You might think you know Ween by now. You might have all four of their
albums, from their debut The Pod to 1994's Chocolate and
Cheese. You might have spent hours trying to perfect their haphazard
deconstructionist guitar solos. So when you heard they were putting out an
album of country and western songs, you might have headed straight
for the rec room to have a couple of deep breaths laced with Scotch Guard.
Hopefully you actually listened to Ween's 12 Golden Country Hits
before you took such drastic measures. Because the
brothers-who-are-not-brothers have, with their latest release, done what
they have always done: stocked their songs with surprises, creating a
cornucopia of noises no one ever expected to hear.
The only difference this time around is that Ween has invited some
honest-to-goodness talents -- from the crossroads where blues, rock, and
country once met -- to supply the grooves for their latest endeavor. These
men have played with everyone from Elvis Presley to Roy Orbison to Bob
Dylan. "Our time was spent laughing at each other for singing in a room full
of 50-60 year old guys playing songs that we wrote," explains Mickey
Melchiondo, a.k.a. Dean Ween.
12 Golden Country Hits is heavily stocked with true roughnecked
country soul. This is the real stuff, from back when blues and country did
the two-step together after several pints of beer. Its opener, "I'm Holding
You," is a horse-walking ballad rich with pedal steel guitar (played by Russ
Hicks) and soft, harmonized vocals. But its lyrics, as do those throughout
the album, remind you that this is still Ween: "I'm trippin', writhin'
and squealin', pukin', looking for someone like you/And I'm holding
something more precious than fine ore/Baby, I'm holding you." You have to
hear it to believe it.
The upbeat tracks are especially fun, like the speeding-train jig of
"Japanese Cowboy," the saloonside boy-meets-girl shred of "Pretty Girl"--its
rollicking fiddle supplied by Buddy Spicher--and the morning-after
shuffle "Help me Scrape the Mucus off My Brain," a mighty western ode to
whiskey hangovers, its bluegrass edges bringing to mind dusty, dry country
air and waving acres of grain.
A few songs on 12 Golden Country Hits aren't actually country tunes
at all; a couple even sound like traditional Ween (aside from the pedal
steel). "Mr. Richard Smoker," a jazzy scat tune which whisks us away to the
big city to dance the night away with a drug-dealing, womanizing,
dark-meat-eating scumball, features an enviable horn section. "You Were the
Fool" turns the steel guitar into an instrument of psychedelia, combining
country slide with early-Pink-Floyd-style vocals for lines like, "Curvy
sticks and wooden poles/Assisting you in plugging holes/Plug them holes
until you see straight through to the mind's eye."
"Piss Up a Rope" is nearly straight Ween, its girlfriend-loathing remarks
and pottymouth humor recalling earlier records. The closing tune, "Fluffy,"
bewilders in its sheer ridiculousness, attempting (perhaps) to poke fun at
the "oh-dear-Lord-my-dog-died" whimpers of traditional country by telling
the story of a dog that, well, doesn't do much of anything--unless you
count laying on the porch or chasing the other neighborhood dogs around. For
added color, "Fluffy" trades the smooth vocals of the rest of the album for
a half-choked, sickening moan.
12 Golden Country Hits is by far the most musically interesting
album Ween has ever produced. It is, by dint of its many-layered melodies
and prize collection of true talent, also the most listenable album they've
done. To some it may seem like a step away from Ween's musical intentions
for them to abandon (at least temporarily) their four-track, their
whimpering, melodically-challenged guitars and their immature humor.
But buried here, deep within the guitars, fiddles and harmonicas, is Ween
at its finest, returning to a form of music which was nearly dead and buried
before Billy Ray Cyrus and Shania Twain were born. On12 Golden Country
Hits the band pays homage to traditional American music while giving
those early sounds their sendup at the same time. The album may not be as
complex as the jukebox salads tossed by folks like Beck, but it's in the
same spirit. Perhaps these lines from "I Don't Wanna Leave You on the Farm"
will serve as a sign of hope for despairing fans: "I'll keep trucking and
getting myself stoned/I don't wanna leave you on the farm."