Monday, April 13, 2009

April 13: Ween, "Chocolate And Cheese"

Artist: Ween
Album: Chocolate & Cheese
Year: 1994
Label: Elektra

In every aspect of creative work, the line between stupid and genius is extremely thin. While most fail, the ones who succeed are instant legends. When it comes to having the ability to laugh in the face of nearly every genre, and yet be vaulted to cult status, only one band fits the bill: Ween. Channeling the influences of legends like Frank Zappa and Tom Waits, Ween have been creating their own brand of music for nearly thirty years. Their entire catalog is worth owning, but their 1994 album, Chocolate & Cheese is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Challenging everything about music, from form to recording techniques, Chocolate & Cheese still resonates as fresh and innovate, nearly twenty years after its release. Running the gamut from funky and acoustic ("Freedom Of '76") to outright strange ("Candi") to creepily-semi-offensive ("Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)"), Ween craft undeniably amazing songs. Taking a non-traditional approach to every aspect of the music, parts of the vocals for "Candi" were notoriously recorded from the back of Dean Ween's car. Stylistically, the album covers nearly ever genre imaginable from pop to funk to rock and everything in between. Regardless of the style they are playing, Dean and Gene Ween prove that they are not only some of the smartest musicians ever, but they are also some of the most talented.

Musically, Ween are all over the board. The fact that the band seems comfortable in nearly every style of music, altering the conventional styles to meet their own, quirky sound, is what makes Ween the amazing band that they remain today. From drawn out, funk-inspired jams like "A Tear For Edie" (which is a tribute to funk pioneer Eddie Hazel) to amazingly catchy pop songs like "Roses Are Free," to country/western tunes like "Drifter In The Dark," Ween prove time and time again that, though they may not be serious, they are seriously talented. While they have a consistent lineup these days, the Chocolate & Cheese sessions were primarily entirely recorded by Dean and Gene Ween. A majority of the drums on the record are programmed, and nearly all of the guitar work was done in single takes by Dean. While "Drifter In The Dark" and the shockingly traditional "Joppa Road" can certainly be seen as the precursor to Ween's 1996 release, 12 Golden Country Greats, the fact that they are seamlessly presented alongside the rest of the songs on the record is a testament to the bands' confidence in their overall presentation.

The lyrics and vocals throughout Chocolate & Cheese are as brilliant and varied as the music itself. As previously mentioned, Ween gets outright creepy with the duo of "Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)" and "Drifter In The Dark," and the juxtaposition to the groovy, poppy "Voodoo Lady" is simply unparalleled. Ween present one of the most biting, yet unsuspecting "revenge" songs with the breakup song, "Baby Bitch." Pushing far into another direction, the band also offers what is nothing short of a classic spaghetti-Western tale in "Buenas Tardes Amigos." Singing through a variety of filters and voice modulators, it is stunning just how many different styles Ween tackles, all of them with unquestionable success. Dean and Gene have a knack for writing surprisingly beautiful harmonies throughout nearly all of their songs. Their voices blend together perfectly, and even when singing the most absurd lyrics, it further reinforces the fact that behind the insanity lies a pair of truly skilled musicians.

Bands who choose to write seemingly absurd or silly songs are far too often written off as "novelty" bands. Most of the time, it is simply because the band is so far ahead of its time, people simply fail to see the brilliance behind the music. For more than twenty years, Ween have been pushing the envelope on what can be accomplished musically by a single band. Taking the avant/absurdest approach of Frank Zappa, the band proves that, even when taking things in a light-hearted manner, amazing music can still be created. Though there is not a bad record in the Ween catalog, their 1994 release, Chocolate & Cheese is both a perfect introduction to the band as well as one of the most clever and delightful albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Roses Are Free," "Voodoo Lady," and "Don't Shit Where You Eat."

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