Keeping up with Dean and Gene Ween over the years has been no easy task. Having done everything from fabulous four track recordings to recording country albums in Nashville with legends of that genre to issuing overtly psychedelic pieces such as The Mollusk, Ween has refused to be pinned down to any one style, carving out its own unique niche in rock music. That being said, it should have come as no surprise when the boys “settled down” and released their pop masterpiece White Pepper.
Some fans I know really didn’t care for this work, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t. To me it sounds like Dean and Gene had listened to a healthy dose of 10cc and turned the influence inside out. The single “Even If You Don’t” was positively one of the catchiest things they’ve ever put out, and yes that’s even including “Push Th’ Little Daisies”. Traces of Graham Gouldman can be heard all throughout the song, as well many parts of the rest of the album.
Indeed, after hearing what amounts to a “serious” side of Ween with the three opening cuts, “Exactly Where I’m At”, “Flutes of Chi”, and “Even If You Don’t”, fans may begin to wonder where all the jokes went. Well, they’re here too in the lyrics of “Bananas and Blow” and “Stroker Ace”. Every time I listen to “Bananas and Blow” and its steel drums, I can’t help but get the feeling that this is the ultimate goofball song that Jimmy Buffett had always wished he penned. Thank God he didn’t. I can’t imagine Buffett singing about cocaine like this and having his annoying legions of Parrotheads chant along with him. They’d completely miss the joke. “Stroker Ace” on the other hand name drops Dick Trickle while giving a nod back to Ween’s earlier days on GodWeenSatan: The Oneness and The Pod.
Not everything works here, but I’ve yet to hear an entire Ween album where everything did. “The Grobe” feels like a leftover from The Mollusk sessions (an album I never really cared for at all), and the instrumental “Ice Castles” goes nowhere slowly. However, the glistening pop sheen of “Stay Forever” and the silly “Pandy Fackler” more than make up for the difference. It’s nice to hear Ween stretch out in its full band regalia, being augmented by Claude Coleman, Dave Dreiwitz, and Glenn McClelland. Chris Shaw’s production also makes for a tight listening experience this time around.
While Ween may have lost some fans with White Pepper (they regained myself, as I had pretty much written them off after The Mollusk), Dean and Gene have created a great album here that fits nicely with all their other works that bear repeated listenings. I missed the group when they came into my neck of the woods with the White Pepper tour, which I kind of regret, but having read the official reports on the band’s website (www.mediabasement.com/chocodog/ween/), that may have been for the better. At any rate, it will be interesting to see which route the boys take next. Perhaps next time they’ll do a new age album. I shudder to think.