Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘The Mollusk’ by Ween.
Some say they invented the colour brown. They almost certainly took ownership of it. A case could be made for Ween being the greatest band of the last thirty years. If any doubts linger in your mind that this may not in fact be the case, then let us point you towards ‘The Mollusk’. Released in 1997, Ween’s sixth record is part concept album, part vaudevillian acid trip, an album that contains psychedelic sea-shanties, prog-rock, hopped-up country and a multitude of fantastical and fucked up sights and sounds. There are bands that transcend genre. Then there is Ween.
The Storm Thorgerson (of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ fame) designed cover art hints at what lurks within, a mutated amalgamation of styles that shouldn’t fit together but somehow do. Ween had the uncanny knack of taking a genre, ripping the complete piss out of it, and in the process actually bettering the very genre they were having a go at. ‘The Mollusk’ was immediately preceded by the ten track ‘12 Golden Country Greats’, a record that saw them take on country music backed by a band of seasoned Nashville session players who went along with these rocker kids and their inimitable way of working.
Dean and Gene Ween – Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman – formed the band in 1984, starting out as a left-field drum-machine backed duo and adding members along the way. Their earlier records are a somewhat more esoteric trip – dark, weird flights of psych and grime-caked DIY workouts overseen by their opaque demon mascot, the Boognish, that earned them the reputation as the brownest band in the business.
By 1994’s ‘Chocolate & Cheese’ things became a bit more accessible (although Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down) and The HIV Song are still on there) and more still in later years with ‘White Pepper’ and ‘La Cucaracha’. ‘The Mollusk’, though, is their mid-period masterpiece – the album that took everything that made Ween, well…Ween, and encased it in its most perfect form.
Conceptually the album tends towards a loose nautical theme – loose in the sense that when they want to break away and sail off in a different direction they do just that. On a purely superficial level Ween are considered by many to be a ‘joke’ band, in it for shits’n’giggles with not much else going on beneath the surface. Of course they’re in it for shits’n’giggles, you swines, but Ween’s musicality and penchant for out-there experimentation relating to every aspect of their sound always marked them apart from the pack.
For every turn on ‘The Mollusk’ like the playful, vocal effect-laden opener Dancing In The Show Tonight, or the waltzing, semi-nonsensical couplets of Polka Dot Tail (“Did you ever try to shrink/ Like an ice cube in the sink”) a balance is struck with some startling forays into first class songwriting, and ‘The Mollusk’ contains a handful of the best songs of the band’s career. Buckingham Green may even be the best, a slow burning prog-indebted number that sees Deaner attain guitar demon status over the song’s gradually intensifying solo.
The Blarney Stone raises the bar in a different manner – a drinking song if ever there was one – sounding like it’s been passed from voice to voice through a few centuries of carousing. Cold Blows The Wind is their take on The Unquiet Grave, a mournful death ballad that matches their own It’s Gonna Be (Alright) in tone and grandeur.
These songs stand in contrast to the more frantic New Wave edginess of I’ll Be Your Jonny On The Spot, The Golden Eel, eternal classic Waving My Dick In The Wind (“It’s been 97 days since I’ve laid my head beside you/ And a million miles of highway in between/ There’s some red and blue lights that are shining right behind me/ And that pig’s a pretty mean bastard”), and the experimental instrumental eccentricity of Pink Eye (On My Leg).
Then there’s The Mollusk itself, the singular title track that defies classification, “Hey little boy, what you got there? / ‘Kind sir, it’s a mollusk I’ve found’/ Did you find it in the sandy ground? / Does it emulate the ocean’s sound” A trill of flute leads us into to the world of the little boy, the inquisitive stranger, and the enigmatic sea creature with its “wandering eye”; when those horns come in on the song’s mid-section they bring with them one of the record’s most sublime moments.
Mere words cannot convey the inventiveness of this album, but is there any greater endorsement in recent times than Ocean Man being used over the end credits of ‘The Spongebob Squarepants Movie’? It should also be noted that ’The Mollusk’ isn’t for everybody. Ween are nothing if not divisive. So, if joke band is all you hear, continue along your path and good fortune be with you. Dig deeper, though, (or dive) and you’ll be rewarded with an eclectic and fascinating discography. This is the brine-encrusted jewel in the crown, from the brownest band that ever lived.