By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Through the past, darkly
12 Golden Country Greats
Brazil's Sepultura borrows flavors from the Indians of its home. America is way ahead of Brazil in killing aborigines, so when the merry de-/re-constructionists of Ween turn to our past, they go not with the natives, but with the winners.
From the cowhand on the cover to the songs within, Country Greats pretends to be something it isn't, yet doesn't really seem to care if you notice or not. Put it on in the background and it seems standard, at least until you notice song titles such as "Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain." The modern world is a violent, dirty place, Ween says; real cowboys would wax incontinent if they ever saw its savagery.
Country Greats creates an exact replica of country music, but while modern country addresses pressing issues like dying sweeties and fluffy baby ducks, Ween invites you into the double-wide to see how people really live, an unending procession of body fluids, obscenity, disaster, and mayhem.
It's a genre-fisting that turns things inside out. Every weeping steel lick and tinkling piano part is perfectly played while the narrator thrashes through everyday atrocities, attacking challenges like, well, a Japanese cowboy ("Japanese Cowboy"), or hollering, "My dinner's on fire while I'm watchin' TV" ("Piss Up a Rope"). The cliche introduction of sidemen on one song starts out ordinarily enough, then switches to a rant by Muhammed Ali.
What's puzzling is the lack of heat. Country Greats is the kind of parody that's always on the verge of hateful, yet Ween--redeemed somehow by the exactitude of its approach? (not bloody likely)--isn't nearly as cruel or as obnoxious as you'd expect, except perhaps on the disc-closing "Fluffy," a tale of a dog wandering off, "chasing the other doggies on the path," and then coming back. Set against sad, thoughtful music, the teller of Fluffy's tale seems to have suffered some sort of severe head injury; it's hard to keep from thinking of his companions on the porch--girlfriend and pooch--as murdered, stuffed, and mounted, not necessarily in that order. Ween's big drawback--a maddening sense of self-amusement--seems oddly under control throughout. No one will ever accuse a song titled "Mr. Richard Smoker" of subtlety, but as Ween cheerfully sings of "little boys on crystal meth" and Jacuzzi-based abominations over a peppy Dixieland accompaniment, the band betrays an unsettling absence of opinion that ultimately dooms Country Greats to novelty status a la Dr. Demento.