Reviews

Published on September 19th, 2007 | by The Monarch

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Ween — La Cucaracha

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here so let’s make it something worthwhile! I’ve just gotten my hot little hands on a copy of the new Ween album — La Cucaracha — courtesy of the internet (to you “every time you download a song God kills a kitten” people, I have already preordered my copy).

I have had the damn thing on rotation for the better part of the day, and I’m trying to decide whether it’s extremely awesome or slightly disappointing. Let me explain.

This is Ween’s first new studio album since 2003’s Quebec, which in my opinion was a splendid album that showcased Gene Ween’s more sensitive and sadder side in the lyrics, and the music, for the most part, was quite sombre. This album is the complete opposite for the most part; it carries on from their EP release earlier this year titled simply Friends. It is good-time vibes and upbeat melodies but also is a nice throwback to the Chocolate and Cheese and Pure Guava eras. The recording sounds extremely organic and much less computerized and digital, for lack of a better term. If La Cucaracha is to have a running theme it would have to be “relationships”. The good, the bad, the ugly, the funny, the bizarre and the in-between of how humans interact with each other. The entire album clocks in at just on 50 minutes, which is a decent length now days, it seems — so often I’ve been putting on an album and 30 minutes later been asking myself “Is that it?”

La Cucaracha starts off in very upbeat style with the instrumental Fiesta, which is horn-heavy and features some fantastic drumming. Just as the title suggests, it makes it very easy to imagine a group of happy Mexicans enjoying the sun, booze, fine women and good food at a party while this track provides the backdrop for the scene.

Following on from this is Blue Balloon, a track that slows the tempo a little but still has an upbeat vibe about it. The song has a lot of kazoo-like sounds and after some initial lyrics seems to drag on a little with Gener repeating “blue balloon” over and over, albeit in a funny voice. This one isn’t such a great track to be second on the album after the first one really gets you in a great mood and pumped up for the next 12 songs to follow it.

Disappointment continues on track three, Friends. This is a more stripped-back version of the song that appears on the EP of the same name. The song still retains its dance vibe, but the EP version is superior in every way. People are already calling the EP version “the remix”; to me it feels the other way around. The EP version feels full and a completed work. The album version sounds as if it could have at one stage been a work in progress and eventually became the EP version. I would have preferred another new song in its place — they did, after all, have four years between albums. Surely they must have had more they could have added rather than this one.

Object follows. This reminds me of a throwback to the ’70s era of the “singer/songwriter” style songs, the ones that you see advertised on late night TV in a 32 DVD boxset as hosted by the back-up touring guitarist of a one-hit-wonder band. The song itself is short but sweet. It’s a slower track which is very basic guitar, drums, bass and vocals. The lyrics are extremely telling, recalling REM’s The One in all its splendid cruelty. The simple chorus “you’re just an object to me” sums it up well.

Learnin’ to Love comes next, and sounds as if it’s straight out of 12 Golden Country Greats. The song is a great little country jingle with a nice foot-tappin’ beat. It’s about horse-racing, it seems, and also Ween’s lack of actual knowledge of it — sort of like they just got a bunch of horse racing terms and threw them together with what sounds like a lovely chorus of “doob-a-lib, doob-a-lib, doob-a-lib, doob doob doob!” over and over. It’s classic Ween.

With My Own Bare Hands is where we first hear Dean Ween return to the microphone to take over vocals, and as usual he brings with him the crass and offensive side of Ween we’re all used too. So far the album has been reasonably subdued in the controversy department, but this song, with lyrics like “She’s gonna be my cock professor — studying my dick, she’s gonna get her masters degree, in fuckin’ me”, changes all of that. If indeed this is a relationship theme album, it’s no doubt what kind of relationship it is. The song is a slow-tempo rock stomper with some nice electric guitar work. It isn’t in the same boat as typical Dean Ween-sung songs like Stroker Ace and It’s Gonna Be a Long Night, as it’s slower, but it’s still in the same gritty style.

The album heads to the West Indies now for a bit of reggae in the track The Fruit Man. We got a taste of Ween’s reggae recently on the Friends EP with the track King Billy. This song is like putting Bananas and Blow through the reggae carwash and adding Ocean Man-style vocals. It has a thumping drum beat throughout, with a classic reggae beat. From what I can understand, the song is about a disagreement between a “black man” and a “china man” as they negotiate the sale of a fish … I mean, whatever floats your boat really!

Spirit Walker comes next, featuring effect-altered vocals from Gener in almost Cher-like fashion. This is another slower song but with a really bright feel. It reminds me a little of Back to Basom from the White Pepper album. Effects are heavy on this track, with a duck-like quacking often appearing. Had this song been of a more downtrodden nature it could have been from Quebec, as it dances on the edge of psychedelic.

Old-school Ween return in a slowed-down British-punk-sounding track in Shamemaker. This could easily have been from an early Ween album like Pure Guava. It really shows that as Ween have progressed and grown as a band they have retained the ability to slip into the same shoes they wore back in 1992 and still sound fresh.

Next we have Sweetheart, another song led by Dean Ween’s vocals. However, this isn’t the typical rocker you’d expect from him. It’s a groovy little track that borrows influences from the 1960s for sure — similar to something The Beach Boys might put out, but slower. Dean shows, once again, that you don’t have to have the most amazing voice in the world to make a great track. This song could easily have been sung by Gener and the vocals would probably have been better; however, having Dean sing this is a great swerve, as it helps keep the album fresh enough to hold your interest even in the tail end.

The album’s tearjerker is Lullaby. This is a pretty much just Gene Ween and a piano for the most part. It also features little touches of harp and organ, which work well. This is another song about friendship and keeping the ones you love close to you. This could have worked well as the final song on the album.

Coming next is the 11-minute rocker Woman and Man. This song REALLY rocks and is contender for best on the album. It lulls you into a false sense of security for the first minute and a half with just Gener singing acapella style with the occasional acoustic guitar strum or tambourine rattle. However, as we close in on the two-minute mark, bongo drums take over in what sounds like an African trible dance, which gathers pace until the more traditional rock drumbeat begins. Out of nowhere the whole band kick in and we’re on our way for a great rockin’ instrumental that how amazing Ween are and how well they jam together. The guitar is driving, and features some great solos. This continues for the remainder of the song, getting faster and louder, the drumming more intense and the guitar heavier and heavier as it builds. It climaxes with the sound of the beach, waves and seagulls, which is then interrupted by gunfire and the sounds of a woman being shot… well, I mean, you did see that coming, right?

The last track on the album is a beauty. Your Party features the guest talent of jazz saxophonist David Sanborn. We’re heading on down to Baker Street for this one. Ween shows their maturity here with a well-structured pop song that could have commercial-radio potential. The chorus of this song is “We had the best time at your party, the wife and I thank you very much”. The constant referencing of “the wife” again shows how Ween have changed, as it’s hard to imagine the same guy who wrote Pink Eye on My Leg or You Fucked Up being happily married.

The lyrics don’t really allude to any foul play in this song other than a husband and wife attending a nice party, which then prompts the husband to lie in bed at night dreaming of throwing his own party. However, this IS Ween, and even though the song hints at nothing, you just have to wonder — what kind of party is this?

All in all, I think this is a solid album. However, with four years between this and the previous release, you could be forgiven for expecting a little more. Something that sticks out is that the second half of the album is far superior to the first, which is unusual. What it comes down to is that if you like Ween, you’ll like this album. If you don’t, then don’t bother, as there isn’t really anything that makes you say “well, I don’t normally like Ween, but THAT is amazing”.

It certainly doesn’t reach the standards of The Mollusk or White Pepper, which would both be in my personal top 10 albums, but it does bring back the brown and also maintains the songwriting and musicianship. The whole record sounds like it was made as a ’70s mixtape then dipped in LSD. They created a trippy vibe on this record.

La Cucaracha is out October 23rd


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