Chocolate and Cheese
's fourth studio album. It was released in September of 1994, the first album since the band's first blip on the screen of popular culture
(they owe most of their fame to their previous album, Pure Guava
, on which their song "Push Th' Little Daisies
" was contained). This album spans more genres of music than most people can count on both hands unless they are polydactyl
, and for the first time the band really showed what they were capable of musically.
Ween's first studio album was God, Ween, Satan: The Oneness. The album is very interesting and has its musical gems, but one must be a very dedicated fan to listen to all of it. Quite a bit of it involves screaming or doing things like flushing a toilet and distorting the sound with special effects, then laughing about it. Their next album, The Pod, involved more of the same, but they got less outwardly silly and more confusing, and a lot of the songs are totally incomprehensible (not that it wasn't great in its own way as well). They claimed to be smoking a bong powered with Scotchgard, though that turned out to not be true. When Pure Guava came along, the band was signed to Elektra, which was strange but fortunate, and they hit the big time, for them anyway. This gave them the freedom to create Chocolate and Cheese, and gave them the audience to appreciate it.
The front cover of the album pictures a partially nude woman. She is wearing only a tiny shirt (which displays the bottoms of her breasts) and a belt that says "Ween" with their distinctive "Boognish" symbol. The leaders of Ween, Gene and Dean (a.k.a. Aaron and Mickey), were rather annoyed that they never got to meet the girl who did their cover, and they don't even know where the belt is now. That annoys them too.
Now, as mentioned, this is their most diverse album to date. There are some bands whose every song sounds almost the same, and then there are some bands whose songs all sound different and might even be in different styles, but you can still tell they're the same band. Not true of Chocolate and Cheese. Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) is a very talented lead vocalist, and he can do a thousand different singing voices. Sometimes he sounds like Prince. Sometimes like Elvis. Sometimes like a child. Sometimes like a Jewish cantor, an Arabic crooner, a medieval minstrel. Occasionally he even sounds like he is breathing helium. All on this one album. And Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) is amazing with the lead guitar; he is obviously as adept at classical guitar as he is at Santana-like leading lines. This album was the first one where they actually had a "band" (beyond Gene, Dean, and Tape Deck); two "regulars," Andrew Weiss (their mixer and bassist) and Claude Coleman (their drummer) joined up and toured with them for this album.
So, on to some details. The album opens with "Take Me Away." A sort of hyped-up fifties rock riff is going on throughout the song, and Gene sounds like a strange version of Elvis. He periodically throws in a "Thank you" as he sings, and faint applause is heard. Though backed with electric guitar, it sounds very before-their-time with its traditional meter and subject matter ("Gotta get away from that girl before she drives me crazy"). One can almost see Gener thrusting his hips as he sings this one.
On to a very, very odd song. "Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)" follows the fifties swing, and uses synthesizers and vocal effects to portray the predicament of a poor child with spinal meningitis begging Mommy not to let the doctor hurt him again, and asking pitifully if he is going to die. The chorus reads, "Smile on mighty Jesus, spinal meningitis got me down," which refers to the fact that the band members encountered a group of people who apparently thought they'd said "Smile on mighty Jesus" when they'd really said "spinal meningitis." The haunting synthesized music is very creepy, the band has referred to it as "spiney," which is appropriate for such a song. Shortly before the end of this song, we hear a chainsaw in the background and Gener imitating the little kid screaming.
Of course, then we change directions completely, going into "Freedom of '76." This one had a video that depicted Gene and Dean stealing the Liberty Bell. The song sounds like a seventies ballad, and Gener sings in a falsetto voice through the entire thing like a member of the Four Seasons. Of course, though it sounds like it could have come right out of the seventies, we are still treated to "fucked up Ween lyrics" such as "My girl Sasha wants cheap tricks, Mannequin was filmed at Woolworth's, Boyz II Men still keepin' up the beat." We delight in the smoothness and innocence of Gene's voice, but then we're accosted by the next song.
"I Can't Put My Finger On It." Gene suddenly acquires a Spanish accent, though when this song is performed in concert it sounds more Middle Eastern, and it tends to be preluded with a very strange distorted almost-yodel concert. The guitar is very caustic and scratchy, and the whole song sounds a bit like it was recorded from far away. There is a strange calming interlude in between verses, when Deaner offers up a short melody on the guitar that is reminiscent somehow of the ocean. This one also had a video, and parts were filmed in some guy's deli or something, so he got to randomly be in the video.
"A Tear for Eddie," the album's only instrumental, comes next. It is rare that Ween does a totally instrumental song, but here Deaner makes it shine. It is soulful and sort of sad, and a little hypnotic because it is slightly repetitive. The "Eddie" they speak of here is a guy called "Eddie Dingle," who does guest vocals on one song on God, Ween, Satan: The Oneness. I have forgotten why they are shedding a "tear" for him.
Now we go into an almost bubble-gum pop song, except that the vocals sound like the effects of helium and there is bad carnival music going on through the whole thing. "Roses are Free" is a rhyming song and fairly disturbing, but it does have nice harmony, which is a great treat when the Ween "brothers" choose to subject us to it. My favorite line in this song is "Resist all the urges that make you wanna go out and kill."
Of course, then the album changes its mind about what it wants to be again, and an actual serious song comes on: "Baby Bitch." It could be any "lost love" song (except for a couple of trademark Ween lines, like "I'm better now, please fuck off" and "Fuck you, you stinkin' ass ho"). It tells the sad story of Gene's relationship with a girl who made his life hell for a while. One of his earlier songs, "Birthday Boy" from God, Ween, Satan: The Oneness, was dedicated to her. Haunting harmony is added to this song, almost unnoticeable but beautiful. It's definitely one of the songs that showcases the band's songwriting and composition skills.
"Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony?" sounds a bit like "Roses are Free," but is definitely stranger. This one is (I believe) sung by Dean instead, and he begs for someone to please help his pony. At times it definitely sounds like the song is a metaphor for impotence ("Mister, would you please help my pony, he's down and he ain't gettin' up, he coughed up snot in the driveway"). But then he goes on about how he thinks it's the pony's lung. It's a catchy one that will sound very odd if you get caught singing it in school or work.
Now we have sing-along time. "Drifter in the Dark" is a bit of a lazy song that features a harmonica solo. The lead vocal line is repeated by a drunk-sounding chorus, every line. In concert, this drunken repetition is usually played by the audience. It's a slow, silly song that doesn't really go anywhere, but is fun anyway.
Then comes the album's smash hit, if one can be chosen: The famous "Voodoo Lady." This had a somewhat popular video, featuring Gene and Dean boogying to tribal-like drums . . . underwater, filmed in negative color, involving a fair amount of mysterious banana-eating and candle burning. (With a random scene of Dean in a tuxedo falling off a building, of course.) This song is one to dance to, with its intoxicating beat and catchy chorus of "She drives me crazy with that boogie, boogie, boogie . . . " Much fun.
A repetitive and not-all-that-interesting song comes next, "Joppa Road." It might be catchy if the words ever repeated themselves exactly, but they don't . . . it's just a guy talking to his girlfriend about going down Joppa Road. Not a remarkable song, but amusing because Gener randomly says at the end, "Baby, you look great today." When performing this song in concert, Gene has been known to start up that music, and then just say that, and inform his audience that that is all he is going to do of that song.
Of all the songs on the album, "Candi" most resembles the band's earlier work. It's a throwback. This song has a somewhat disturbing bass line and the entire song is highly distorted, especially the vocal. The song also carries on Ween's tradition of not being able to properly end a song, which is annoying but somehow comforting. Just when you think Dean is done saying "Candi . . . custard and berry . . . chocolate with cheese . . . " he starts up again. I don't know who Candi is.
"Buenas Tardes Amigo" is another one where Gener whips out his Spanish accent. It is by far the longest song on the album, and is a strange Spanish-sounding ballad about a man hunting down the man who killed his brother . . . only to reveal that he killed his own brother and is killing this other guy to put the blame off of himself.
Then we come to a song they got shit for: "The HIV Song." In an article or two that came out around the time of Chocolate and Cheese, they were asked why they made a song whose only lyrics were "AIDS!" and "HIV!" periodically shouted at strategic pauses in a string of peppy merry-go-round music. They replied that it wasn't saying anything about AIDS or HIV or making light of it. There's nothing to read into about it.
"What Deaner Was Talkin' About" doesn't make much sense, but then, this is Ween we're discussing here. Deaner, of course, is Dean Ween, but I don't know what he was talkin' about. The album changes gears again and goes back to semi-happy, slightly synthesized music. This song winds it down to a nice finish with . . .
"Don't Shit Where You Eat." Sage advice, as are the rest of the suggestions in the song, theoretically. It's a bit of a lazy song with nothing remarkable about it except for the charming little bit of guitar in the middle.
After exploring a billion different genres in one album, The Ween Machine moved to a beach house, began recording an album whose songs all had "ocean themes," and then their pipes burst and wrecked everything they had recorded. As a result, they released an album entirely comprised of country songs (12 Golden Country Greats), for which the band that played for Chocolate and Cheese was disbanded. They eventually released the "beach album," called The Mollusk, a little later. They continue to genre-bend to this day, and are scheduled to release another album soon (having followed The Mollusk with a live album called Paintin' the Town Brown and another studio release called White Pepper). I am hoping for more of Ween's eclectic menu.