Making a successful experimental rock concept album is not an easy undertaking. Ween's newest creation, The Mollusk-- which lurks through humored rants and muddied chants, a limited spectrum of folk drones and a flirtation with quirky electronica--tries so hard to unite its songs in a coherent, enjoyable progression that it never finds a central logic.
Don't worry about spending too much time searching for the particular concept Ween is striving for. Marine analogy and self-critical reflection never really turn up any common thread through topics ranging from carnal zeal to regret for lost love.
Relationships come the closest to a uniting subject, but what concept album doesn't concern them? In the undulating "She Wanted To Leave," Ween summarizes The Mollusk's typical lyrical plight: "Three men came aboard my ship/And took my true love from me/I couldn't believe/She wanted to leave." Forty-four minutes of the sea as a vehicle for reflection on social interaction may not have been the right choice for Ween's ultimate purpose.
So what exactly is the connection between aquatic animals and love? Any reasonable answer is definitely a reach for any imagination, yet Ween makes a viable attempt. The conversational title track speaks of the mollusk "emulating the ocean's sound," an underwater prophet of the trinity "casting light at the sun with its wandering eye." Although absurdly heavy, the lyrics appear to have direction.
Religious allusion fits perfectly into the band's concept album mold--especially as a slap in the face of the irreverence usually associated with the genre. Blending in with the sanctimonious flow, the mantra "Let's be forever, let forever be free" brings the religious overtones to a new dimension. Barring the colorful electronic twinkle repeated throughout "The Mollusk," the lyrical gravity of this song belies the guitar-strumming sappiness.
Moving on to lighter subjects, The Mollusk continues to build mini-stories around a whale and eel. Resembling The Beatles' "Octopus' Garden" a little too closely, "Polka Dot Tail" couples the eternal question "Have you ever seen a whale/With a polka dot tail" with "Have you ever tried to shrink/Like an ice cube in the sink." Apparently these are pertinent questions to the waterlogged minds of Ween's 11 band members. Exploring nothing musically or lyrically novel, "The Golden Eel" trudges through an unrevealing revelation: "Watching the eel/Help me find the way home...Daylight has come/I can not repeal/The words of the golden eel." The biggest problem for these two songs is not simply the uninventive prose but the gap in musical originality.
"Mutilated Lips" is a bit more successful; the ocean imagery is notably entertaining if not more enigmatic ("Mutilated lips give a kiss on the wrist/Of the worm like tips of tentacles expanding/In my mind, I'm fine, accepting only fresh brine"), as distorted vocals play off a mysterious, entrancing groove. The drugged-up atmosphere adds to the impression that Ween spends too much time detached from reality. On the path to songs with music and lyrics that actually coexist peacefully and beautifully, "Ocean Man" is about halfway to triumph. Sedate country-flavored guitar licks and thick, echoing vocals lay out an animated melodic atmosphere that may wake up the part of the brain that craves novelty rock. Keeping it asleep may be the better option.
At points, The Mollusk strays from the misguided water creature stories, coming alive on songs that happily reject oceanic representation for unadorned raucousness and personal sentiment. "The Blarney Stone" is an Irish pub romp of sex and drunken chicanery ("Who's that girl, that pretty young thing/After I fuck her she'll get up and sing/Sharpen your boot, bludgeon your eye/The Blarney Stone brings a tear to me eye") that sticks out like a sore thumb. Tapping into a similar stylistic tradition, "Waving My Dick In The Wind" hastily ponders loneliness in a humorous jaunt.
Although Ween really picks up the tempo only with some horribly repetitive electronica and an absolutely pointless tale in "I'll Be Your Jonny On The Spot," they do break up the monotony of the ocean waves at the album's beginning, adding an uncluttered dimension to the album by simply being basic.
Within the not-so-confining boundaries of their briny expanse, Ween compiles a set of songs that could make up a workable concept album--except there is no commonality to strike any mental or emotional chord. Even the unrequited love song "It's Gonna Be (Alright)" is passive; cliched lyrics ("So many dark and lonely nights/But I believe someday I'll see the light") contribute to the already blase sounds and harmonic whispers of the static background.
For The Mollusk, the experimental means to an end do not provide any substance. That Ween was up to the challenge is valiant, but the subject matter flattens any hope for success. Maybe next time the group will look to a brighter, more accessible topic and shock the music world with an unpredictable comic brilliance. For now, though, The Mollusk crawls on by with little notice.