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.

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