Saturday, October 1, 2011

Essay: Only A Fan Could Love Quebec

Like many similar bands from the “alternative” era, (like, say, Primus), Ween were a really weird band in the early 90s who didn't fit in with grunge or alternative rock. They still benefitted from the willingness of major labels during that time to sign any band they perceived as being alternative and with a chance of having a hit song. Ween's brush with the mainstream came from their single 'Push th' Little Daisies' though celebrity fans like South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker certainly helped.

Ween's time on a major label (Elektra) saw the band, much like They Might Be Giants, moving away from their acerbically strange, 4-track, just-the-two-of-us-playing-everything-and-using-cheap-equipment aesthetic into music that, while still odd and far away from their labelmates, became more polished and professional sounding. Concurrently, Ween pushed their gift for genre experiments as far as it could go, putting out an album of legit country music, 12 Golden Country Greats, and a (loosely) nautical themed homage to the progressive rock they grew up on, The Mollusk. This all culminated with White Pepper in 2000, a succinct record of accessible tunes and some classic rock nods. Ween left Elektra shortly after its release, supposedly due to the label putting out the Paintin' The Town Brown: Ween Live 1990-1998 release, which they had intended for their then-new Chocodog label.

Back on their own, so to speak, Ween seem to have been inspired to return to their roots. This is mainly apparent in the Shinola, Vol. 1 collection, which gathered together outtakes from the band's past. However, the band also went back to their earlier sound for their next album of new material, 2003's Quebec, an album only a fan could love. It's certainly possible that you could lay it on someone who didn't know a thing about Ween and they might 'get' it, or even like it, but the combination of weird lyrics and concepts with weird music means the average listener will wonder what the hell they're listening to. To be fair, Quebec is more akin to White Pepper than Pod, sonically speaking, yet it's still got enough outright bizarre songs and such a variety of styles that it's among the band's most varied and demanding albums.

Demanding” is indeed a good way to put it because, with 15 tracks in 55 minutes, Quebec never stops throwing curveballs at you. Ween produce some of their best genre experiments here, whether it's the jam band twangy groove of 'Chocolate Town', the Pink Floyd nod 'Captain', or the dreamy psychedelia of 'Alcan Road.' More importantly, there's also Ween following their impulse for off-the-wall pastiches ('Zoloft' sounds like lounge music married to easy listening pop music filtered through, well, drugs) or indescribable oddities with primitive sounding instrumentation, like the drum machine grind of 'So Many People In The Neighborhood' or the fake-out endings of the instrumental 'The Fucked Jam.' Somehow it manages to hold together as a cohesive record and not a slapdash collection of disparate tracks.

Quebec may not qualify as the band's best album; it certainly doesn't qualify as their weirdest. Nevertheless, it's the sort of record only a fan could love: only someone intimately familiar with Ween's discography could make much sense out of this sprawling, diverse, and seemingly random record.

No comments: