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La Cucaracha

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Album Review

In the initial round of promotion for 2007's La Cucaracha, Ween's first album for Rounder and first in four years, Dean Ween called it a "party record, unlike our last record (Quebec) which was more of a Jonestown type party vibe," which is about as accurate a self-criticism as an artist has ever given. Quebec left a hazy, narcotic aftertaste that the giddy La Cucaracha blows away as the band reverts back to all their signatures: they never stay in one place too long, they spike most songs with their impish humor, and every track shows their knack for savvy, sly, odd arrangements. In that sense, the record could almost be seen as a back-to-basics album, as it's pitched somewhere between the sonics of Pure Guava and the sensibility of Chocolate and Cheese, but that's misleading, as it suggests that Ween are self-consciously striving to recapture past glories. Nothing could be further from the truth. La Cucaracha is the sound of Ween cutting loose, reveling in the lower budget and expectations an indie label brings, and playing music that simply sounds good. And, make no mistake, this is a party record — quite literally so, as it's bookended with the spangly, mariachi rock & roll instrumental "Fiesta" and the decadently suave "Your Party," two songs that explicitly celebrate parties. The latter features a divine cameo from David Sanborn, whose alto saxophone gives this lounge party precisely the right sense of velvet flair, and whose very presence signals just how far Ween have come as musicians since the heyday of The Pod and Pure Guava. Back then, they were wildly imaginative young punks, creating their own world on a four-track, but they continued to expand their horizons with each successive album for Elektra in the '90s, growing as writers and musicians with each LP.

With La Cucaracha, they return full circle, recording the album in a rented farmhouse in their hometown of New Hope, PA, and they seem re-energized by the smaller scale yet they don't abandon the frightening musical acumen they've garnered in the past 15 years. As such, the album is almost the best of both worlds: it has the devilish, off-kilter vibe of the earliest records but it's played with the skill of their latter-day albums, so this bounces from the elastic pop of "Blue Balloon" to the full-throated roar of "My Own Bare Hands," as punishing a rocker as they've ever cut. And while they never abandon genre-hopping — "The Fruit Man" is this album's excursion into reggae, "Spirit Walker" and the ten-minute "Woman and Man" their prog rock numbers — nothing feels like a deliberate parody. All the different musical strands feel fully absorbed, to the extent that when Gene Ween dips into Roger Miller nonsense on the chorus of the deliriously fun "Learnin' to Love," it doesn't seem like a send-up, it just feels like a natural move, an indication of how ferociously talented this duo is. At this point, 17 years after their debut, Ween may not surprise as often as they once did, but they've long ago transitioned away from relying on shock humor and have become one of the most consistently satisfying rock bands in America, and La Cucaracha captures them at a peak, which is surely reason enough to throw a party. After all, Ween have given you an ideal soundtrack for one with this album.

Biography

Formed: 1984 in New Hope, PA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Ween was the ultimate cosmic goof of the alternative rock era, a prodigiously talented and deliriously odd duo whose work traveled far beyond the constraints of parody and novelty into the heart of surrealist ecstasy. Despite a mastery for seemingly every mutation of the musical spectrum, the group refused to play it straight; in essence, Ween was bratty deconstructionists, kicking dirt on the pop world around them with demented glee. Along with the occasional frat-boy lapses into misogyny, racism,...
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La Cucaracha, Ween
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