Review Summary: This album is masterful and is Ween at their absolute best.
I was the saddest man in the world (other than Surfjan Stevens) when I heard the news that Ween, the brilliant, insane, and ultimately unholy union, had finally broken apart after nearly two decades of making music together. I can’t say that I didn’t see it coming, with reports of Gene’s substance abuse problems coming back into the forefront and both members spending more and more time fostering solo endeavors, but I didn’t want to believe it. And knowing that it’s finally over makes looking back at an album as masterful as the Mollusk so much harder. The album, released in 1997, has some age behind it, but now, more than ever, I find myself coming back to it.
Now, if you’re not aware of Ween’s niche, what allowed them to become remain a cult (and at one point popular) favorite, it’s that they are weird really weird. The typical approach Ween takes to making songs is to pick a genre, emulate it instrumentally and vocally. But Ween isn’t a tribute band, or a cover band, or a mirror image of the musical past- Ween manages, through no small miracle, to weave their own adolescent ideology into everything they do. Gene and Dean met in a computer class when they were both in eighth grade, and in a way, they’ve remained eight graders. They’ve never matured, but they’ve become masterful musicians- and that’s the most important aspect about the very idea of Ween. Ween is immature, vulgar, and sometimes juvenile- but they are not a joke. They aren’t parody. They manage to funnel their immaturity into brilliance, and the Mollusk makes that differentiation perfectly clear.
I would call The Mollusk a masterpiece, a magnum opus. It’s the most cohesive album in Ween’s discography- where earlier albums offered shards, glimpses of the humor and potential of the band, the Mollusk is fully realized and executed. From the opening piano jangle of I’m Dancing In The Show Tonite to the emergence of same jangle in the final seconds of this album, the nautical world feels alive, and truly comes full circle. In this way, it’s a concept album of sorts- its unified by the idea of the ocean, and in the end, it is the ocean that the album returns to.
Now on to the actual music. The first track, Dancing in The Show Tonite is a simple piano based bounce with a sweeping tuba bass-line, and Dancing in the Show offers a unique glimpse into the concept of the Mollusk- it’s a show. The album is meant to be listened as if it were a performance, and as the tuba dissolves into an old-timey orchestral chorus, we realize that this is the overture for the album. And in typical Ween fashion, the next song is a complete shift from the last. The title track, The Mollusk is a pop experience that eventually erupts into a shaky climax. Poka Dot Tail is a slogging journey through the absurd, with lyrics like “Did you ever see a whale with a polka dot tail/Did you ever seen a man with eight fingers on his hand /Did you have to dry your eye when you saw that puppy fly/oh no, say it ain’t so” and the whole song comes off as a humorous stoner oracle, as if the narrator is a stoned nautical man trying his best to relay some kind of coherency. And it only gets more eclectic- the album covers huge ground, bouncing from compete unadulterated acid-washed psychedelia (Mutilated Lips) to prog rock (Buckingham Green) to the sun-washed sort of reggae Ocean Man. The album even has an Irish drinking song.
But the song that gets me every ***ing time is the last. She Wanted to Leave, to me, exemplifies the album perfectly- its an absurd tale of a pirate loosing his one true love, but, as I’ve said to many friends, “It’s the saddest song about pirates ever”. It exemplifies Ween in a way that no other song could. Underneath the absurdity, underneath the humor is a heartbreaking pathos- underneath the sometimes petulant middle-schooler fare there is a redeeming layer of beauty. And when you listen to album through, you’ll hear this. You’ve become so immersed in the intricate musicianship that as the pirate sings “fill up a glass of rum to the rim/ I’m not the man I used to be/now I’m one of them” you’ll be crying along with his lost love. At least I was.