It is with great delight that I welcome back Vincent “V-Sides” Rendoni to educate us on a band yours truly admits to knowing little to nothing about: Ween. Focusing on their magnum opus, The Mollusk, he presents a solid case on why they matter — sure to leave the unfamiliar and even some skeptics with a strong desire to do the previously unthinkable and (gasp!) listen to Ween.
When someone mentions Ween, it either elicits a smile or a rolling of the eyes. Look at that, you probably just did it right now, right there sitting at your computer. There’s no middle ground when it comes to the band. You either adore or are repulsed by them. Fans love the genre crossing, humor, and the fact that the music can occasionally be profound (Oh shit, did I really just say Ween is occasionally profound?). Detractors recall a six-minute-long song called “Poopship Destroyer” and the fact that the band is infamously quoted as longing to spray their audience with… well, take a look at the song and I’ll let you figure it out. What I find so strange is that Ween is so diverse, so unbelievably different on nearly every album, hell, nearly every track, it’s hard to believe it could elicit such strong responses when they are essentially every genre. Chocolate and Cheese — soul and funk, 12 Golden Country Greats –– a sincere folk and country record, Pure Guava — Zappa impression, White Pepper (as flaccid as it is) — a Beatles impression. Shit, even Quebec sounds like a big pink anti-depressant. There is something for everyone.
Now I suppose in listing the album and their respective genres, I’ve just strengthened the novelty argument against Ween (fuck) and their ability to write anything sincere, knowing full and well that doing a great impression doesn’t equate to brilliance. Fortunately for me (ha) and this article, 1997 saw the release of even what Ween refers to as their magnum opus, The Mollusk. Despite the nautical-maritime theme, if one were to flip through every track and listen for a minimum of 10 seconds, they would see this album is impossible to classify. It begins with “I’m Dancing In The Show Tonight,” a stumbling showtune consciously introducing the album sung in the trademark half-haha, half-this-makes-me-uncomfortable Ween drawl. However, instead of drifting off into further parody with the next song, the following, title track leaves you somewhat dumbfounded — from the first time you hear the aquatic squeal of “The Mollusk,” (download) you instantly forget who you’re listening to. Whether you’re lost in the pleasant, golden hum of Gene and Dean’s natural singing voices or the bubbling horns, you can’t help but notice this song is undeniably rich and would easily fit into an undersea documentary soundtrack.
However, Ween’s not out of the clear yet. Silliness follows “The Mollusk” with a one-two punch. “Polka Dot Tail” is what you imagine sea dirges sounding like if they had Casios on clipper ships and “I’ll Be Your Jonny On The Spot” is nearly a throwaway track, until the last 30 seconds when you hear, “I’m goin’ down,” and get a tiny chill. But then comes one of the album’s gems, “Mutilated Lips.” Despite the possible double-entendre title (which, in knowing Ween, yeah, it probably is) and the completely nonsensical lyrics, the song is a soft and pleasant prog-rock cyclone. After “Lips” is the drunken “The Blarney Stone.” If you can make it through the first few seconds, you’re treated to a mariner’s hallway of “Aye! Aye! Aye!” and accordions.
Maybe the theme of The Mollusk isn’t so much nautical as it is 180 degree turns — when “The Blarney Stone” is finished, the stunning “It’s Gonna Be (Alright)” is right behind it. Now, stunning probably gets thrown around a lot in writing about pop music — but this really is stunning, folks. Stunning is when Ween writes a song, a mature song about lost love that actually makes you think of yours. This song is more or less mocking all those 1950’s slow dance ballads — but you can’t just mock something you don’t know, at least not well. You have to have some knowledge or understanding of this genre is coming from. In The Mollusk, it becomes evident that every genre they cover, they know inside and out. “It’s Gonna Be (Alright)” is an example of parody done so well the novelty is lost and, lucky for Ween, when the joke isn’t funny on this album, you’re still smiling.
We move right along to two of my favorite tracks from the album, “The Golden Eel” and “Cold Blows The Wind.” “Eel” is a dramatic and bombast prog-rock sample. You don’t forget it is Ween in the driver seat, but it’s still something you’ll listen to again. The Mollusk not only shows Ween’s encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, it was also where Ween was running on all of their drug-induced cylinders. “Eel” is not unlike something you’d hear on Pure Guava — it just sounds a lot better here. “Cold Blows The Wind” is, to put it bluntly (Dean Ween’s words, not mine), “About a dead bitch.” The song is melancholy, but still electric, with lyrics taken right out of romantic English poetry. I’m baffled by how an album with showtunes, prog-rock, basic pop and fucking English ballads can sonically flow — but this does.
After you skip the boring intermission of “Pink Eye (On My Leg),” you get the odd song out, “I’m Waving My Dick In The Wind.” It sounds like an outtake from 12 Country Golden Greats, which means, yes, you can tack on country to the list of genres covered on The Mollusk. Next comes surprising “Buckingham Green.” If “The Golden Eel” was Ween doing what they did best before, “Buckingham Green” proves they were just warming up. The guitar solo halfway through the song makes me press my headphones into my ear, desperately trying to get every fucking ounce of this song. But this song doesn’t taper off, a storm cloud of drums kicks in after the solo and you hear a foreboding, “Summon the Queen,” and all you can think is, Did Ween just do Pink Floyd better than Pink Floyd?
Next comes “Ocean Man.” Do I really need to write about “Ocean Man”? If you don’t remember The Mollusk, you remember “Ocean Man.” You do. Shut up. You do. So, moving on then.
That leaves us with The Mollusk’s final track, “She Wanted To Leave (Reprise)” (download). It had been nearly three years since I heard this song and even back then, in college, I never gave it much of a listen. I had a rare day off and was crossing the sea on a ferry from Asian to European Istanbul on a particularly cloudy day. I hadn’t done this very often and was still not familiar or comfortable with Istanbul, but I found The Sea of Marmara to be quite comforting, something that would and always did remind me of home. Despite its traffic and insane pollution, The Sea of Marmara is still quite beautifully colored. I put on The Mollusk because, in short, I wanted my music to match the scenery, and I picked this song. I had stopped listening to Ween a long time ago because well, I failed to see beyond the parody or I didn’t find the joke funny, thinking the band was content by being the musical equivalent of a pig in its own shit. But when I heard “She Wanted To Leave (Reprise),” I could barely believe it was Ween. It hardly sounds like the final track of an album, the flanger-soaked guitar fools you into thinking it could be a serene, peaceful song — at least until the bass drum knocks the stars out of your eyes and brings an air of finality to the album. I knew then the song was mocking something (Moody Blues, Procol Harum) and had a hard time taking it seriously until I could hear the agony in his voice when he first sings, “She wanted to leave.” I took a maritime literature class in college and remembered all the stories and poems about the sea and couldn’t deny the lyrics were written in that maritime fashion so well. I remember feeling the rise and fall of the song, getting enthralled when he sang, “Go gather the guns / we’ll blast them at sea,” and the strange low I felt when he sang, “She begged for me not to shoot / for my true love is here with me.” Though I had written them off, here was the proof that Ween are nothing to scoff or be disgusted at. The last lines ring through my head even now: “I’m not the man I used to be, now, I’m one of them.” I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Sultanahmet, listening to The Mollusk, wanting to slap myself for letting this album gather dust.
They never did make an album or a song like that again and most likely never will. The Mollusk is not insanely popular, just barely cracking the Billboard 200. They became a lot more cohesive and less interested in theme as time went on, but Ween also became subdued. I’m not even sure most people my age can recall a song besides “Ocean Man” or “Push Th’ Little Daisies.” It seems like everybody who remembers them knows them as the band who did that song about rainbows in “South Park” or in the “SpongeBob SquarePants” movie. I’m sure some of you are even wondering why the hell I’m writing about Ween and if they’re even relevant anymore. Flaws and all, you’ll never see another band like this again. Suck up what you think you know, admit you were wrong and listen. Remember The Mollusk.
other Taylor says:
Aug 13, 2008
“why does that band name sound so familiar?” I ask myself. Oh that’s right, on my X-Files: Fight the Future soundtrack.
I realize that this makes me far beyond even the status of “unfamiliar with Ween”, but excellent post Vincent. I’m all for the genre benders.
EF Matt says:
Aug 14, 2008
“hey little boy, what you got there? kind sir it’s a mollusk i found….”
very nicely written feature. The Mollusk is easily my favorite Ween album and has been since the day it came out.
dino delellis says:
Dec 12, 2008
Hahah , I agree , In my case i like them or hate them depends on my mood. When I’m feeling perky and happy I usually enjoy them , but when I’m angry or irritable I end up curling my lip and sneering at their stuff.
Mr Peace says:
Apr 4, 2011
What a wonderful world!