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Ween's Country Diggings

Tom Nichols

Don't Get Too Close to Their Fantasy: Dean (left) and Gene of Ween can be as annoying as they are amusing in their satirical thrusts on their new album, "12 Golden Country Greats."

A callow satire of country music sinks Ween's newest album

By Gina Arnold

WEEN CONSISTS OF, as the group's name implies, the two nerdliest human beings on the planet. They are, well, Weenies. But Ween--Dean and Gene Ween (or Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, as their mothers like to call them)--would most likely consider that a compliment.

Their music consists of bizarre spoofs of various genres of rock, all sung in inane falsetto, basso profundo, fake English accents and other strange voices created by various pitch-changing voice boxes. Live, the soi-disant "band" consists of the thin member (Dean) on guitar and the fat member (Gene) singing and mugging, accompanied by a DAT-backing tape.

On previous albums--Chocolate and Cheese, Pure Guava and the Pod--Ween has proved to be adept at ridiculing almost every possible type of music, in a sometimes funny and sometimes extremely annoying way. Numbers like "Don't Get Too Close to My Fantasy," "Spinal Meningitis" and "You Fucked Up, You Nazi Bitch Whore" run the gamut from glam to gospel to metal to hardcore--all in the space of a single song.

12 Golden Country Greats (Elektra) is the band's first album since 1994, and on first listen, it seems like an improvement on the group's eclectic, electronic shtick. Instead of effects-ridden novelty songs played on synth and drum machines, 12 Golden Country Greats is an authentic country album, so authentic that it even uses the services of famous Nashville session musicians like Russ Hicks and Bobby Ogden and backup vocals by the Jordanaires. Every song is performed in this pristine, pure, country manner, with gorgeous slide-guitar parts, heavenly choirs of singers, boogie-woogie piano and a ton of fiddle (no violin, of course).

Every song here is utterly convincing, until you suddenly hear a slightly twisted lyric, like "I'm tripping, writhing, puking and squealing, looking for someone like you," from the song "I'm Holding You," or "I don't want to leave you on the farm/no telephone to call you at home/I'm alone on the throne/I'll keep trucking/and getting myself stoned," from "I Don't Wanna Leave You on the Farm."

It turns out, in true Ween fashion, that these songs are all actually spoofs of country music's gloomy subject matter: hard drinking, plowing, farming, wife battering, etc. The record is like an elaborate spin on the old saw "What do you get if you play a country record backward?" (A: "You get your car back, you get your girl back, you get your dog back, etc.") The spin is pretty subtle, though; you could get all the way through it without realizing it, if you didn't listen hard to the lyrics.

AS ATTRACTIVE as 12 Golden Country Greats sounds on first listen (FYI: there are only ten songs on the album; isn't that clever?), it is, in fact, Ween's first one-joke album, and the joke itself is pretty thin one to stretch across a whole CD. Singing with a thick twang must be fun, but even if you think making fun of C&W is funny and not classist, racist and elitist, the laughs here aren't really that numerous.

"Help Me Scrape the Mucus off My Brain," is a jaunty and tuneful number about hangovers and thievery. "Powder Blue" is about Muhammad Ali. "Fluffy" is a sad song about a faithful dog--which isn't even as sad as last album's "Mister, Won't You Please Help My Pony."

The other songs are sung straight-faced, but insincerely--never the best combination. It seems as if Dean and Gene don't really have much to say about country music other than they don't like it--or rather, the sensibility they think it represents. And even that they get wrong, implying that country-music lovers are necessarily stupid.

The worst case of this attitude can be heard on the egregious song "Piss Up a Rope," in which the singer berates his bitchy girlfriend with words like "You can wash my balls with a warm wet rag" and "On your knees, you big-bootied bitch, start sucking."

Ween would no doubt argue that it's making fun of sexist and abusive men who populate country music, but the problem is, if you're female, it's no fun to listen to. It's too typical of the way many men--and not only weenie-men like Ween--refuse to acknowledge even the existence of real and harmful everyday sexism.

Ween wouldn't have the nerve to write a song in which they pretended to be a white massa telling a black man to shine their shoes, because even they--close-minded as they are--probably know that racism is always wrong and offensive, rather than funny. But they have no trouble doing a similar "satire" on sexism. And the line "like a brother on skates" from "Japanese Cowboy" skirts dangerously close to racist territory.

"Piss Up a Rope" really exposes Ween for what they are: perennially juvenile rich white kids from New Jersey. They can be intermittently funny, and they're certainly very talented in a shallow sort of way. At bottom, however, they are totally incapable of entering into the plight of people who are not like them--women, blue-collar workers, Southerners or anybody for whom real, true country music speaks to or has an honest attraction.

The most amusing aspect of 12 Country Greats--its redeeming touch, as it were--is the CD cover, a painting of a rugged cowboy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ronald Reagan. The cover suggests that all of Reagan's phonily patriotic and nostalgic ideology was, indeed, just the kind of hypocritical cant that Ween believes itself to be "exposing" in this parody. The cover makes one think about the nature of satire--whether fooling people is funny or obnoxious. And whether a person likes Ween or hates Ween depends entirely on the answer to that question.

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From the August 22-28, 1996 issue of Metro

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