As a fan of movies and music, I am interested in examining the output of directors and musical artists chronologically, observing how their work changed and developed over time. In this column, I proceed album by album and film by film, until I’ve covered the gross yield of that musician/band or director. Often, I select artists with which I am only somewhat familiar, if at all.
Film – Sam Peckinpah
Music – Ween
Craters of the Sac (1999, Internet-Only) and Shinola Vol. 1 (2005, Chocodog)
Craters of the Sac – Painting the Town Brown, Ween’s first live album (discussed next week), was originally intended to be self-released, presumably at a low price since it seems to have been intended as a thank you to their fans. Due to their contract with Elektra at the time, however, they had to allow the label to release the album when Elektra decided Painting the Town Brown sounded profitable, a maneuver that has been pointed to as a deciding factor in Ween heading back to an independent. Not long after this change, an unofficial Ween album entitled Craters of the Sac (yes, that Sac) appeared on the Internet. The band have never officially claimed the album, but it seems to be accepted that Ween are responsible for its release. Three of the nine songs later appear on Shinola, Vol. 1 in quite different forms, but the other six tracks have never had an official release. Those who miss the early, lo-fi days of Ween will likely enjoy the rough, demo-like quality of Craters of the Sac (once they get past the close-up of scrotum on the cover (notice I didn’t include a picture)).
Speaking of demos, however, a number of these songs are quite brief, long enough to get down the basic idea of the song, but too short to really be called finished, setting sound quality aside and speaking solely of composition. Not that length signifies degree of completion. Sure, there have been plenty of songs under two-minutes in length (see the entire history of punk rock), but these are more like snippets of longer songs. I’m speaking specifically of the following: “All That’s Gold Will Turn Black”; “The Pawns of War,” which sounds more like The Wall era Pink Floyd than they ever have; “How High Can You Fly?,” which displays the potential that would be realized in its Shinola version, and “Suckin’ Blood from the Devil’s Dick” (sorry, Mom), a minute and forty-four seconds of punk-metal as sleazy as the title implies. On second thought, that last one is actually a complete song. It’s just ridiculous. On the other hand, we have a couple songs that overstay their welcome: “Big Fat Fuck” (sorry, Mom), which has one idea and continues it for seven minutes (mercifully shortened to three on Shinola), and “Monique the Freak,” perhaps THE most direct Prince tribute that they have ever composed. Even as a funk jam, it’s a little long here at ten minutes, but would be shortened to a more reasonable six on Shinola, Vol. 1. The remaining three songs all land in the standard pop song duration of three-to-four minutes: “Put the Coke On My Dick” (once again: sorry, Mom), perhaps unsurprisingly, is a dirty rock song that takes every last scrap of innuendo out of most 1980s hair metal songs and stomps on it; “Makin’ Love in the Gravy” is mildly interesting blues rock; and “The Stallion Pt. 5” continues the journey of the titular steed with a classic rock radio imitation. While there is nothing new here, in that Craters of the Sac retreads ground the band has covered before, it’s free. Still, despite its attractive price, I’d only recommend big fans of Ween take the time to listen.
Shinola, Vol. 1 – Like Craters of the Sac, Shinola, Vol. 1 only sort of fits the category “B-Sides.” In fact, it falls somewhere in-between a b-sides album and a proper studio album. Rather than being a collection of songs that originally appeared on the “b-sides” of previous singles, Shinola, Vol. 1 contains new studio recordings of demos they’d recorded in the past, many of which had seen some sort of unofficial release. Most notably, three of the songs appeared in rougher versions on Craters of the Sac, as discussed above. That said, this sounds like a collection of b-sides and was not intended to be seen as a proper album. Of course, saying that the songs sound as if they do not belong together means very little for a band that released Chocolate and Cheese, but the fact that songs, taken as a whole, are of a lesser quality than most of those appearing on their official studio albums does lend itself toward seeing this as a collection of numbers gathered from the vaults.
“Tastes Good On Th’ Bun” begins Shinola, Vol. 1. It’s nearly an instrumental, as the lyrics consist solely of the title repeated over a guitar riff and a drum machine. It’s of marginal interest. “Boys Club” is a touch better; it’s a sunny jaunt celebrating discreet gay sex (of course). Among the songs here that outshine some of the tracks on proper Ween albums, “I Feel In Love Today” is a bluesy rocker of the sort The Beatles got interested in during their Abbey Road days. While “Big Fat Fuck,” which appeared on Craters of the Sac, doesn’t benefit much from better production and a shorter length, following it is another highlight: “Gabrielle.” The delivery during the verses of this one reminds me of Damn the Torpedoes era Tom Petty. It blows away anything on Quebec or La Cucaracha; I really like it. “Did You See Me?,” “How High Can You Fly” and “Transitions” all display Ween’s proclivity for 60s and 70s psychedelic-y rock. All three songs are decent, and “How High Can You Fly,” unlike “Big Fat Fuck,” becomes more impressive than its Craters of the Sac version with the benefit of better production and an altered running length. “Isreal” is odd: it features a smooth jazz instrumental combined with a recording of what sounds like a Jewish Christopher Walken extolling the Almighty… Hmm. Moving on, “The Rift” is another trippy rock track, the kind that Dean and Gene produce like Spaghetti Western stars exude sweat. Wrapping up Shinola, Vol. 1 we get “Monique the Freak” and “Someday.” The former is a studio version of the demo that appeared on Craters of the Sac, here trimmed to just under six minutes. Also, the chorus has been treated with an effect to sound electronic. Along with “I Fell In Love Today” and “Gabrielle,” this track stands out at worthy of inclusion on a regular Ween album. “Someday” is pretty good also; it’s among the better ballads the band has produced. While Shinola, Vol. 1. actually costs cash money, it is more worthy of your time than Craters of the Sac.