When I listened to Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese, its greatest strength and its greatest weakness was its wide ranging musical styles and genre exercises. While it was impressive in its versatility, it was almost impossible to ever find my feet as it jarringly jumped form one style to another. It’s hard for an album to build momentum when there’s seemingly no connective tissue. But it was impressive, and even if I didn’t love large sections of it, I had to respect it.
And it’s that respect that made me feel like Ween isn’t a band you can form an opinion on based on one album. So I’m back on the Ween bus with their follow up to Chocolate and Cheese, 1997’s The Mollusk.
Silly tubas, jaunty piano and effected vocals, things start on shaky ground with I’m Dancing in the Show Tonight. It’s the kind of jokey muck around that I liked least on Chocolate and Cheese. But when it leads into the title track, I’m reminded of how great this band can be when they reign themselves in a little. It’s musically gorgeous and rich in acoustic guitar, melody and even a few horns.
Then it’s straight back into another cooky cock around with the sea shanty on meth sound of Polka Dot Tail. But, in true Ween style, they have to keep me oscillating between frustrated and blown away, by throwing in I’ll Be Your Johnny on the Spot. It’s part punk rock, part 8-bit pop, part spoken word, all awesome.
Oh yeah, Ween have that song Mutilated Lips. I’d not only forgotten it was a pretty great song, I’d forgotten it even existed. So hearing it here in The Mollusk, and hearing it straight after Johnny on the Spot, it’s great combo that immediately puts this album a couple of rungs higher than it was just two songs ago.
It turns out that listening to a Ween album really is a crap shoot. For every well crafted, original but accessible song like It’s Gonna Bee Alright, you have to sit through some real clunkers, like Blarney Stone and The Golden Eel. If these songs are a joke, they’re not funny. If these songs are intended to be legitimately good, than I refuse to believe that they’re written and recorded by the same band who wrote and recorded great stuff like the gently heartbreaking Cold Blows the Wind.
Waving My Dick in the Wind is a fun little country number that’s as silly as its name would suggest. But what makes it work is that despite its silliness, you can hear Ween fully committing to making it as great as it could ever possibly be. The break neck tempo, the tight harmonies, the silly character whose story it tells. There’s something about this song that makes it sound more genuine than the other fuck arounds.
Full of lush orchestration and another dip into 60s sounding, late Beatles era grandiosity, Buckingham Green is one of the most ambitious Ween songs I’ve heard, and that ambition pays off.
The Mollusk is extremely similar to Chocolate and Cheese while sounding absolutely nothing like it. It’s similar, because like its predecessor, it refuses to ever find any flow or consistency in sound or quality. Also like Chocolate and Cheese, there’s plenty to like about The Mollusk, I just think I need to make a Ween playlist that just me my verison of their best of. Because sometimes, sifting through the filler to get to the killer can be hard work.