Recordings

Ween
Paintin' the Town Brown
(Elektra)

Paintin' the Town Brown, the most recent offering from demented duo Ween, reeks of contractual obligation or more likely Elektra's failure to understand the burgeoning MP3/Internet culture. Brown was originally intended to be a limited-edition chronicle of Ween's live shows from 1990 to 1998, and a way to sate hard-core Ween fans and MP3 traders. The double album was only supposed to be available through the group's official Web site and targeted to the group's diehard fans (would they be Weenies or Weeners?).

It seems that the label got wind of those plans and thought the collection was worth putting out for mass consumption. They were wrong. That's not to say this project has nothing going for it. It's just that most of the material here wouldn't appeal to the casual Ween fan.

Ironically enough, the best material on this record comes from the group's "country" tour, when the brothers Ween took a bunch of Nashville pros on the road in support of their 12 Golden Country Greats album. The full complement of a multi-instrumental backing band blows away most of the other offerings here.

Rather than include several poorly recorded early songs with just Dean, Gene and a Dat machine, it would have been wise to offer contemporary recordings of older material. Too many of the songs are of subpar sound quality, even for lo-fi aficionados. And unfortunately, much of the humor of the lyrics is lost in the record's muddy sound quality.

Ween's appeal has always resided in their ability to take on any given style, turn it inside out and poke fun at it. However, Ween has also proved (especially with their idiosyncratic studio releases) that they are a hit-and-miss band, pissing you off one second with annoying indulgence, and making you pee your pants with their genuinely warped sense of humor the next. A big problem with this release is that we hear too much indulgence and not enough of the monkey business.

It's not that they aren't a fun band to see live -- they are -- it's just that listening to a live compilation of Ween taken from over such a long period of time (and with quantum leaps in ability and content) makes for a bumpy listen.

The double disc package includes liner notes that are equally apologetic and distasteful (most of the space is devoted to describing how drunk the band was during each performance). The notes also explain, in graphic detail, Dean and Gene's shared dream of spraying the audience with diarrhea launched from a cannon while playing a noodling 26-minute version of their song "Poopship Destroyer." What else do you need to know?

New York Dolls

The Glamorous Life

(Big Ear Music/DCC)

For those knuckle draggers who believe Nirvana begat the attitude/riff-addled/rock-star-turned-dead-junkie-Deus thang, lest we partake in yet another history lesson? Nah. Go back to school. Or, for Stones collating, Thunders was Richards to Johansen's Jagger and Sylvain was the Jones/Taylor/Wood odd man out. While the Dolls rhythm section of Kane and Nolan were Wyman and Watts in chaps and crinoline.

On The Glamorous Life, no money is wasted on such trivial items as packaging. Thirteen songs are what the label paid for and 13 songs are what you're going to get. You'll wish the label paid for only 12 songs and coughed up more for luxuries like proper credits. The title says it's live, but no venue, date or country are listed. The Dave Hensen-penned liners do little to enlighten even the most cursory of Dolls buffs while the cover smacks of hastily slapped/Photoshopped images of NYC and David Jo in platforms. The label must think we care not; so, in this day of overanthologized underachievers, what Doll nut is gonna shell out 12 bucks for this underanthologized underachiever?

In fact, all the songs here have been released previously on both vinyl and CD. The sonically superior tracks, 1-5, are culled from various bootlegs and imports, while the remaining cuts come from the atrocious Dolls-fall requiem Red Patent Leather (recorded in '75 at NYC's Little Hippodrome club). Worse, the latter show was captured to tape through what sounds like two tin cans strung together with a few hundred yards of kite string.

Fortunately, "Jet Boy," "Who Are the Mystery Girls?" and "Trash" are spirited sends of the band's halcyon days, making the price of admission here somewhat worthy.

However, "Vietnamese Baby" opens the aforementioned downturn and nabs the Dolls in all of their repulsive, more-flat-than-Utah glory. Art Kane's (or is it roadie stand-in Peter Jordan?) drunken bass lines plod along as if being led unwittingly to the Betty Ford clinic, climaxing with a classic midway train wreck in which Kane and Thunders collide head-on; the Eddie Cochran winner "Something Else" foreshadows the Rottenless Pistols by nearly four years; a later Thunders B-side, the blues-fisted "Downtown," gets the mud and glue treatment; and a "Personality Crisis"/"Looking for a Kiss" medley is a severely self-mocking, almost miserable snapshot of a band on its last limp legs. Only Bo Diddley's "Pills" breathes life into the mire and captures some of the group's original boom and blast.

Despite all that, and for a total dime-store toss-off, The Glamorous Life stinks in all the right ways. If only as a rueful reminder of how smart the Dolls were as transgender snot-noses, and how utterly pitiless rock 'n' roll can be.

 
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