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.

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