Sharps & Flats

The brothers Ween might be living in the shadow of Frank Zappa, but they still sound like they're shocked by their own shtick.

Published May 2, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Ween have a knack for making demented music that dares to sound pretty. After two early records made on bedroom four-tracks in New Hope, Penn., "Pure Guava" (1992) was a trance-inducing, wheezing wonder -- music you could get lost inside if it wasn't for lyrics like "flies on my dick." Two years later, "Chocolate and Cheese's" "Baby Bitch" sounded like the younger brother of Simon and Garfunkel's "America" with a cruelly bitter edge: The refrain of the song goes, "I'm better now, please fuck off."

Now, after a country record, one full of sea chanteys and a two-disc live project, Ween are back, making an entire album without their obligatory drum machine or use of the word fuck. Which is not to say that "White Pepper" is any less pretty or any less demented than previous efforts. "Even If You Don't," a roiling update of the Beach Boys' early romps, is a classic example: "I love you," sings Gene Ween over chirping guitar chords and major piano chords, "Even if you don't/You've got your knife up to my throat/What do you want, to see me bleed?" The song goes on to detail how the love interest in question rifles through the trash for food, forges her boyfriend's name to cash in his prescriptions and goes through his phone book in order to harass his friends. As a love anthem, "Even If You Don't" fights for space with the Casio-charged "Pandy Fackler," a nimble, swinging ditty about a girl who eats stale cotton candy, does the Funky Cold Medina and "suck[s] dicks under the promenade." Summer lovin' has never been so sweet.

The rest of the album, well ... it's the rest of the album. For the chemically obsessed, there's "Bananas and Blow," a hopelessly catchy steel-drum number about living on a diet of cocaine and fruit. And the album's first single shows Ween can still be as poppy as they wanna be, this time on the woozy, chug-a-lug wonder of "Exactly Where I'm At," which rhymes "flappity flappity flap" with what may be the most honest line in any Ween song to date: "I'm onstage, it's all an act/I'm really scared that I may fall back on the abstract."

Ween will always be compared to the late, great Frank Zappa, both because of the band's genuine musical skill and because of their seemingly endless fascination with sex and shit. It's an unfair comparison: Zappa was a once-in-a-lifetime musician, and the members of Ween are fine musicians who still must be shocked that they're actually making a career out of this shtick. But those who dismiss Ween as being simply puerile are missing the point. Similar to "South Park," Ween is so satisfying because they're making something that's at once smarter and grosser than the competition.

By Seth Mnookin

Seth Mnookin is the co-director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT and he blogs at the Public Library of Science. His most recent book is "The Panic Virus: The True Story of the Vaccine-Autism Controversy" (Simon & Schuster). His Twitter handle is @sethmnookin.

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