genuine" song. It's not particularly impressive, though; Ween has done better as far as parodies of "romantic" songs go. But it's not bad at all. Springtheme kicks in. Okay, it's not really that good -- fairly catchy, but not impressive. Slow, "spaced-out" faux-psychedelic mood with helium vocals and nifty bass playing; and off we go with Flies on My Dick. Lovely title. Ohh, no, there comes that SLOW, SLOW rhythm. It's The Pod all over again. Yep, this is EXACTLY like The Pod, slowed down drums and muttered vocals and all. The guitar solo is quite entertaining, though. I don't care about this song, though, either way, and it goes on for way too long. I Saw Gener Cryin' in His Sleep is funny, though, with a silly, idiotic "country" mood and weird effects with microphones. It sounds like they're playing feedback, so they audibly mess up the trick on the very first chorus and Gene (?) yells out "We fucked it up again!" in the background. Catchy, funny, short track. Nice. And Touch My Tooter is slow, fuzzed all the way to oblivion and with screamed, out of tune vocals. A parody on "grunge", perhaps? It's entertaining; as much as it goes into the "murky" territory of the previous album, at least it moves, you know?

Mourning Glory (sic) already starts off foreboding enough, with a sound VERY saturated in the low end and echoed vocals, feedback bursts, barely intelligible words. It's just almost impossible to tell what's going on, but I can tell it's purposefully messed up and "badly" recorded -- they just love messing around with the tape, without regards to how it's gonna sound. This isn't really the kind of stuff I enjoy from these guys, but this is SO messed up and random, I can't help but stop and listen closely. Really, there is NO regard for how the final result will sound like; they're just sabotaging the tape, the guitars (?) screech and feedback, and... eh. I don't know. I don't even care about the lyrics, and I wonder if I should. And that was FIVE minutes of it. I just wonder how I managed to sit through it. Just, wow. Loving U Thru It All; ballad-like, very gentle guitar picking, sounds a lot like Led Zeppelin, except the vocals are all slowed down and moany. It IS a pretty convincing imitation of Jimmy Page's guitar playing -- though they do screw the thing up at times. And the vocals are just plain funny -- they sing it in short bursts, and the double-tracking is hardly ever in agreement. Heh heh. Now it's Hey Fat Boy (Asshole). It's fuzzy and messy, and the vocals sound like they're shouted into a metal box. I can already tell it's going to me mindlessly repetitive and monotonous, but at least it's sort, and the sound effects are interesting. Wow, there are only three tracks remaining? I hardly saw the whole thing go by! Ok, I've already had enough of this song; I do know "Come here! You killed my mother" is a pretty weird thing to sing, but still...

Don't Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy); the guitars are strummy and lightly flanged, sort of like a crossover between Led Zeppelin and prog rock ballads, and the vocals are kind of "serious" (in a parodic way, of course), and the chorus? Oh, goodness, this is CATCHY! As HELL! The lyrics are hilariously "serious" and inane and overblown, almost like a reprise of The Stallion, part 3. I love it. "Don't be afraid to clutch the hand of your creator"! Awesome. Great guitar playing. And the whistling near the end? Amazing. And it ends with an "a capella" chorus! This is MORE than just amazing; it's brilliant. And, to close the thing off, it's Poop Ship Destroyer, with a simple drum machine pattern, a moronic little "marimba" tune, sparse fuzzy guitar chords, and muttered vocals. The lyrics are kind of twisted, but funny -- I'm not a fan of scatology, but the "sci fi", space terms are so jarring in this context, it's brilliant. "Let's cruise past all the golden poo"? Unbelievable.

I'll be honest with you: I had listened to this album, I think, twice until now. The reviews and opinions I read on it were nowhere NEAR a consensus. All Music Guide gave a perfect score to it (the only one Ween got!). The first times I listened to it left me sort of, well, clueless. But NOW, listening to it, I'm convinced: it's a great album. It's SOLID, you know? Even if it's got some tracks I utterly don't care about, they at least are part of an overall picture, and this time it's a picture that I care about. GodWeenSatan: The Oneness was a mixed bag of brilliance, garbage and pointlessless, while The Pod was bogged down by unfortunate, LONG stretches of pointless mush, but this time around, the "mushy" bits are nicely integrated into a much more varied, interesting work. It DOES sound like a dead-end, though; it's the kind of album that just can't be built upon, you know? So, Ween took the logical, reasonable route and decided to upgrade their sound completely and rise into a new level altogether, and they did that masterfully.

What they did NOT do masterfully, though, was make a good album, so Chocolate and Cheese sucks. Hard. More on that later.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Of Politics and Twitter stalking

This week I heard about an absolutely pathetic event regarding so called "celebrities" on Twitter. I'll briefly narrate it here. On one side, North-American actor Ashton Kutcher became a sort of celebrity in Brazil through Twitter, after the last football match between the USA and Brazil. On the other side, the Brazilian Senate is going through a very turbulent period, and its president is under pressure to leave his position. So, a group of "celebrities" started a campaign to get Kutcher to join the Twitter campaign against the president; the most notorious being a "humourist" (*snicker*), a "musician" (*pfft!*) and an "actor" (*choke*), here dubbed the Three Stooges. Yes, in case you didn't notice, those folks -- among others -- started bugging Mr. Kutcher PERSONALLY, on Twitter, to join a "campaign" against a politician he never heard about from a country that isn't his. I'll let you digest that for a while before I discuss it. But, suffice to say, after about half a dozen Twitter messages, Kutcher finally replies with an epic knock-out:

Only U have the power 2 impeach your senator. It's YOUR country U have 2 stand 4 what you believe.

Fortunately the "campaign" died after that.

Now, I'm one who thinks the president of the Senate, José Sarney, is the kind of politician that needs to disappear from this country, and he definitely needs to take a hike. The important thing to notice is, as much as it's important for people to make their voice heard about these issues, it's NOT my impeaching that guy that all our problems will be solved; that is nothing but a single tiny piece of a huge, monstrous machine of corruption. However, this whole "campaign" -- contrary to what you may be thinking -- does NOT leave the realms of Twitter and invade real life. No: that "campaign" consists of a handful of "celebrities" and a load of people who can't bother to get their asses off their seats and go out to the streets, and merely want the Internet to magically solve their problems. I know the Internet has been changing the whole social and political scenery of the world dramatically, but it's still NOT able to singlehandedly heal our problems; and those people either can't see that, or willingly DON'T see it. I think it's the latter, honestly.

And to make matters worse, those people were trying to enlist the help of a foreigner. We're not even talking about an influential leader or an outspoken personality; no, we're talking about an actor who happened to get into a -- massive, yes, but still -- harmless football joke on Twitter. It's sad to see our country is in the hands of corrupt leaders, yes, but it's even sadder to see the "personalities" opposing corruption are brainless slugs engulfed by the comfortable numbness of their luxurious apartments. And as great as Kutcher's response was, it will NOT help change their minds; it's easy to misread "only YOU have the power" as "you can't depend on me, so just give up".

Click here to see the story in further details -- the text is in Portuguese, but most of the original messages are in English.

Side note:
Review of Pure Guava may take a little longer to come out. This term isn't over yet...