|A few weeks ago Aaron Freeman – known professionally as Gene Ween – told Rolling Stone that his seminal rock duo and/or superfluous and irreverent experiment Ween had reached an endpoint. “It’s time to move on,” he said, “I’m retiring Gene Ween.”
Freeman met Mickey Melchiondo in typing class in eighth grade and they began to write songs together and released cassette only tapes, such as Erica Peterson’s Flaming Crib Death and The Crucial Squeegie Lip – highly suggestive of the mushroom-fueled flippant psychedelic music they contained. It goes without saying, then, that from the beginning Ween was a gag band.
Their first proper album God Ween Satan: The Oneness, was a massive display of absurdity and profanity, starting with the furious and depraved “You Fucked Up,” in which “You fucked up/ You stupid Nazi whore” is shrieked over dissonant faux-metal guitars and fledgling drum rhythms. In retrospect, this was the band’s perfect mission statement. Because as eccentric as Ween was, they never shied away from their goal of mimicking the very bands and genres that they were seemingly attacking.
As time went, the two friends began to mature. They started releasing longer and better records, and by 1992, Ween had signed to Elektra, and after their 1992 major-label debut Pure Guava, Gene and Dean had exploded onto the mainstream, with the legitimate MTV hit “Push th’ Little Daisies.” I know, the fact that Ween – a band producing pop music re-imagined through the prism of shrooms and acid -- seems maddening. But Elektra was the same record label that signed jam-band Phish to a multi-record deal, a band as equally as musically proficient and inventive if completely ridiculous, and who relied on a brand of peculiar niche humor. The 90’s were a weird time, man.
1994 saw the release of the polished and great Chocolate and Cheese, on which they unabashedly and brilliantly wrote a slew of songs in the vein of 70’s soul and pop, with jams like “Freedom of ’76” and “Roses are Free” providing deft homage. After that, they invited several country players to a studio in Nashville and cut what is ostensibly a country record, albeit the first of its kind of don a parental advisory sticker.
This led to a strained relationship between band and label, but somehow Dean and Gene had enough left in the tank to release 2 more classic albums, in 1997’s The Mollusk and the late-career masterpiece White Pepper.
The Mollusk is a great quasi-concept album, which saw them moving into a pleasing progressive direction. Do not be fooled, though, the jokes were still there, with songs such as “Pink Eye (On My Leg)” and “Waving My Dick In The Wind.” Although instead of just writing happily acid washed gurgling trash, which they probably could have at this point, they wrote highly inventive pop songs.
And then, there’s White Pepper. A record that’s been compared to the Beatles’ White Album in a certain highly regarded publication. But the resemblance is there. The White Album saw the Fab Four tired, late in their career, an album filled with both triumphant and flawed music. So, too, with White Pepper; an album with a hi-fi full band sound, though with a band with seemingly nothing left to prove. And, while the lack of “fucks” and “dicks” shows inevitable maturity, it is at once oddly disconcerting. You see, while the jokes were gone, drugs were always involved up until the very end, when Freeman freaked out onstage last year and consequently did a stint in rehab.
And the joke band had overstayed their weary punch line.