In the ’90s alternative-era high school, Ween fandom seemed like a sign and countersign—a way to distinguish the playful music freaks from the lumpen, gloomy grunge-listeners. And unlike Pavement or Beck, Ween had that grinning-head logo, perfect for scrawling on your backpack in pledge of allegiance. In retrospect, liking Ween also often proclaimed an afﬁnity for recreational drugs.
But by the time I was listening for hidden meanings in the seemingly endless tracks of Pure Guava and Chocolate and Cheese, Ween had already accomplished quite a lot. Since forming the duo as teenagers in 1984, Mickey Melchiondo (a.k.a. Dean) and Aaron Freeman (Gene) had amassed a sizable discography of tapes, released GodWeenSatan: The Oneness and The Pod on indie labels, and made the impossible seem possible by signing with a major, releasing Pure Guava on Elektra in 1992.
On those early releases, Ween proved adept at mimicking a multitude of musical genres—and then devouring them alive. Ween also always managed to sound like themselves: chintzy Casio beats, tape-warped vocals, tinny guitars and the occasional blast of noise, combined with lyrics so incomprehensible and juvenile they made Zappa seem serious. Songs like “The Stallion, Pt. 3” offered mystical nonsense in funny voices; “Spinal Meningitis” and “The H.I.V. Song” are still disturbing in their ﬂippancy; “Poop Ship Destroyer” consisted mainly of fart sounds.
But when I learned from a breathless Weener in 1996 that the band had a new album called 12 Golden Country Greats, I didn’t get it. I suspect Ween had degraded my sense of humor to the point where a country concept album featuring Nashville session players was too deadpan of a joke for me to handle. Even with titles like “Piss Up a Rope,” it just sounded lame. I jumped ship (er, poop ship), went to college, read a lot of Virginia Woolf and forgot about Ween.
Since then, Beck, once nearly a fellow traveler with albums like Stereopathetic Soulmanure, has become another self-serious pop star. Tenacious D have taken the parody of prog-rock pretense—a frequent Ween obsession—to a new, cringy low. And the duo itself has released a slew of live albums as well as four studio albums: The Mollusk (1997), White Pepper (2000), Quebec (2003) and last year’s La Cucaracha, released on Rounder/Chocodog.
With La Cucaracha, recorded in a rented farmhouse in Gene and Dean’s hometown of New Hope, Pa., Ween have plenty of proof that they’re still the stallion, mang. The album opens with an instrumental, “Fiesta,” which sounds like the opening theme music of a TV show played totally straight—until a tweaked drum sample momentarily derails it. Ah, this is a Ween record, after all!
The play across genres (I think we used to call this “postmodern”) continues from there, chewing up and spitting out commercial reggae (“The Fruit Man”), ’70s soft rock (“Spirit Walker”) and piano ballads (“Lullaby”). Truck drivin’ cock-rock gets the shaft with “My Own Bare Hands,” where screaming guitar solos collide with such lyrics as “She’s gonna be my cock professor / Studyin’ my dick,” and “Friends” expertly skewers empty-headed Euro-trance, with its chorus of “A friend’s a friend who knows what being a friend is / Talking about being a friend.”
The best songs, though, are more subtle (relatively speaking, of course). “Blue Balloon” has the familiar crappy drum machines, weird accents and faux soul I loved on Chocolate and Cheese, while “Object” sounds like a moody R&B ballad, a cross between B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” and Pink Floyd. A recent YouTube fan video (seemingly quite a preoccupation amongst Weeners) sets “Object” to a collage of stalker/murderer scenes from classic movies. It’s more than a bit disturbing when the image of Hannibal Lecter accompanies lines like “You’re just a piece of meat / And I’m a butcher” or “I’m gonna do something wrong / Nobody’s gonna like it.” It’s quite a lovely sounding song, but not something you probably want to advertise liking.
In fact, I’m not sure what liking Ween in 2008 means, really—what it says about a person. Perhaps some combination of “still single,” “not picking up the check at dinner” and “still likes drugs.” (It’s tempting to say “male,” but the two most rabid Ween fans I know are women.) But no matter where you ﬁnd yourself these days—even if you’re now a responsible member of society with a mountain of credit cards, plastic surgery, dull dinner parties, dull job, dull spouse, even dull offspring—La Cucaracha is a pleasant reminder of your fucked-upness.
yall forgot the 1st act : 7:45 - T. STRAIN.
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The second woe is past; and behold, the third woe cometh quickly