“Ween and Their ‘Real’ Alternative Viceroys”

The reason I’m writing about these bands is that they’re brilliant, not that they have a certain genre or style. Each one delivers musical statements, though, that are simple and full of the utmost gravity, and they do so, despite using technical means that are unorthodox, in quick, effortless swatches. In their own way, each one towers above the pop music status quo, and, essentially for this reason, was and is deprived radio play. Also, each one is from the mid ’90’s.
If I were to look to a ’00’s equivalent of what I’m talking about, since The Strokes and to a large extent Franz Ferdinand as well were a mainstream band, I’d choose The Libertines. I like what they did with Up the Bracket‘s “Radio America.” Pete Doherty is especially high on some young woman, and he’s expressing this by saying “I will call across radio America / If call I must do / To take my love my love to you.” In a way, this sums up what I’m talking about — great music as contingent on radio, or vice-versa, the true artist attempting to conquer it as seeing in it the ultimate otherwise-malignant tedium. Nullify radio, or inundate it, and you’ve created your own utopia. One of the reasons why this is my favorite Libertines song is that its message is the clearest — love — and it seems to succumb the least to jovial British posing. Since the lyrics are abstract, Doherty just sounds freer; he knows no matter what kind of microscope the press uses on these words, they’re angular enough to remain his own.
Along with Ween and Soul Coughing, Supergrass is the British band of the three that I was going to discuss. I Should Coco, their debut album, came out when the airwaves were dominated by “grunge,” and more in more emerging status, “alternative rock,” which similarly to grunge brought unabashedly self-indicting lyrics. Brian Eno once remarked that he chose to return to Britain from the States as a result of what he perceived as a tendency in Americans to be overly open about their own problems, citing a “sense of honor” relatively unique to the U.K. You might say this surfaced in pop lyrics in the early ’90’s, if never before. Supergrass, on the hit single “Alright,” which made it to the Clueless soundtrack, belt out a brand of glee too multifaceted and intrinsically reinforced not to be genuine.
In this vein is Ween’s “Roses are Free,” their best song, having come from their fourth album Chocolate and Cheese. Supergrass would fade into commercial obscurity, despite the fact that they, uh, kept getting better and better, whereas Ween would drift, unintentionally, for sure, but doubtfully against their will, into the hippie jam genre of folk rock. For the record, Phish’s cover of “Roses are Free” is no substitute whatsoever for the original. But oh, the curse of releasing your best song right after the extolment of a band called Weezer.
Soul Coughing also saw its onset in ’94. Really, they were more of the jam band than Ween, featuring an upright bass and extended solos complete with trippy loops courtesy of Mark Degli Antoni. These loops would challenge meter and create a psychedelic atmosphere within the band’s four-minute songs, whereas with undeniably great but relatively conventional gems like “Roses are Free,” Ween was essentially a white gospel band. And about time there was one.
The reader may get the impression from reading this post that I hate the Counting Crows; anything but the case is true. Shmoozing takes every bit the guts as does trailblazing. I’m simply referring to an ostensible shape, if you will, of certain musics — Ween with their zaniness in their small town, Soul Coughing with their jazziness and “beats” in the urban setting, and the giddy Supergrass in the somber UK — blending rhythm and melody seamlessly, and coming together as separate individuals to form a unified musical force as stalwart as it is niche-pioneer.

Leave a Reply