These days there’s a cottage industry resurrecting not just the glories but also the social and technical inspirations behind your favourite albums. Whether it’s Ashley Kahn’s exhaustive book on the creation of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, or the overly technical Recording the Beatles, which details the knobs on the faders on the panel that they used at Abbey Road, it seems like we’re desperately trying to get in touch with the magic behind the music.
But what if this analysis wasn’t about such elusive long past icons? What if it was about the band that signed your smoking paraphernalia the first time they played at the Evelyn? What if it was about a band who inhaled copious amounts of Scotch Guard to record one of their albums that they named after the fly infected shack they were living in at the time? And what if it was about an album that totally turned your understanding of music on its head?
My first contact with Ween’s 1994 Chocolate and Cheese album was via the clip to the track I can’t Put My Finger On It which featured a couple of Lebanese butchers angrily waving their machetes. At the time my ears were still tainted by their one bona fide hit from their previous album Push the Little Daisies, so needless to say I was more than a little wary.
When I brought the album home the musical dexterity, the humour, the sheer inventiveness of the music was a revelation. More than faux Lebanese butchers there was silky smooth white boy soul, tripped out boogies and wacky songs about diseases. Genres were putty in their hands, but they came from a very wrong place.
It’s a point taken up by Hank Shteamer in his 33 1/3 (continuum) book on the album. He charts their development from an obnoxious band that most hated, through the 4 track stoner antics that landed them a major label deal, and finally Chocolate and Cheese, an album he views as a transition record, a link to their later more lush work, a move away from a drum machine and a duo to a live band and a force to be reckoned with. He goes into detail about each song, listing where it comes from through interviews with the band and assorted randoms like Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age).
It’s also not afraid to stretch; producer Andrew Weiss equates the HIV song with Neil Young’s Rockin in the Free World, which is pretty amazing for a song with just two words Aids and HIV. It was also their first digitally recorded album, in a rented space in an industrial estate; filled with stinking rubbish, empty beer bottles and noise wars with their dentist neighbour. He tells the story behind the infamous cover and the booze filled binge that produced the screams you can hear in the background to Candi. He talks of Ween folklore, the Boognish, being brown and ponies. In short he provides this album the kind of respect and analysis that a great and lasting album like Chocolate and Cheese richly deserves. And it’s endlessly fascinating.