Ween Shinola Vol. 1

[Chocodog; 2005]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: rock
Others: Flaming Lips, Super Furry Animals, Frank Zappa

It's not easy being a Ween fan. It seems I'm always making excuses for them, whether to my friends or to myself. Of course they've written tons of songs that I love on their own merit. But honestly, does anyone actually like "Sarah"? Ween are constantly daring us to listen to them, and somehow succeed not only in making us sit through some of the most questionable music ever made, but in making us love them for it as well. The devotion of a Ween fan is usually blind, not in spite of these musical atrocities, but because of them.

It would be an oversimplification to say that we tolerate songs we otherwise never would because "Buenas Tardes Amigo" is on next, but certainly context plays an enormous role in the Ween experience. The tracks from any one of their albums bear some kind of relationship to each other, even if it is occasionally only through the artifice of the "album" unit of measure.

Shinola Vol. 1 is a collection (it can hardly be called an "album") of Ween songs devoid of all context. They weren't originally intended to appear together, and further, we aren't informed of when or where any of them were written or recorded. Listening to Shinola, then, is dramatically different from listening to any of Ween's previous albums, and each track stands alone, unable to borrow some integrity from its neighbors. The whole is no greater than the sum of its parts; the rating above means that exactly 8.4 songs are good while 3.6 songs are not.

During an ideal Ween session, you should expect to laugh, to be made uncomfortable, and to rock out at least once each, and on these criteria, Shinola succeeds. But because of its discontinuity, you'll be compelled to cherry-pick these moments from among the chaff. Don't feel guilty for skipping over "Big Fat Fuck," for example, a song that sounds like a vicious mockery of Pure Guava. "Boys Club," "Gabrielle," and "Monique the Freak" are some of Ween's most direct parodies, and seem uncharacteristically to deride their influences rather than take joy in them. Save your bandwidth on these too.

Fortunately some of the remaining material is truly indispensable. "Did You See Me?" is Ween at their proggiest, turning a country-western-Druid-stoner molasses jam into a knotty, staccato King Crimson guitar duet. "Transitions" is half early-80s lite rock, half early Zappa, with Ween's trademark somniloquistic vocal delivery floating on the surface. "Israel" is, either ironically or fittingly, potentially the most hilarious thing Ween have done, a sleazy saxophone melody played repeatedly and peppered with snippets of Hebrew-accented and audibly indifferent prayers for Israel.

I'm more than satisfied, having expected to quickly discover exactly why these songs had remained unreleased for so long. If you like Ween, buy it; if you don't, go listen to Chocolate and Cheese a few more times.

1. Tastes Good on th' Bun
2. Boys Club
3. I Fell in Love Today
4. Big Fat Fuck
5. Gabrielle
6. Did You See Me?
7. How High Can You Fly
8. Transitions
9. Israel
10. The Rift
11. Monique the Freak
12. Someday

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