Monday, May 16, 2016

I'd Love to Turn You On #154 - Ween – Quebec

Ween released Quebec in August of 2003, when I first worked at Manifest Discs & Tapes in Greenville, South Carolina. At that time, Manifest’s in-store music came from a CD player equipped with a one hundred disc carousel containing a selection of the best recent releases. Usually, managers would press “random” at the beginning of each shift and we’d start listening to a newly configured arrangement of those albums. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking the floor, helping customers, restocking the bins, and alphabetizing each genre while listening to new albums all the way through. This album played probably five times before I realized that it wasn’t a compilation of various artists and when I did, I was shocked to learn that Ween was the band behind all of these songs.

Quebec snuck up out of nowhere and suddenly reminded me of the bent, brilliant alchemy at the core of Ween’s best work. I had listened to some Ween albums with friends over the years, but I didn’t feel informed enough to consider myself a fan. I can understand very well why I initially mistook Quebec for a movie soundtrack or some other kind of compilation looking back at the three opening songs. The album starts off strong with “It’s Gonna Be a Long Night,” a hard driving, blues-rock rager containing the inspired threat, “don’t call your mother - don’t call your priest - don’t call your doctor - call the police.” Many have heard elements of Motörhead in this song, but upon my first listen, it called to mind the handiwork of an imaginary supergroup composed of Jimi Hendrix and Body Count-era Ice-T. Following with a complete change of pace, tone, and direction comes a dreamy, warped synth-pop bossa nova tribute to Ween’s antidepressant of choice. Simulating the serene, artificial calm brought on by SSRIs, “Zoloft” acquaints the audience with Quebec’s mercurial nature. Rounding out the trio of openers, “Transdermal Celebration” first struck my ears as one of the best Foo Fighters songs I’d ever heard. I was sure that I was hearing well-produced, radio-ready, guitar-based alt-rock that would soon be a Top 40 hit. As Quebec progresses, songs begin to fall into more familiar patterns for Ween by holding down left field novelty territory with “Happy Colored Marbles” and “Fancy Pants” while exploring the band’s penchant for seemingly sincere folk-rock and psychedelia in the form of “I Don’t Want It,” “Tried & True,” and “Captain.” A highlight from the album’s second half, “The Fucked Jam,” would probably top a number of people’s lists for “most annoying song ever” with its stop/start gimmick, but for some reason I have grown to love it. Composed of only a propulsive bass line, a minimalist drum track, and something that sounds like a small robotic rodent rapping indecipherably, this song epitomizes Ween’s knack for spinning great songs from unlikely elements on Quebec.

Ween established a reputation for crafting unpredictably creative and enjoyably perverse music over seven albums from 1990-2000 and simultaneously locked in a devoted cult following. In the last fifteen years, Ween has released only two studio albums: Quebec and 2007’s La Cucaracha. On account of this timing, Quebec falls outside of the window most listeners consider to be peak Ween, but it works equally well as an introduction to Ween’s offbeat magic and as a victory lap for fans more familiar with the albums from the ‘90s. Unlike some of Ween’s best loved albums like 12 Golden Country Hits or The Mollusk, Quebec lacks a unifying concept or stylistic thrust, but more than makes up for it with the range, variety, and quality of this rewarding collection of songs.

- John Parsell

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