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“Dolby’s Top 25 Ween Songs”

I might as well take this platform to just give a frank account of what one of my favorite bands, Ween, has been up to lately. Earlier this month they did Riot Fest, the three-day punk shindig in Chicago (they seem to have a predilection for playing shows in the Windy City and even have a live album called Live in Chicago, which granted I think is like a bonus disc of a DVD or something like that). At that concert they performed the album The Mollusk in its entirety, wedging it between other set list songs, in an event that saw them perform 27 songs from their catalogue, satiating enough. Hereupon, they seem to be pulling a PJ Harvey, being very selective with the shows they schedule, which do though include a night at Desert Daze next month and then a couple of sporadic dates on the East Coast. The band hails from New Hope, Pennsylvania, a small town located about halfway between Philadelphia and New York City (a similar situation to LIVE’s York, Pennsylvania, which falls smack between Philly and Baltimore). As far as I’ve heard no talk of a new album has materialized and no new songs are being played at these shows. The band’s last album was 2007’s La Cucaracha, an experimental foray into electronica and hardly marked as an essential cornerstone of the band’s oeuvre, at least by anyone with whom I’ve had the pleasure of conversing. The band started in the late ’80s and has earned a cult following ever since, too weird for ’90s alt-rock and lumped in for better or worse into the “jam” zeitgeist for their experimental musical techniques and narrative lyrical histrionics. In 2013, Dean Ween’s side project Moistboyz, featuring ex-Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri, put out Moistboyz V, a passable alt-rock manifesto with the personality to tide over most Ween fans, at least for a while.

 

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25 “The Grobe” (White Pepper)

Back at IU in my college days, White Pepper was sort of like the dark horse consensus favorite Ween album, the one you’d basically be most likely to hear at parties or communal smoking sessions, for its approachability and riffy arena-rock playability. “The Grobe” basically epitomizes those exact characteristics with a shiny, overarching guitar part and lyrics that seem earnest enough to live by but also cloaked in just enough tongue-in-cheek that they don’t actually start to depress anybody or anything, for Christ’s sake.

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24 “Dr. Rock” (The Pod)

Well, what’s the story on The Pod… “Dr. Rock” sums it up rather nicely I think, with its straight-ahead grunge metal and genre iconography, belying of course the fact that this would be their last album on an indie label. Things get even weirder on their major debut Pure Guava, too, incidentally, which is basically an album that veers away from Marshall stacks toward ambient elementary school playground jokes.

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23 “So Many People in the Neighborhood” (Quebec)

I actually happened to be on Zoloft in the summer of ’04 when I first heard Quebec but short of being offended by their jab at my mental remedy choice, I was sort of just stuck in this cognitive quagmire like, Am I really hearing this? Is this really going on? Quebec was a bizarre ride that was a forceful conduit between hallucination and reality, between my own unadulterated mentality and my new, medicated one, to the point where I’m still trying to figure out. Really, I’m glad in a way that I was sheltered from its true fomentation, when I first heard it.

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22 “Old Queen Cole” (GodWeenSatan: The Oneness)

Somewhere during the average listen to GodWeenSatan you start to experience this plague of cognitive dissonance, becoming “one” with the subject matter and you feel like you’re living out the madness of these people, like in the case of “Old Queen Cole”: “You drink the whiskey and the wine / And it tastes just fine” but for whom “Life is getting’ tricky / And you’re running out of gas / Driving way too fast”. It gets to where it’s almost impossible to analyze these examinations semantically because… well.. we’re all in this together: God, Ween, Satan an you, wherever you happen to fit in there.

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21 “Captain” (Quebec)

Like I allude to earlier, I’m really still trying to sort out the multifarious beast that is 2003’s Quebec, as I’m sure are a lot of people, and da**ed if this track nine didn’t almost get buried amonst all the debris. But its aching simplicity and haunting conceptuality will surely bubble forth among enough listens, a disheartened plea to some larger deity or force to remove the subject from his painful situation in life and make everything right again.

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20 “Demon Sweat” (The Pod)

There’s this whole string of weird, like, barely-audible songs crowding Ween’s first three albums, like “Loving U Thru it All”; “Sarah”; “Strap on That Jammypack” and this is about the best of the bushel here, with the goofy subject matter of “demon sweat” presiding over the whole thing but also this wacky, obtuse and curiously sophisticated chord progression materializing with just enough clarity out of the blur, in the form what I THINK is a treated xylophone, or I’m just going bonkers.

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19 “Voodoo Lady” (Chocolate and Cheese)

Out in Colorado I worked with this Ween fan who was one time talking to one of the younger high schoolers there and instructed him to play this song if he ever wanted to really make a girl go weak at the knees. Now, I’m not sure what all drugs he was regularly doing when he said this, but it is funny to think about, you have to admit, and partially in hearing this song it’s easy to see why the canonical “jam” community would so emphatically welcome this band, as it’s got the sort of playful feel where the goofy meets the romantic, a bit like Phish’s “Bouncing around the Room” or their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman.”

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18 “Blackjack” (GodWeenSatan: The Oneness)

This is one of those songs that’s just impossible to describe. You just have to listen to it and then you’ll see why I say this. Nestled toward the back of their highly experimental debut album GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, “Blackjack” marks four and a half extremely uncomfortable minutes that take an unexpected, even more disarming turn most of the way through, but which stand to this day as an eerie testament to this band’s ability to unsettle and stir your mental pot of what you thought music could achieve.

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17 “Among His Tribe” (Quebec)

None of my extremely lazy research has been very fruitful in uncovering which member of Ween wrote this spooky and majestic little gem: if I had to venture a hunch I’d say Gene, since it’s about a world removed from the puerile frat-rock (albeit entertaining frat rock) of Dean Ween’s Moistboyz. Anyway, it’s an absolute essential track four on the strange apparition that is Quebec, hopefully not to be glossed over by any ardent fan of the band.

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16 “Joppa Road” (Chocolate and Cheese)

Wikipedia lists Chocolate and Cheese as the first Ween album to actually feature a live drummer, one Claude Coleman who I have to say has a name that just SOUNDS like a session musician’s name. The fruits of his labor pay off, too, on this track, more than on any others, and his jazzy ruffling really gets things going on this light-of-a-feather groove that was a major grower for me, in terms of Ween songs.

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15 “Falling out” (White Pepper)

I think a lot of people dislike Ween because they don’t understand them, which you have to admit, to an extent, is understandable. They’re liable to take on any subject and curtail things into the darkest throes of noir humor, making fun of things like AIDS, spinal meningitis and hookers. So it’s almost scary to surmise that the same group of two men is capable of such a disarming, earnest kiss-off as this, with Gene Ween’s voice sauntering in as curiously stripped of all its irony and kitsch for some direct verbal smack-down.

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14 “Chocolate Town” (Quebec)

You might not believe me but “Chocolate Town,” positioned on 2003’s Quebec, almost seems like the song Ween had waited their whole careers up to this point to write. It’s got the disciplined pastoral rock and roll majesty of White Pepper’s finer moments like “Flutes of Chi” and “Even if You Don’t” laced with something that takes such matters (and masters) even a step further, like a hard-won melancholy manifest in the form of this aching, unique but perennially catchy and playable pop song.

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13 “The Golden Eel” (The Mollusk)

In many ways the centerpiece of the excellent The Mollusk, “The Golden Eel” amounts to rapturously cathartic track eight weighing in with some playful bongos juxtaposed startlingly against some harsh, hair metal-sounding guitar, perhaps in tandem serving to warrant that “experimental” tab this band sometimes seems to precociously garner. Also here we get a key lyrical self mockery that seems to mark the emotional nadir of the band’s catalogue before the idyllic turn on White Pepper: “Who could explain all these thoughts / Racking my mind? / An endless barrage of sh** / Racking my mind”, with the simple but anthemic chorus “I cannot reveal / The words of the golden eel” seeming to beckon the listener to laugh at them, cry with them, and ultimately do anything other than come any closer, of course.

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12 “It’s Gonna Be (Alright)” (The Mollusk)

Somewhat oddly, now, I go to the song directly preceding “The Golden Eel” on The Mollusk, “It’s Gonna Be (Alright),” a song so disparate from the former in both style and mood that in a way it’s hard to believe they could come on the same album, but which also seems to tug-of-war with the former for overall authority in informing the album’s primary m.o. Unlike with “The Golden Eel,” anyway, here we find the lyrics very clear and distinct, a simple paean to a former love who was the VICTIM of his breakup (therein also marking a departure from the erstwhile prevailing Ween norm, in itself). Pitchfork called this the best song on The Mollusk and I can’t vehemently disagree.

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11 “Captain Fantasy” (The Pod)

Now, just to mention this as a tempering of the golden god rock glory at hand (and indeed this does generally tend to be a fan favorite), the immaturity MORE THAN abounds on this sophomore album centerpiece — the cheap-sounding drum machine, the juvenile screeching in the vocals late in the song, and the utter pointlessness of that watery-guitar intro. Still, this is also where the band was honing its chops at the arena rock which would be earmarked by their entrance into the “jam” circle, with big riffs that are memorable, even if they do only usher you into a world of “fantasy” as they do.

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10 “I’ll Be Your Jonny on the Spot” (The Mollusk)

Now one thing we’ll notice about Ween is that they’re very CONCEPTUAL… I guess my theory about this nugget of electro-power-pop, along with being probably the only swatch of electro-power-pop lain down in history by a band other than The Bloodhound Gang (who curiously are also from Pennsylvania), is that it’s Gene Ween’s way of atoning for the way a girl might have looked at him, or an impression he gave a girl somewhere along the way, a comedic erection of a fictitious scenario and notion that certainly goes down rather cold, you have to admit.

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9 “Flutes of Chi” (White Pepper)

With White Pepper, the band’s fifth LP, I think we start to get something resembling a COHESIVE rock album and I think we’re all rather thankful for that, with track two “Flutes of Chi” taking a similar trot and disposition to opener “Exactly Where I’m at,” a sort of midtempo, faux-psychedelic pop that will always be quintessentially theirs for the rich, orchestral sounding vocals and also the docile way that all the instruments have of, though unorthodox sounding, nestling into the mix with mellow approachability. The greatness of Christopher Shaw’s production on this record hit me more than ever during a recent CD-playing rental car trip last year.

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8 “Sketches of Winkle” (The Pod)

Oh The Pod, you Iron Maiden album masquerading as psych-rock you… “Sketches of Winkle” shows off in fine form Ween’s seemingly never-ending firepower for making fun of things and people, whether they actually exist or not, but more than anything trots along as some bona fide exhilarating sludge. It’s almost impossible to imagine any newcomer to the band hearing this stuff and not being like, These guys really rock!

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7 “Don’t Laugh (I Love You)” (GodWeenSatan: The Oneness)

In meditating on the overall career arc of Ween… I dunno… it almost seems like they thought they HAD to be just so weird on their first album that it just boggled everybody’s mind, not even so much as a strategic move in the face of their audience but just for scratching some itch of bizarreness deep in their minds. Like what is the point of the part of about Ernest Hemingway in this song? And what’s with that bizarre, childish voice? So on what in my opinion in the best song MUSICALLY on their first album there’s also like just layers and layers of off-putting plotline foliage culminating beautifully of course in that 20-second caterwauling fight sound bite at the end. I don’t think I’ll be putting this song on any mix tapes anytime soon (I think I have in the past on one or two) and certainly nobody would label this as Ween’s “mature” album, but it’s definitely worth hearing just for the spectacle of the creative psychoses manifesting when all the industry shackles are off. GodWeenSatan is indeed the band’s one album on the Minnesota indie label Twin/Tone, as it were.

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6 “Ocean Man” (The Mollusk)

Galloping along as the last sort of actual stab at a Ween anthem on The Mollusk before the faux-dramatic goof-off “She Wanted to Leave,” “Ocean Man” is a well-known fan favorite that even comes complete with probably the band’s best music video, depicting this crazy, funky dinosaur-looking dude who comes out of the water and scares away all the natives to beat the band, all to this happy, jaunty music, appropriately enough.

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5 “Bananas and Blow” (White Pepper)

If your head isn’t spinning enough yet, I might take the audacity to here present to you a song where the PREMISE is that the “fat man,” a sort of ephemeral figure depicted lyrically with metaphorically literary characteristics, if you please, provides the protagonist with all of two substances to live on on a desert island after leaving him “high and dry”: bananas, and blow, or cocaine, if you’re dealing with law enforcement. There’s not much law enforcement going on on this track though: it’s a festive, Margarita-swilling free-for-all of a pop song that happens to conjeal rather agreeably around a catchy introductory and post-chorus riff that sounds to me like a clarinet, although the White Pepper Wikipedia page is bizarrely unhelpful in way of the technical details. I guess some things are just unexplainable. Clearly.

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4 “Happy Colored Marbles” (Quebec)

Jokes aside, cheese-metal kitsch tacit and references to female anatomy null and void, “Happy Colored Marbles” is just flat out a great pop song that Badfinger would have been more than proud to have written, a tune I saw performed contemporaneously with Quebec’s release on The Carson Daily Show, one that finds them crooning like some veritable white Brian McKnights, laying on the falsetto charm and cementing their sixth album Quebec, in the meantime, as, if not necessarily a classic, at least a worthy perennial talking piece.

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3 “Roses Are Free” (Chocolate and Cheese)

I had this Ween fan friend in college who actually first got me into them and he had this fervent bit bit**ing about the Phish fans who would try to take ownership of this song, since they covered it (I personally though a fan of Phish, GD, Umphrey’s and moe. have a slight gripe with that community claiming this band at all, as Ween’s music is way more concise and hard-hitting than the average virtuosic instrumental wanker could ever strive to be). Anyway, everything, everything, everything and did I mention everything about the Ween version is better than Phish’s, right down to that flawless string bend Dean Ween pulls off in the solo. I’ve literally never heard a better string bend in my life.

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2 “Mutilated Lips” (The Mollusk)

Jesus, I ranked this song second and I literally have no idea what to say about. Well, how about a story. One time at IU I was at the Monroe County Public Library browsing the CD’s and this girl sauntered up, looking at them, or I sauntered up to her, one of the two. She had this song playing on her headphones loud enough that I could hear. Now, the classic albums weren’t exactly in full numerous force at this branch and since she seemed to have good taste I viewed her as a fierce competitor in our music-hunting endeavor (at this point downloading was somewhat prevalent but a pretty beleaguered endeavor and monitored by the FBI, or so those stamps on the back of the CD’s would say), and when she gave me an amorous glance I have to admit I stared nails right through her soul, pursuing my music with an adamancy that devolved into wolverine vitriol. Looking back, I always felt bad for that girl, and I always remembered that it was this specific song, the sort of unfortunately anthemic fifth track on The Mollusk, that was blasting at her head phones at a troublingly audible volume right there in the public library, in the middle of the day.

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1 “Even if You Don’t” (White Pepper)

This, more than any other, is a song I heard and immediately went, THIS IS A GREAT BAND. It’s profusely, defiantly catchy, like the Beatles, and again, Gene Ween just seems to sing with this comedic AUTHORITY, not unlike in fact Paul McCartney on a song like “When I’m Sixty-Four” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (I don’t think Ween is better than the Beatles, for the record), and yes the song itself is funny too. It seems to pertain to a homicidal roommate who’s prone to “acting like a jerkoff” and “rootin’ through the garbage”, spawning eventually the casual plea from the song’s lyricist of “I love you / Even if you don’t / You’ve got your knife up to my throat / Why do you want to see me bleed?”, this plaint, mind you, delivered in the most nonchalant tone, as if the work of some pop song writing machine. Now, it’s fake, obviously. But it’s funny. That’s the point and in this way it is also like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” whose Abbey Road is stirring up just a smidgen of buzz for its 50th anniversary these days.

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