ween released their album the mollusk twenty years ago today. as was common industry practice back then, june 24th, 1997 was a tuesday. 1997 was the year before mark mcgwire broke roger maris’ home run record, and on june 24th he hit his 27th home run off of randy johnson.
this has nothing to do with ween, but i remember that summer well, and the mcgwire / sosa home run race that got so big in 1998 was just starting to percolate. another big part of that summer for me: “return of the mack.” unfortunately, discovering ween and the mollusk were still several years away.
if you’re reading this then you probably know the general background story of how the mollusk was recorded and the adversity the band faced just to get it completed, but for anyone who is unfamiliar:
in 1995 ween rented a house in a town called holgate on the jersey shore to begin recording the followup to chocolate and cheese. shortly after setting up in the house, a water pipe within the house burst and damaged and in some cases totally destroyed their gear and equipment, so they left the house and decided to write and record 12 golden country greats instead. i wrote about that album’s 20th anniversary last year.
once they finished 12 gcc at the end of 1995, they re-started and quickly finished the mollusk at the beginning of 1996. 12 gcc wasn’t released until july of that year, so for a while they had what would ultimately become two of their most popular and flat out best albums sitting on elektra’s shelf waiting to be put out. think about that for a second.
four proper albums into their career, a band that was originally just two guys and a drum machine organically evolve into a full five piece unit and embark on their first effort to record a studio album with the new members. this band encounters a massive setback that most others would never recover from and decides to completely change course and make their version of a country album that was inspired by the goddamn beach boys’ christmas album.
in doing so, they unintentionally form a new band -the shit creek boys- made up of the utmost studio session professionals in the country music capitol of the world (and who probably learned the hard way what “brown” really means). they then reconvene with the original lineup that was meant to record in the beach house and record almost two albums worth of new material. and this is still while they’re waiting for the country album to come out!
after recording is completed, they go on a successful national tour with the shit creek boys backing them on both their old and new material, do one more short tour with just gene, dean and the drum machine as a sort of last hurrah, and at the start of 1997 they become the five piece band we all know and love today.
again, if you’re reading this you most likely already everything i’ve written so far, but it never ceases to amaze me what this band has done. we could rehash this everyday until trump ends us all and it still wouldn’t make up for the lack of recognition they’ve received. but that’s also what makes it so worthwhile to love the boognish. to love the brown. it’s group of people i am proud to be a part of.
i’m not a big fan of prog rock so i’ve never really thought of the mollusk as that kind of album, but i definitely agree with it being a concept album with a heavy dose of dark, nautical psychedelia. if 12 gcc was ween’s version of a country album then this is their version of a sea shanty album.
after finding out that it was recorded on the jersey shore, i tried setting it to the one movie that i always think of when i hear the words “jersey shore”: eternal sunshine of a spotless mind. it wasn’t exactly like dark side of the moon and the wizard of oz, but it was cool seeing the cinematography of the shore in the winter with the music on the album playing. a northeast beach in winter is bleak and desolate, but also beautiful, and a lot of those images still come back to me when i listen to these songs.
trying to put this album in perspective twenty years after it was released is interesting. i’ve listened to it hundreds of times from start to finish, and every time i think i’ve heard everything it has to offer something new sticks out to me. whether it’s a lyric that hits me in a new way or an instrument or sound layered in the background that adds a new dimension to a song, the mollusk is and always will be a rewarding listen.
in 2017, i can’t think of any bands that i’m familiar with who sound like they’ve been influenced by this album, or ween in general. and maybe that’s on me for not listening to enough new music, but it’s more likely that ween are a modern grateful dead: they’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do. and any band trying to imitate their sound and ideas are going to be called out very quickly.
“i’m dancing in the show tonight” opens the album perfectly. it’s a children’s song from the 50’s but the way they play it makes it feel like it was sung by pirate’s kids on ship-wide talent shows three hundred years ago. that segues into the title track which is wonderfully hypnotic and bleeds into “polka dot tail” that feels right at home with its playfulness.
“i’ll be your jonny on the spot” gives us our first inkling that maybe this isn’t the best album to put your kids to sleep to after all. “mutilated lips” reaffirms that notion, and has one of my favorite tone inflections (cadence, maybe?) in any ween song with the way gener kind of slowly sings “i said please calm it down… evvv-ree-thing is turning browwwn.” i love everything about that part. i’ll touch on “the blarney stone” in a little bit, but this is not just the perfect drinking song it seems on the surface.
as far as “it’s gonna be (alright)” goes, i’ve said this many times before, but i swear to god they have so many songs that if the songwriting credits read (lennon / mccartney) and not (freeman / melchiondo) many of them would be considered all time classics, and this is one of those songs that along with “birthday boy” and “i don’t want it” are some of the best breakup lyrics ever written.
“the golden eel” is the musical peak of the album. the bongo intro with the heavy synth or whatever it is comes in with the lyrics that gradually build up to the wall of sound chorus with the thundering drumbeat that comes back down again to another verse and chorus before deaner gets to really go off for the final minute while the chorus repeats and the drums keep stomping.
“cold blows the wind” is as haunting as it gets, and maybe the most shanty-esque song on the album. this sounds weird but i always picture the castle where duncan had his eyes torn out in the delightfully cheesy kevin costner robin hood movie prince of thieves. shoutout to maid marian.
“pink eye (on my leg)” is the brown instrumental break we’re all waiting for, and because of the repetitive barking in the background i’ve always pictured a three legged dog running around a pirate ship chasing the one toy he’s been given to play with by the guys but because they’re on the high seas it keeps sliding around the ship, which sounds like it would be frustrating, much like pink eye (on your leg).
it took me a long time to stop thinking that “waving my dick in the wind” was not on 12 gcc. maybe it’s because i love the version they play with the shit creek boys on live in toronto canada (quick aside: i love how they called it “live in toronto canada” and not just “live in toronto,” just to specify to their idiot fans which toronto the songs were played in), but it definitely sounds like a b-side from the 12 gcc sessions to me.
“buckingham green.” instant classic. the string arrangements, the drums, the marching pace of the music, the vocal effects, the lyrics, the title… one of ween’s best songs period.
“ocean man” is the song that you can tell people they like when they say they don’t like ween. everyone knows this song, whether it’s from the honda commercial or the spongebob movie. but i hear it as the last bit of lighthearted reprieve we get as listeners before the heavier, deeper finale.
besides knowing the words to songs, i’ve never paid much attention to the meaning behind the lyrics (to quote white men can’t jump, i listen, but i don’t hear), so forgive me if this has been obvious to everyone but me for the last twenty years:
i read that the story in “she wanted to leave” is the precursor to “blarney stone” in that the narrator in “leave” is on a boat with his woman, perhaps on a honeymoon with his new wife, when they get accosted by three men or pirates or whomever. the pirates take his lady, and she actually wanted to leave with them because she really loved one of them and not him.
Three men is all they were.
Three men out at sea.
Three men came aboard my ship and took my true love from me.
I couldn’t believe
She wanted to leave
She wanted to leave.I loved you so long.
Since you were a child.
I’ve cared for your every need.
I’ve tried to make you smile.
And all the while
You wanted to leave
You wanted to leave.Go gather the guns.
We’ll blast them at sea.
She begged for me not to shoot,
“For my true love is here with me.”
I’ve never loved thee
Now I must leave
Now I must leave.So go fetch a bottle of rum dear friends and fill up my glass to the rim.
For I’m not the man I used to be
Now I’m one of them.
then in “blarney stone,” which takes place many years later, this same guy, who in the current parlance of our times might be referred to as a “cuck,” is drinking himself into oblivion at a bar with no regard or care for any woman at all, still depressed at the past events on the open water.
i don’t care if either of those are true, it’s just another example at the depth of these songs that make up such a great album.
another thing ween fans say, and it’s true- that’s why we repeat ourselves on an infinite loop, is that ween’s b-sides are better than most band’s greatest hits albums. “kim smoltz,” recorded during the mollusk sessions, is a perfect example:
when they debuted this at their reunion run in broomfield last year it took people a few seconds to realize that we were actually seeing it happen, and luckily just about everyone there understood that it was a very cool moment and shut up for a few minutes so we could all enjoy it.
“wash me down” is an unreleased demo that would be right at home with the other session songs, and even though i can’t make out all the lyrics it’s become one of my favorite ween songs.
the mollusk at twenty. pretty amazing. at least once a year i try to listen to every ween album in order on a long drive or over a weekend, and while the pod is always going to be the brownest thing they’ve done, this and 12 gcc are the ones i look forward to on those listening sessions. not because either are my favorite, but because when you can put them in immediate context to the music that came before and after, it crystallizes how impressive this detour from the “usual” ween music people were expecting at the time was, and you really get a sense of how creative these guys can be.
i really hope the reunion means a future studio release, but when the music we already have is this good, it doesn’t really matter.
rise, boognish, rise.