Never be alone again: Ween are your friends

Ween’s new album defines its listener as soon as that listener rips open the CD wrapping and looks at the booklet. The booklet contains no lyrics or words, but instead has pictures of the band: the band recording “La Cucaracha,” the band goofing around, the band hanging out on the family couch, the band waving to the camera. It’s not so much a CD booklet as it is a family photo album. Ween is friendly, familiar; Ween invites the audience to hang out on the family couch and listen to “La Cucaracha,” because Ween and the audience are friends.

Once the music starts, it proceeds to define its listener in the same vein as the CD booklet does. The first track, “Fiesta,” is an instrumental; Ween is being coy, making the audience wait for its vocal arrival, playfully annoying the audience and thus drawing them into the album’s progression. The second track, “Blue Balloon,” relieves the tension. “Blue Balloon” is a very standard Ween song, in that it parodies a standard musical genre (in this case, late ’60s psychedelic rock) by taking a standard idiom of that genre (in this case, drug-induced lyrics sung in a self-satisfied British accent) to a ridiculous, irreverent extreme. Ween fans (and there are a lot of them) are thus reassured that the band hasn’t gone off on some Beastie Boys-style instrumental tangent for this album. Friends change, grow older, but friends are always friends. As the band puts it, “A friend’s a friend who knows what being a friend is/ talking, with friends. As friends we were always so close. But so far away … . Friends in life are special. Do you want me/ as your special friend?” So asks the third track of “La Cucaracha,” a parody of house music (complete with those inspired lyrics, an epic synth break and beat drops). After this, Ween jokes with its audience for the rest of the album, engaging them in the musical gags and marijuana humor that the band has peddled since its low-budget cassette debut in 1986. Ween is very good at what it does and, for certain people, “La Cucaracha” will be an enjoyable album.

Ween has developed a strong fan base over the last two decades, and part of its appeal is its “we are your friends” presentation. Still, what will ultimately decide whether someone likes “La Cucaracha” is whether that person listens to a lot of popular music. Anyone can enjoy a Weird Al parody, because a Weird Al parody is all about the lyrics — he takes a popular song, changes its lyrics, and hilarity ensues. The songs of “La Cucaracha” are genre parodies — they take an established musical genre and exaggerate its conceits and idioms to extremes. The people who will really enjoy the album, then, are people who are familiar with a wide range of musical genres and the cliches that come with them — music junkies, in other words. Listening to “La Cucaracha,” followers of popular music feel like they’re in their parents’ basements with Ween, getting high, getting higher and making fun of all the bands they love so much. Ween draws music fans to its side, lets them in on the joke, and together they laugh at the world around them. For others, though, the joke eludes them, and all they get is a smorgasbord of seemingly generic pop music with nonsensical lyrics. Some would say this is evidence of musical snobbery on Ween’s part or an indication that Ween could be doing something more worthwhile, more sincere with its talents. Ween would probably tell them to take a hit and chill out. Ween already has enough friends as it is.

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