Sunday, 23 August 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 8)

I feel like I should apologise for the long delay between last post and this, but you know what? Screw it. There's nobody to apologise to, since nobody reads this, and I have my own good reasons to not have posted since then. It certainly hasn't got to do with me being bored with this or not wanting to do this review. Though I have to admit I'm not as excited as I was at the beginning. Yet, strangely enough, I do intend to start another series once I'm done with Ween. Though I was thinking of doing something different... Well, who knows. Let's focus on Ween for now. Today's record is Quebec. It's the third great Ween record in a row, and it seems to follow a more "serious" trend. Some tracks are blatantly parodic and humorous, some tracks are subtly parodic and humorous, and other tracks give me no reason whatsoever to believe they're either of those two things. The band is still all over the place with band homages and style pastiches, the songwriting is still brilliant and the performances convincing, most tracks are wicked good, and, hey, I seem to pick up a vibe of honesty from a few songs here. Maybe it's just wishful thinking: the last two albums were so endearing and good that I WANTED to get a glance at the real faces of the two guys. What would be the problem? They are not a novelty outfit after all. I'm all for making music for fun and enjoyment, but nothing should hold you back from pouring a bit of REAL blood and sweat over your songs.

But once again, let's go in depth. I'll hit play now and get writing.

They open up with It's Gonna Be a Long Night, a very direct and obvious Motörhead parody. They've done that before with Stroker Ace, but I think the parody is even more straight and clear this time around. The strained screaming on one note is very reminiscent of Ace of Spades, and the gruff, fat guitar sound is purely Motörheadesque. GREAT song, and great album opener. Of course, its greatness is a bit compromised by it being TOO similar to Motörhead songs and having little of Ween's own unique style on it. I don't know, it's a brilliant song and I'm enjoying it a lot, but it's sort of like a way to wake you up before the REAL show. It's a short tune and it's just ending now. Awesome. Zoloft is on now, and I think this is the first time Ween goes bossa nova. Notice: this is AWFULLY fake bossa nova, with a dull, electronic drum beat, airy pad chords, and the whole song is concocted for purely humorous effect. DON'T think that João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim are recognised as a geniuses for making music like this, guys! To be honest, I think this is a weak song. It's not terribly catchy, it's not terribly well crafted, and singing about antidepressants is nothing new, is it? Now, those backing vocals in the end, that freaks me out. Why? BECAUSE IT SOUNDS LIKE SIGUR RÓS. Really, the first time I heard that, I was going WTF -- these guys listened to Ágætis Byrjun or what? Man.

Transdermal Celebration is on now. I'm absolutely mad about this song. It's so good it's sick; amazing work here, guys. Everything is insanely catchy, from the vocal melodies all the way through the great guitar licks and embellishments. The wacky sci-fi tale told with over-the-top words and terms is great stuff too. They even made a video for this song that pretty much TELLS, visually, what they're singing here. I love it; if I had to make a super-ultra-condensed compilation of awesomeness with the best Ween songs, this would be one of my first picks -- along with every track from The Mollusk, of course. That guitar riff and bookends the song is beautiful as hell, by the way. Now, it's Among His Tribe, one of the big question marks in this album: a quiet, folksy, hushed song, with lyrics without a single hint of irony or mockery. I don't see what they could possibly be making fun of here, though some of those electronic sounds seem not to belong there at all. Faced with this song, I have no choice other than to take it for what it seems to be, and it is a very pretty song. Nice song, though sometimes I barely notice it at all.

Side B opens with So Many People in the Neighborhoor, one of those songs that can lure people into thinking of Ween as an actual novelty act. Silly sounds, non-existant melody and repetitive, inane lyrics. I don't enjoy it much, to be honest, but the chaotic "instrumental" breaks are pretty impressive and fun, with how they weave distorted, buzzing sounds and distorted, undecipherable vocals. I don't know what else to say about it -- it's ending and I sort of like it. Tried and True, now that one is far more impressive, drawing influence from acoustic, slightly country-influenced pop. That descending guitar line is pure brilliance, and the lyrics and singing and over-the-top and pompous enough to be non-serious but without being obnoxious. Though I have to be frank, I can't stand the use of the word "smell" for comedic purposes. Other than that, I like this song a whole lot, especially the guitar work. That sitar imitation is used for very good effect. Now, Happy Colored Marbles goes back to the semi-novelty camp, this time with a "toy organ" and marimbas, silly vocals and "out there" lyrics. At least the song is really catchy, and the slow tempo and unsettling sounds are creepy at JUST the right amount. The explosive, climactic ending is awesome! Great concoction of sounds, and a great effect caused by the sound of "real" instruments breaking out of the fake, electronic "toy" sound. That moment alone makes the song worth it. To close the side, it's Hey There Fancypants, a very straightly-played ragtime. I can't stand the kind of song they're imitating here. Really, just hearing the lyrics makes me want to die -- I HATE this kind of stuff, and even though I appreciate how well written and performed this song here, I don't like the song at all. Of course I don't put the blame on Ween -- I'm not that stupid. Still, eh. If I could cut out one track from the album, I wouldn't hesitate before choosing.

Anyway, we move to side C with Captain. This time, we're all the way back to 70's "art rock", slow, very echoey, desolate, plaintive and repetitive. It builds very slowly, laying element over element; first the guitar line, then the repeated vocals, the chimes, then the lead guitar, and so on. As tempted as I am to compare this to Pink Floyd, it's not similar to Pink Floyd at all -- I'm not sure what band it is similar to. But yeah, I'm familiar with the kind of vibe they're trying to create, and it's a very good effort. Those slowed down vocals are too jarring, but I like the lead guitar, and the song isn't trying too hard to show it is a pastiche. The balance of elements is just right, and the strings at the end are a VERY nice touch. And now it's Chocolate Town, a bit of country pop or whatever the hell you call this. VERY, VERY nice song, catchy, tuneful and poppy. The lyrics are obviously silly, but the vocal efforts by Gene almost make them resonant. Either way, great song, and now we come up to I Don't Want It, a... love ballad. Played ABSOLUTELY straight. Well, perhaps a bit TOO straight, since they lay down most romantic ballad clichés and nail then down perfectly. But know what? This song is GORGEOUS. If it was written by any other band, it'd probably be my favourite ballad ever. But since this is Ween, I can't shrug off the fact that they're probably doing it just for fun. But HOW can this be "fun"? It's sad and gut-wrenching! No sense of "parody" can twist the inherent beauty of this song, not even ending almost every line with a little "ah", as in "I'd lie in your arms if I could-ah". And that guitar solo in the end is the band's crowning achievement of beauty. I love it dearly. And it's immediately followed by The Fucked Jam. This is probably the band's most idiotic instrumental ever, but then again, Ween KNOWS how to make "idiotic" become a compliment. It consists of a dull drone of electronic drums and a buzzing bass drone, and on top of that they put a layer of SOMETHING... I don't know what it is, it's SOMETHING. It seems like some random, senseless vocal blabbering encoded into a buzzy, annoying synth drone. The very quick inflections of that synth surely do sound like vocal noises. And that's all that goes on for three minutes. Actually, not quite: they add those false endings here and there, exactly to make you unsure whether the song has ended or not. And since this closes side C, the effect is vastly improved. It's a funny song, but perhaps a bit TOO novelty.

Then, we get Alcan Road. What's the matter with this song? It's five minutes long, and I can barely hear anything at all. It's got wind sounds, slow droning bass notes, some other echoey effects and a "mysterious" guitar line. Really, I have no idea to say here. It IS a pretty beautiful song, but I don't quite know what to make of it. Weird. Anyway, let's go on to The Argus, which has a sort of British fantasy prog-folk vibe already from the beginning. "Yesterday we lost our lives, tomorrow we were born". Yep. It's very calm and pleasant and jangly in the beginning, and the melody is actually very catchy. Once again this falls into the category of "obviously, but not obnoxiously humorous". I love that instrumental break: it's SO 70's British fantasy rock! The mood shift afterwards is also really neat, all full of fairground flutes or calliopes or whatever those are called, and the ending is also very beautiful. This song is a nice example of how well Ween can mix clever, subtle humour with actual, honest beauty. But now, we get to the closing song, If You Could Save Yourself (You'd Save Us All), which now goes to glammy, bombastic hard rock ballads, complete with verses sung over a very hushed and quiet background. I could never be sure of how much of this song is actually serious and how much it isn't, because as much as it's clearly a parody of a very well known style, there's a tinge of honesty here. Or maybe it's just personal bias of mine? Either way, I REALLY like this song. I guess that particular line in the last stanza is the only thing that hints at obvious humour, but otherwise this song actually is quite gut-wrenching. The vocal delivery is amazing, and the songwriting is honestly impressive. I love this song, and the bombast and heavyhanded delivery is actually completely understandable and justified for a band that is known for being so self-aware and humourous. It's so good, I actually wish to hear more like this from them!

Either way, that was Quebec, another excellent Ween album. As for the next ones to be reviewed, do not expect so much praise. But THAT is for later.