Review Summary: Ween gone country! Featuring real western musicians joining the alternative rock band to make a record with a likeness to the genre, but very different.
The great question that has plagued Ween their whole careers is met with several underlines on this album. That question being, "Is Ween a real band/serious at all?", it really examined with the release of 12 Golden Country Greats, a record recorded in Nashville (authentic) with real old country stars (authentic) with songs about mucus on brains, urinating on ropes, and people who smoke cock (I'll let you be the judge). After 3 releases on major record label Elektra, it looks like the band were ready to settle down after their eclectic but relatively normal, Chocolate and Cheese
, but then comes this. 12 Golden Country Greats
(which only has 10 songs, oh those silly boys) shows Ween stretching their sound to play real country music, and shows them keeping the vulgarity and immaturity of their past releases.
What cannot be overlooked but often is when referring to this band, is the real talent and skill they possess. Underrated are the guitar skills and the ability to be a real lead guitarist that Dean Ween has acquired and built to which are a result of the band being a veteran band. It is only their 5th full length album, but the band has been together since 1984. Another asset the band uses very much in this release is the actually good singing of Gene Ween. While hes not screaming insanely on tracks such as You fucked Up
or having his voice distorted to the point where it is ridiculous on tracks like Mushroom Festival in Hell
, he actually displays a good variety of range and quality.
Alright so if this band is so talented and good why don't they show that quality off? This is true but there is another quality that shines through in the absence of these traits being all the way revealed, and that it creative. Ween are one of the most creative bands ever, making their own religion should be proof enough of this (who else worships at the temple of the Boognish?) but it seems it takes a country album to properly show it off. On this release Ween release the creative juices (eww) flow and they do it with style, and with special guests.
What sticks out to a first time listener of this album is how the current Ween setup is able to adjust to play this type of music, and how they actively incorporate the additional personnel into the sound. Highlighted by the harmonica sections in I'm Holding You
anchored by Charlie McCoy and the fiddle intro by Buddy Spicher to Pretty Girl
, it becomes clear Ween's intentions in bringing in these musicians is to enhance the sound of the record and make it sound real, and indeed it does just that. Many of the bright spots on this album are reserved for the experienced western stars, some of which are pianists Hargus Robbins and Bobby Ogdin, (who would go on tour with Ween as a member of the "Shit
Creek Boys) steel guitarist Russ Hicks, and famed backup vocalists, The Jordanaires. These additional members play well with traditional Ween drummer Claude Coleman Jr. to create the real sound, but how would this affect the band's songwriting?
For the most part of the record it seems that the presence of Ween's clever, witty, and amusing lyrics would stay as one of their main features, and certainly wouldn't be held back. This is especially present on the explicit Mister Richard Smoker
which recalls of a man who "smokes menthol cigarettes" (that's the tamest lyric I could find) and where the song has a real solo section, featuring steel guitar and fiddle among the instruments who trade off during its duration. A trend of vulgarity also stems over to Piss Up a Rope
which is sung by Dean and is focused on his girl trouble. The clever nature of these written words comes though here referring her as "ride[ing] my ass/like a horse in a saddle/now [she's] up shit
s creek/with a turd for a paddle" Writing songs about similar themes to what country songs have been written about but including their personal brown touch is what the band does best.
Among these songs combining the band's approach with that of the subject they are writing about, Gene and Dean also write some sweet songs that sound like they could be traditional western songs. Delicate and thoughtful words are also things the band can do when stretching their creative side a tad, and on a few songs they do just that. Featured on I'm Holding You
with the contributions of the other band members to make the tune spectacular and memorable, are lyrics that reinforce the quality of the work. While managing not to be cliche or overdone,how the story is told of a man serenading his woman with kind words like "and I'm holdin'/something more precious/than fine ore, baby/I'm holdin' you" give reason why Ween is so respected in the music world.
What remains left to be said? The band has this album covered on all bases, the easy transitions of thoughtful lyrics to ridiculous ones, the featuring of real country stars and their noted contributions to the album, the music and how it is consistent and not same sounding throughout. Ween has created another masterpiece sandwiched in between the also eclectic Chocolate and Cheese
and progressive The Mollusk
. While some people view this album as a tiny interval between albums, it is more than that. 12 Golden Country Greats
is a very creative piece, and another gemstone in the Ween collection.