Second Listen: “The Pod”

the pod

Every week in Second Listen, Frank Macarthy takes a closer look at some of the lesser-known albums put out by well-known musicians.

“…In the time this album was completed, we filled up 3,600 hours of tape, and inhaled 5 cans of Scotchgard. This album was then produced and mixed by Andrew Weiss (our pal) at the Zion House of Flesh, Hopewell, New Jersey. Straight to DAT Mang. Mean Ween played the bass on ‘Alone’ and that’s him on the cover doin’ up some Scotchgard powered bongs. We got evicted on October 1, 1991. But Dave Ayers says he’s gonna help us out…”

That’s Ween keeping it classy in the liner notes of their second studio album, The Pod – exactly how a band that worships the demon god of money and power should preface their album. Recorded on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, The Pod is an escape to the simpler times of Ween. Before the record deal. Before the U.S. chart-reaching single. Before the independent label (Chocodog Records – check it out). Before the drummer.

In the mid 1980s, Dean and Gene Ween (Deaner and Gener) took a few too many drugs and started a band called Ween. They were experimental to say the least. Their first album, God Ween Satan, established a cult following and ultimately guaranteed them a record deal. Well, not exactly right away; it was after their second album, The Pod, that they were offered a deal at Elektra. Many critics questioned this move by Elektra, tagging Ween as nothing but weird stoners who barely knew how to play their instruments. Well, most of that is true. But, eight studio albums and countless live albums (many bootlegged) have changed the minds of at least some of those critics.

The album received mixed reviews. Some saw it as a brilliant lo-fi, avant-garde experiment. Others just thought it was weird. It is weird. But, good weird. The kind of weird that you totally listen to on your iPod, but won’t listen to in front of your friends in case they judge you because of it. You won’t hear it being blasted from a car driving down Michigan Avenue anytime soon. The Pod is not an album you would want to put on at a party, unless you are doing Scotchgard at that party. But, surprisingly, this doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic album, even if fantastic may be a little overzealous.

“Dr. Rock” was one of my first experiences with Ween, and remains as one of my favorites. The muddy guitar riffs paired with the lo-fi modulated voice just works. It makes you want to scream “Doctor Rock!” at your speakers along with the song.  A few of the songs on this album have that effect. “Sketches of Winkle” sounds like a Motorhead song recorded off the radio with a handheld tape deck. Somehow, in a good way. Other tracks slow down the pace of the album, though. “Right to the Ways and Rules of the World” has the dreamy vocals of early Pink Floyd (the Syd Barrett years), with a droning synth riff backing it. Droning is a good way to categorize the album holistically. But that’s about the only thing that ties the album together as a coherent work.

Genres do not exist for Ween. They transcend every style of music that has ever been and probably ever will be. “Oh My Dear (Falling in Love)” is proof of this. Picture a not-so-wholesome Simon and Garfunkel. There’s something amiss, but you can’t put your finger on it. “Pork Roll Egg and Cheese” has no comparison. No simile or metaphor could describe this piece of music in any comparable way to another musician’s style. It’s just Ween. It’s genreless. And it’s wonderful.

…And then there’s the Scotchgard side of the album.

Although both Deaner and Gener have admitted that the Scotchgard liner note was a joke (they said it was the scummiest thing they could think of, and they’re right), some of these tracks don’t make any damn sense. Songs like “Boing” and “Moving Away” barely sound like music. Strange sound effects, out of tune instruments, and crying babies all make an appearance on The Pod. And that’s just the tip of the “what-the-fuckberg?” What do you expect from a band named Ween?

As a whole, The Pod is, well…difficult. Hell, some tracks are practically unlistenable. But, there’s something charming about this original Ween lineup, one that included a drum machine instead of a real drummer. Ween has always been better live. Their energy and actual full band really fill out the songs in a way that doesn’t seem to transfer well to the studio. That is not to say that they don’t have a collection of great studio albums. Even that country one is really good. But their early stuff is sometimes hard to swallow, especially for someone new to Ween. Don’t let your first Ween song be “She Fucks Me,” as you probably won’t like it right away. Parts of Ween must be eased into. The Pod isn’t the best album for this; maybe start with White Pepper. Make sure you go back and check out The Pod, though. Learn to love the Boognish, and then you will enjoy The Pod.