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The Haul 2010: Ween's The Mollusk

46. Ween – The Mollusk LP – Plain, 2010 [1997] – $15.20 (Newbury St. Newbury Comics, 4/17)

Ween's The Mollusk

Mark Prindle’s review of Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese summarizes quite well my uncertain feelings on the group: “All of a sudden, it's no longer evident whether the Weeners are kidding or not.” And yet Prindle, having reviewed all of Ween’s discography and given high marks to most of their LPs, should be someone who gets Ween without qualification, following up that comment with “And, of course, they weren't - Ween are honestly attempting to emulate different forms of music that they happen to enjoy.” As someone who’s dabbled with Ween but never gone full-bore into their catalog, I can agree to a certain extent with both of Prindle’s statements. It’s frequently unclear whether Ween’s more serious songs are simply mimicking the seriousness of the source material they ape or if these songs are genuinely cathartic for the group (or both!), but I’ve never doubted their ability to accurately recreate the sound of a given genre, group, or era. Where I can’t agree with Prindle is in the concrete statement that they weren’t kidding. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t, sometimes the joke’s in the music, sometimes the joke’s in the lyrics, sometimes the joke is in both.

My personal hesitation on fully embracing Ween on their shifting, uncertain terms is how clearly they push against my usual listening habits. Sure, I grew up with the Dead Milkmen, whose often childish sense of humor was rooted in less refined attempts at genre-hopping (the James Brown-skewering “RC’s Mom” from Beelzebubba and the Dick Dale homage “Surfin’ Cow” from Bucky Fellini being two of their more memorable genre excursions). Most groups I like nowadays are quite serious. My favorite album, Juno’s A Future Lived in Past Tense, takes itself dead seriously, even with the “I’m sorry you’re having trouble… goodbye” note at the end of the LP. Stars of the Lid’s And Their Refinement of the Decline has a few humorous song titles and its austere compositions contain occasional moments of levity, but such moments never dominate. Groups like Frightened Rabbit and The Narrator include self-effacing humor in their lyrics, but that humor comes from a personal place. I am overwhelmingly drawn to emotional, cathartic music. If it’s funny, great, if it’s not, that’s fine, too. These groups take both their music and the process of making it quite seriously. In contrast, Ween takes the process of making their music quite seriously, but the music itself fights tooth-and-nail against this seriousness. It’s a confounding listening experience, I tell you.

I understand why people often herald The Mollusk as Ween’s finest outing, the group themselves included. Unlike many Ween albums—Chocolate and Cheese, White Pepper, La Cucaracha—the group’s typically scattershot stylistic approach is reined in to a certain extent on The Mollusk. It’s not as single-minded as its 1996 predecessor, Twelve Golden Country Greats, but the prevailing whiffs of late 1960s folk and 1970s prog-rock focus the songwriting. That doesn’t mean they write fourteen of the same song—good luck mistaking the children’s musical opener “I’m Dancing in the Show Tonight” with the fluttering prog of “The Mollusk,” the electro-punk of “I’ll Be Your Jonny on the Spot” with the circular melodies of the folky “Mutilated Lips,” the Irish sea shanty “The Blarney Stone” with the New Romantic leanings of “It’s Gonna Be Alright”—and that’s just (most of) the first side. The second side emphasizes 1970s prog more, especially the faux-epic “Buckingham Green,” which launches into a remarkably self-important and then adds timpani and strings. These stylistic threads tie the songs together so that the genre-hopping makes sense.

If I’ve learned anything from thinking deeply about Ween, it’s that you really shouldn’t think deeply about Ween. It’s a simple process of learning to enjoy the apparently serious songs and the apparently joking songs alike, since the more Ween I hear, the more I realize there’s no clear distinction between the two sides. I may still be a few Ween shows and spins of albums like The Pod and Pure Guava away from ever spouting the company line of “Ween is the greatest band alive,” but I can certainly listen to it for what it is: very serious joking.