The problem with Ween’s a**es is that instead of writing an album like The Velvet Underground, which they could have, they barrage in on the albums with these dins like “It’s Gonna Be a Long Night” and “You Fu**ed up.” Now, why would they do something like that? Well, there’s a lot of questions out there.
I’m gonna take the old adage that “Everybody who ever heard The Velvet Underground started a band” one step further: everybody who truly listened to The Velvet Underground all the way through, front to back, in solitude, in the morning while every other human being in the whole, wide world was at work, had upon ensuing years great taste in rock and roll. With no electric lights on in the room. Just an intermediately moving ceiling fan, on an unseasonably cool day in July.
And part of the reason for this is the album’s “self-allusion,” so to speak. It comes in just SO woozy on “Candy Says” (a song Lou Reed professes to “really liking” in stage banter on Live at Max’s Kansas City), but it’s the type of syrupy song that’s hard to sit through sometimes, too. Reed sounds every bit prepared to perform fellatio on the microphone.
For a while Chutes Too Narrow had morphed into my reflective summer album, and to an extent, it still is. I still remember this one trip to a Borders (a now defunct bookstore in Carmel, Indiana) in the summer of 2003 where I both discovered The Shins, and rehashed “What Goes on” from sundry auto Dolby experiences of my youth, realizing that it was in fact not a Raffi nursery rhyme, but a rock song on a rock album.
Listening to the album, though, you realize why Reed is so crooning and androgynous on “Candy.” That’s the ONLY thing on the entire album that’s indulgent. Even the outro to “What Goes on,” now, in my youth, I find myself devouring like those pints of Alpha King that used to to me represent such soapy unwieldiness. I’m like, Can I have another? And you can, with “Some Kinda Love,” by far my favorite track on the album. The very artistic authority wielded here by Reed and elsewhere is exemplified by the song’s sole chord progression, which is actually a sort of faux-progression, at best. He knows the stuff he’s preaching here is apocryphal, pagan stuff, all the way, hence even the “‘Some kinda love,’ Margarita told Tom” type of dialogue technique. One of my favorite lines in all of rock is “Between thought and expression lies a lifetime,” and has been for a long time. Reed has a confident notion that he’s channeling Dionysian wisdom from the ubiquitous human epicenter, having experienced everything: he’s saying things that everybody else has thought, or at least, have been taught, by the overall effort in some right of humanity as a whole. So it’s in a way as an avoidance of schmaltzy indulgence that he enacts such a simple chord progression.
What stands out to me about “Pale Blue Eyes” is that this is an actual person he’s dealing with, one who could conceivably know she’s being discussed in the song. “Jesus” is a ringer, the approximate speed of “Candy Says” but summoning of much more everyday, blue-collar sympathy, both the mellow tone and the ironically Christian theme refreshingly chafing of what could in a lesser artist dissolve into melodrama.
Time and again, Reed’s voice itself steals the show, just his undeniable tone of reckless abandon with which he lives his life. The result, of course, rather than being a big bombastic buildup toward some sort of “power,” like you might hear on the radio or something, is that at any moment these songs can turn on a dime from kitsch to cornerstone, or from expressionism on back to tongue-in-cheek. What resounds is just timelessness, something we’ll spend a century trying to figure out. I wanted to talk about “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” because this is an instance of Reed just abusively battering the song back and forth between pop/rock and prose poetry, but the exact moment that made me notice the infinite fragility the band was channeling on this album is in “The Murder Mystery,” when it’s about to turn noise rock, the cloistered, dissonant piano is banging away and haranguing our ear drums, when all of a sudden it turns back into that major-chord, singalong nursery rhyme, albeit with lines like “Climb into the casket.” So grand is this one moment that the last two songs could be considered a sort of thematic “side b” of their own, side a culminating in the stupefyingly beautiful guitar solo, with elusive chord progression, on what you think for a while is going to be a throwaway track, “The Story of My Life.”