As a human being who has occupied the planet for a tad over 40 years, it is a slightly daunting reality that some of my favourite albums are having significant birthdays of their own. As incredible as it seems, a number of records that very much formed the soundtrack of my youth are turning 20, which to me is now exactly half a lifetime ago. As a result ‘Don’t Let Go‘ is to be a regular Across The Ocean feature, a nostalgic glance back in time to celebrate some of the truly seminal moments from that era. So with that said come with me on a journey back to the days of indoor smoking, flanno donning and scarcely controlled stage diving- the mid 90s. – Gavin Stocker
(Release date: September 27, 1994)
Like a lot of people, Ween first came to my attention back in 92 with their unlikely hit Push Th’ Little Daisies. A scarcely digestible piece of pitch shifted weirdness, Daises hovered uncertainly between genius and absolute rubbish. As a result we furrowed our collective brows, had a little chuckle then lobbed Ween unceremoniously into the novelty bin.
Two years later and the chief perpetrators Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) and Dean Ween (Mickey Melanchondio) emerged with the far more consumable Chocolate And Cheese, the band’s first effort with a full band and recorded in a proper studio. Whilst being a far cry from commercial pop/rock, the album is a much easier listen than the lo-fi home recorded dementia of earlier efforts. Consequently it is both a favourite with Ween diehards and an ideal starting point for potential addicts.
Whilst it really is impossible for a single album to neatly encapsulate the sonic territory Ween cover, Chocolate And Cheese comes close. The band’s trademark eccentricity is peppered throughout the album and we get a dose early with the somewhat distasteful oddity ‘Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)‘. A terminally ill child innocently asking his mother “Why they want to see my spine mummy?” may well have virgin listeners wondering what they have gotten themselves into. The crunchy Eastern flavourings of “I Can’t Put My Finger On It” is littered with distorted non-sequitars and is, well, difficult to put your finger on.
Elsewhere we find disturbing yet giggle inducing tales of sick ponies (Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony?’) and the deeply confusing circus boogie of ‘The HIV Song‘.
As only Ween can do, such left of centre moments effortlessly rub shoulders with poignant beauty. ‘Baby Bitch ‘, with it’s heartfelt “I’m better now please fuck off” sentiment is an amazing song that comfortably slots into most fan’s top five Ween tracks.
Similar depth can be found in the stripped back contemplations of ‘Drifter In The Dark‘ and the sub two minute saccharine pop of ‘What Deaner Was Talkin About‘, the latter providing concrete evidence this band could have ruled the world if they weren’t so happy being themselves.
Ween‘s ability to simultaneously poke fun and pay homage to a multitude of genres is effortless and second to none. Out of nowhere comes the soulful falsetto ‘Freedom Of 76‘ and the Prince inspired ‘Roses Are Free‘.
The grandiose ‘Buenos Tardes Amigo‘ is a seven minute, three chord epic sung in an exaggerated Mexican accent and containing lines like ‘Maybe I’ll sell you a chicken, with poison interlaced with the meat’. The band probably could not believe they got away with it.
Criminally unknown yet fervently adored by those in the know, the now defunct Ween were truly in a category of their own. I was lucky enough to see this album toured in 1995 at The Metro in Sydney. The band played for three hours, drank straight Jack Daniels and declared “this isn’t a gig, it’s a party”. It was a privilege to know this band back then, and twenty years later, that remains the case.