Monday, February 9, 2009

Album of the Week: Ween- The Mollusk

If you were a young nerd in the late 80s and early 90s, you probably really liked Weird Al and They Might Be Giants, bands that were themselves nerdy but incredibly intelligent and with a keen ear for pop music (or in Weird Al's case, a keen sense of turning pop music into something that was clever and/or funny). They had a knack for reproducing various genres of music and their humor bordered the lines between PG and PG-13 while often having obscure references you didn't get until years later--I remember hearing They Might Be Giants's 'Meet James Ensor' and assuming he was some character they made up, like 'Mean Mr. Mustard' by the Beatles.

Well, Ween are kind of like the band you get into when you're old enough to think about and experiment with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. You never outgrow They Might Be Giants or Weird Al, but they also belong to a younger version of you in many ways. But Ween, now here's an older version of what you had. They're equally witty and equally adept at covering musical genres and writing brilliant pop songs. But Ween are like the R rated version of the above bands, juvenile while at the same time very adult in nature. Ween tow the line between absurdity and sincerity so often you're never sure if a song like 'It's Gonna Be (Alright)' is for real or not. And while they wrote about adult things like sex or drugs, they wrote about them in a decidedly immature way.

The Mollusk is Ween's answer to questions about sincerity vs. parody and originality vs. genre pastiches. Yes, it's a vague concept album about nautical things; yes, it has a song called 'Waving My Dick In The Wind; yes, it borrows heavily from psychedelia, art rock, and prog rock. But no it's not a joke; it is a masterpiece.

The reason Ween can pull of this album is that they are utterly committed to the music they make even if some of it is just a joke to them. You don't record music you hate to make fun of it. Ween may be goofy and immature at times, but they are serious about their love for music. Album opener 'I'm Dancing In The Show Tonight' is a goofy musical number complete with silly voices and a spot-on piano melody. The title track is a transcendent ode to the creature itself, complete with a cheap synthesizer chorus of flutes and brass. 'I'll Be Your Jonny On The Spot' combines a superfast drum machine with crunchy guitars and deadpan vocal delivery. Then there's 'The Blarney Stone', a Scottish bar sing-along with appropriate ambient/crowd sounds. And the instrumental 'Pink Eye (On My Leg)', with its cheesy and cheap sounding drum loop...and dog barks...and what sounds like a guy burping or saying "uhhhhh" slowed down. Of course I would be remiss if I didn't bring up 'Ocean Man', which is so pleasant and catchy that it was used in the Spongebob Squarepants movie.

And so we come full circle: Ween, a band who can write about very R-rated things (one of their classics is a track called 'L.M.L.Y.P.';you might be able to guess what that stands for) but still retain a child-like whimsy. Even when Ween are spinning a style of music or some genre to their own means--sincerely or otherwise--you never doubt their love of music and their way with both songwriting and instrumental chops. Anybody can write lazy, simple joke songs but it takes a truly skilled band to pull off 'Buckingham Green', which is like a trip from Syd Barret-style mid 60s psychedelia to early 70s prog rock and back.

While the rest of their albums might be funnier, weirder, more interesting, more profane, more populist, or more varied, The Mollusk simply and neatly demonstrates everything that makes Ween such a great band. You might wish they took things more seriously. You might wish they took things less seriously. But you could hardly wish for a better and more consistent album from them.

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