12 Golden Country Greats
There's something very wrong with Ween's new CD.
For starters, 12 Golden Country Greats has only ten songs. And though they may indeed be "golden," it's doubtful that even the most encyclopedic of country connoisseurs would recognize such titles as "Piss Up a Rope" and "Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain" as "country greats."
Ween's buoyantly sarcastic new CD is exceedingly wrong in other areas, too. So wrong, in fact, that it sneaks up the other direction and ultimately becomes very "right." 12 Golden Country Greats is a novelty recording, but unlike most recorded stabs at musical humor, it works. It ridicules traditional country music with gleeful precision, and makes no apologies for its wit.
The hee-haws can at times be rough. Sensitive listeners will note a touch of racism, a dose of sexism and a heaping helping of homophobia in the lyrics. But more often than not, the satire is subtle and the irony manicured enough that the yuks keep coming--even when you think maybe they shouldn't.
Ween is the work of Dean and Gene Ween, a couple of suburban New Jersey smart asses who decided to break free of alternative tendencies for their fifth album and cut an oddball country disc. To their credit, the two Weenies took the comedy project seriously. This disc was recorded in the heart of Nashville, replete with a host of legendary, if aging, Music City session players plucking and twanging authenticity into the mix. The results are something akin to the set list at a Hooterville hoe-down, the audio equivalent of a sneaky, toothy grin. Ween apparently was determined to saddle old-time country sounds with something guaranteed to offend as easily as it entertains. With 12 Golden Country Greats, it's achieved a rollicking success.
It's clear this CD offers an unusual listening experience the minute the music starts. The opening cut, "I'm Holding You," features one of the Weens crooning with sincerity such wordy lines as "I'm breathing/The fumes of the grid that rid my lobe of oxygen" and "I'm tripping/Writhing and squealing, puking, looking for someone like you." These heartfelt words are backed by a chorus of inane vocals from the fabled singing group the Jordanaires.
From there the cow chips really start to fly. "Piss Up a Rope," for example, swaggers as a misanthropic honky-tonk anthem of epic proportions. The song's tortured lyrics include lines like "You ride my ass like a horse in the saddle/Now you're up shit's creek with a turd for a paddle," a sentiment for the ages sung with so much gusto, the lead vocalist occasionally stumbles out of tune. Other notably surreal cuts include "I Don't Want to Leave You on the Farm," sung from the perspective of a perpetually stoned farmer missing his missis, and "Pretty Girl," a neobluegrass foot-stomper about a new guy in town. "Pretty Girl" is highlighted by strong harmonic vocals, a catchy melody and the line "There's a smooth-talking, funny-walking dude around," an ominous lyric in a variety of ways.
Amid Ween's chaos, the attending all-star backing band shines as it plays the assigned notes like it's just another gig for another pair of stardust singing cowboys. The two Weens obviously revere their studio elders, and on "Powder Blue," an old-timey cowpoke workup that sounds like the Four Freshmen on a hayride, pianist Bobby Ogden, harmonica player Charlie McCoy and steel guitarist Russ Hicks are all introduced by name before each takes a typically rock-solid solo. But then, Muhammad Ali is introduced, too, before his voice, for no apparent reason, closes the song with an "I'm the greatest" diatribe lifted from yesteryear.
That kind of absurdity is Ween at its best. A more troubling humor rears itself, as it were, in "Mister Richard Smoker," a happy, peppy-paced tune of unrepentant homophobia. (Check the song's title again.) Despite the blatant exploitation of negative gay stereotypes, there's an unabashed merriment in the song's jaunty instrumentation, and that, along with the image of the elderly back-up band playing along to such stuff, makes it difficult not to laugh out loud repeatedly, if at times reluctantly.
Easier to take is the CD's closing cut, "Fluffy," a ridiculously sentimental song with a gruff, morose lead Ween vocalist mourning the fate of a curiously self-destructive dog. It's a wonderfully subtle parody of every hokey animal requiem Nashville ever produced, and it's absolutely hilarious.
The ten songs on 12 Golden Country Greats make up a smart, funny and, yes, at times offensive send-up of country music as seen through the eyes of a couple of wisenheimer northerners. Think Spinal Tap with a straw of hay in the mouth, but don't think too hard. You'll wind up with the same perplexed expression worn by the range-riding cowboy on the CD cover, a man dazed and confused in a field of bullshit.
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