Ween – White Pepper

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

Ween records are rather like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. Having said that, you can guarantee one thing: there’ll be more than one moment when you sit up and go “what the hell was that?”.

The band’s attack on the mainstream is not launched through Butthole Surfers-style noise and effects, but rather, by delivering catchy poppy tunes and throwing lyrical curveballs at the complacent listener. Of all the contenders for the most seriously whacked out track here, it’s probably the airy jazz of PANDY FACKLER that most jars: “Pandy Fackler was a broken girl / living alone in another world / of picket fences and a white façade / sucking dicks under the promenade”, sweetly intoned over a Radio 2-friendly easy-listening vibe.

Ween belong to that lineage of perverse US alt-rock groups – contrary peddlers of irony who include among their number Weezer, the Presidents of the United States of America and They Might Be Giants, now-defunct acts who could hardly be described as “sorely missed”. As such, they run the risk of irritating considerably more of the record-buying public than they entertain.

Nonetheless, the album stills makes interesting listening. Gone are the puerile fart gags and scatological references of old – instead Dean and Gene Ween (Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman) have learned the power of subtle subversion. With a few notable exceptions (see below), the songs here are treated with lush guitars and vocal harmonies – from the spacey electronics of BACK TO BASOM, to the sitar psychedelia of FLUTES OF CHI.

The production, by former Public Enemy knob-twiddler Chris Shaw, is punchy and crisp – just listen to the fantastic Pixies surf rock of chiming guitars and thudding drums on the opener EXACTLY WHERE I’M AT, or the Beatles-meets-glam-rock of forthcoming single EVEN IF YOU DON’T.

The quality of the production often serves to highlight the stylistic variation on offer here, at no time more so than on the transition from the summery BANANAS & BLOW, all reggae beats, steel drums, Spanish guitar and female backing vocals, to the speed thrash punk of STROKER ACE.

There’s a lot more on offer here than the lame rebellion of so-called punk acts like The Offspring and their ilk, if only for the musical twists and turns. All in all, it’s a worthy follow-up to last year’s well-received PAINTIN’ THE TOWN BROWN: WEEN 1990-1998.

4 stars