La Cucuracha is Ween's unbelieveable 11th release, their first LP of new material exclusively through their own Chocodog label. It's one disc, black, 180 gram vinyl in a gate-fold sleeve, recorded to two inch 24 track tape, produced and mixed by Andrew Weiss.
I'm not saying you'll immediately like this on first listen, even as a Ween fan, it's like every other release… it will sneak up on you and become an epic journey of a thousand albums. But like with my introduction to Ween through 'Push the little daisies' from Pure Guava, it's not meant to be heard one song at a time, it won't make any sense. This is a lifetime of work exploring sounds and genres, appreciating the unappreciated, kicking the dead horse one more time, finding something interesting in a dance club hit or in the legacy of square dance hoedowns.
With this album they are continuing to record on a more mature produced path, leaving the ultra low-fi 4-track, pitch shifted vocals sound behind them in favor of a barn turned permanent studio and room-fulls of equipment. How else can they explore and deconstruct every music genre, without every tool available on the planet?
La Cucaracha begins appropriately enough with Fiesta, and legendary smooth jazz alto saxophonist David Sanborn who ended up being a ween fan and after being contacted by the appreciative band and agreeing to contribute insane saxophone solos to this track and 'Your Party'.
The unapologetic electronic horn sound works to immediately ground this in it's ridiculousness. There are the showoff sounds and presets on any keyboard or drum machine, the demo settings that just make you think, 'Who the fuck would use this sound?', it's so loaded in a particular time or place. These are the building blocks for Weens exploration. Overall Fiesta is just an instrumental south of the border quirky number until somewhere towards the end the recorded track is compressed for a second back in on itself exponentially into just electronic noise, and we're reminded again who we're dealing with.
The thing that saves every song and Ween itself from complete novelty is the tongue in cheek attitude of their seriousness. You can just hear the joke behind every line, you can picture every scene from every video. But all this genre hopping and homage is a testament to their musicianship, their appreciation of music history and at the same time deconstructing it piece by piece.
They can be a guilty pleasure… you'd have to have real balls to blast 'Friends' while driving around the neighborhood, it's so sickeningly techno and sincere, and the lyric You're the friend that I've been searching for out of context won't make sense to anyone not in on the joke. I have to think this was a result of some kind of bet about making a techno dance track that's the polar opposite of the usual subject matter of getting a piece on the dance-floor. Instead they're looking for a friend.
The music drives the lyrics, it starts with a drum track of unused sounds, or a random guitar riff, the resulting mood will determine what they're going to sing about. They are a perfect example of the long tail theory, it's not for everyone. But every piece of Ween ephemera is battled over on eBay daily. They have more than their share of of people willing to fund their musical experimentation well into the days of greatest hits and interview picture discs, especially in the form of vinyl.
'My Own Bare Hands' is that fist pumping classic rock track complete with a spaced out guitar solo. Channeling Motorhead they're yelling about all the things they can do with their bare hands. Of course it's not long before Ween goes to that blatant place of political incorrectness with 'I will be your lawn mower and cut your fucking grass… suck my fucking dick!'. But isn't that what all of this type of cock rock is getting at? Let's cut to the chase, it's to get chicks. There's no big thought behind this, they don't want to work day jobs, they can't do everything else. Ween can conjure up these narratives behind every song.
On 'The fruit man' they have this tendency to include a reggae/dub inspired track on nearly every album, and as a genre I'm really ignorant in, it's always the least enjoyable. I can appreciate the surface elements, but most of the joke is lost on me. It's funny that they use these un-reggae sounds of huge kick drum hits, glass breaking, whistles, scrolling through the unused factory presets on the drum machine, hitting every one. All I can imagine is that it's the most challenging to try to hit some kind of honesty, to distill it down to it's essential elements.
The ballad doesn't even stand a chance on the next track, 'Spirit Walker', the closing track on the B-side. A wavering electronic filtered vocal line plays over this acoustic somber slow dance feel complete with flute/synth accompaniment. It's heartfelt and completely ludicrous at the same time.
On the B side 'Woman and Man' is the standout epic track starting out with a dead on Bowie influenced layered, high off pitch vocal story.
The theme is so insanely all encompassing, the beginning of humankind, starting from nothing however many millions of years ago, and it takes all 10 minutes to work through the primal relationships of the creation of women and men, all through this 70's progressive rock journey.
from rib and from monkey
half became the whole
a race of man and woman
An unironic bongo solo with brushed snare and cowbell drives the song into full jam mode. Just as the hokey intro is over we're driven into a sickening Santana solo that echoes endlessly. These are the kind of lyrics you know some stoned guy is saying 'Seriously, they are totally right, it's like the ocean is just covering all this land…' You know you're not supposed to take this seriously, but Ween is forcing you to.
The final nail in the coffin of this cultural music parody is 'Your party' supposedly inspired by wanting to write a song about where they are as older established musicians with families and the dinner parties they find themselves at. 'Woman and Man' ends with machine gun fire by a crashing ocean that leads into this mumbling party scene.
there were candy and spices
and tricolored pastas…
We had the best time at your party
the wife and I thank you very much
David Sanborn's constant saxophone solos scream sincere 1980's slow jazz LA law pastel turtleneck nightmare and you're transported back to this 80's excess of neon and marbled mirrors.
Ween is drawing from a vast library of thankfully forgotten sounds, but it isn't all built on popularizing the unknown, more like acknowledging the inherent stupidity in entire genres music. The popular songs that are taken for granted. The sounds that have built in so many other meanings. Ween never stoops to make fun or parody an individual but an entire lifestyle associated with a song. A commentary on modern smooth jazz or dance reggae dub. They simultaneously destroy it completely and make it relevant somehow. These are the discarded riffs from other bands as too derivative. They're is picking through the junk-pile and making it something, willing it back into existence.
They are the masters of creating a mood and really selling it if you are willing to accept the sheer outrageousness of it all.