Chocolate and Cheese, Ween Elektra

Paul Wong
A wounded Israeli soldier is brought into Soroka hospital in the southern Israeli town of Beersheva yesterday after two Palestinians armed with grenades and assault rifles stormed an Israeli army post.<br><br>AP PHOTO

Released: Sept. 24, 1994

The music industry loves roulette. Most record labels, in the interest of offering a “diverse catalog,” spread their money all over the table, but instead of hoping that the popularity ball lands on 22 Black or 10 Red, it”s 39 Alt Rock, 27 Rapcore, 42 Prefab Pop, and so on down the genres. And if they can find a band that covers more than one square, than that means more value for their corporate dollar.

The problem is that most bands, unaided by producers and studio musicians, can hardly get a handle on musical style, let alone multiple ones. Enter the record labels” equivalent to betting on the house and the player: the “Now That”s What I Call Music” compilations. Labels love these musical mutts because they are a sure bet and it”s hard to frown upon these things because music for record labels is a business and from a business perspective, a CD full of a mixed selection of everything known to be popular can only guarantee profit.

Ween are the exact inversion of this industry phenomenon. They are consistently unpopular genre-benders who are not attractive and are not making much money for anyone. They are, however, some of the most talented musical shape-shifters to ever grace speakers. This is the band that started out mostly straight stoned punk with occasional nods to pop and rock (GodWeenSatan The Oneness), branched that out to include metal and lofi pop (The Pod), and then released a record that had love ballads, speed freak pop, spoken word and weird nods to prog-rock (Pure Guava). Their most accessible (and eclectic) record, Chocolate and Cheese, came next. It was followed by a full-length traditional country album recorded in Nashville (12 Golden Country Greats) and a nautically themed concept album (The Mollusk) going into children”s songs, new wave and traditional Irish Folk. Their latest (White Pepper) brings Ween”s discography full circle with its punk, pop, prog, country, ballad and other schizophrenic offerings.

But it”s Chocolate and Cheese that showcases Ween at their best. It starts with a snappy, alt-lounge number called “Take Me Away,” slinks into the bizarre synth and bells of “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)” and then grooves into the funky R & B of “Freedom of “76,” and they are just the first three tracks. Still to come is a new wave/new age/hardcore hybrids (“I Can”t Put My Finger On It”), a melancholy instrumental (“A Tear For Eddie”), a sugar pop piece (“Roses Are Free”) and a musically soothing acoustic song with nicely harmonized vocals full of bitterness and swearing (“Baby Bitch”).

The second half of the album presents a mock-epic Mexican ballad (“Buenas Tardes Amigo”), some more perfect pop (“Joppa Road,” “What Deaner Was Talking About”), a cowboy song (“Drifter in the Dark”), a bizarre alt-funk freakout (“Voodoo Lady”) and the unsettling “Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony?” Which apparently needs it because, “He”s down and he ain”t getting up / He coughed up snot in the driveway / And I think his lung”s fucked up.” Continuing with this sort of political incorrectness is “The HIV Song” where Ween simply sing the word “AIDS” and then play a sort of twisted circus music, periodically stopping to say “HIV” and then resume the campy carnival.

Despite the genre hopping, Ween maintain a believable cohesion on Chocolate and Cheese. The glue that binds these songs is Ween”s consummate musicianship blended with their appreciation of experimentation and humor. Chocolate and Cheese is twisted and wrong, poppy and playful, sick and sweet. For the adventurous listener, buying this record is no gamble.

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