Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ween - 12 Golden Country Greats

Occasionally, I'll write a review where I enjoy the record far more than what the review would lead you to believe. These are releases that qualify as “guilty pleasures,” even though its a term that’s cheapened with the misconception that it’s something already perceived as awful by general consensus.

But a guilty pleasure doesn’t mean that it’s a bad record, at least not in my mind. Instead, I think of a guilty pleasure as a record that is neither groundbreaking nor all that well executed. For me, a guilty pleasure can be something that you enjoy listening to and have unchecked fondness for, without having a very good explanation for why it ranks in such high regard.

A good example of what I’m trying to explain is Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats. It’s a record that I return to time an again for reasons that cannot be explained by the record’s place in recorded music or by the actual quality of the songs themselves.

I remember buying the album sight unseen and without the benefit of hearing a song sample. The very notion that Ween was devoting an entire record to one specific genre and were using some very legendary session musicians to help execute ten songs into a very misleading album title, was a very bold movie in my mind. It was an idea that remains as the most divisive entry in their cannon of weirdness and something that I felt deserved immediate support.

However, I can’t overlook the fact that I was somewhat disappointed after my first listen. It’s the most polished the brothers have ever sounded, which is a testament to the performers they’ve enlisted, I suppose, but after years of audible tape his in nearly every moment of their recording history up to this point, its absence suddenly sounds unsettling.

The other thing that was immediately off-putting was how subtle the humor is throughout 12 Golden Country Greats. Besides the obvious entries (“Piss Up A Rope,” “Mister Richard Smoker” and “Fluffy”), most of the record remains straight, at least by Ween standards.

Finally, I’m not utterly convinced that Ween aren’t entirely earnest in their appreciation with the genre of country music, a critical necessity when doing such a swan dive into such major left turns like this. And even though Gene does a nice roll call during “Powder Blue” of some of the musicians, he also has them present for such mundane moments like “I Don’t Wanna Leave You On The Farm,” a song so contrived that you want to apologize to the players for wasting their time with such rudimentary material.

Just as I would be remiss in telling you about all of these questionable moments on 12 Golden Country Greats is the fact that regularly let this record into my schedule and I’m just as regularly satisfied with it.

Ironically, it’s that subtle approach that makes such repeated listens so rewarding for me. When they let the talent loose during “Help Me Scrape The Mucus Off My Brain,” Ween goes beyond any prior expectations of how great of a project this could have been.

“You Were The Fool” reaches similar heights as the band counts off “Slow four….one, two, three, four…” A gentle acoustic moment is created while Gene effortlessly takes listeners on a wild ride, at one point advising, “You can speak with a turtle just by flippin’ him around.”

And I’m sorry, but “Piss Up A Rope” is one of the best “Fuck you” songs of all time, making 12 Golden Country Greats worth the price of admission.

As with any “guilty pleasure,” your mileage may vary, but for me 12 Golden Country Greats has gotten plenty of highway miles. It never quite reaches the heights that the idea hints at during a few moments, but it’s a project that I find strange comfort in their flawed attempt.

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