Ween

quebec (Sanctuary Records)

During its longest period between albums, Ween has endured one emotional jolt after another: Touring drummer extraordinaire Claude Coleman survived a near-fatal car accident, uninsured; the band got more attention for a commissioned but never aired Pizza Hut jingle called "Where'd the Cheese Go?" than for releasing any backlogged collectibles; and the group parted ways with Elektra, a sort of bullying foster parent since 1992's unlikely major-label debut, Pure Guava.

Amputation has never been so liberating. The great white hopes from New Hope, Pennsylvania, Dean and Gene Ween may not be feeling like world-beaters lately, but they've just issued what's arguably their best album to date: A long-player as psychedelically adventurous as the Beatles' White Album, as warm and hopeless as any of Syd Barrett's cockeyed, pastoral musings, and more evocative and American-sounding than anything released by the Band and the Grateful Dead combined. Harking back to the hyper-creative bedroom experiments of the band's blissfully directionless salad days on Shimmy Disc, quebec (all lowercase, no accent) has something gloss-free and glorious for everyone -- even fickle Franco-Canadians in these times of anti-French hysteria.

Recording in found locations like living rooms and sheds gave this tremendously satisfying release a long-lost sense of spontaneity -- one that's missing from both the nautically themed Molluskand the overly polished White Pepper. "It's Gonna Be a Long Night" storms out of the gates Lemmy-style in praise of black-and-blue oblivion only to shift 180 degrees for the soothing track that follows: an ode to crank's far less rowdy cousin, "Zoloft." With the broadest palette of brain chemistry available, the brothers settle into a gorgeously unified and refined sound from the late-'60s and early-'70s psychedelic era, dressed to the nines in bearskins and beads, eulogizing evolution ("Transdermal Celebration"), electric sitars ("Tried and True") and the oh-so-stoic pride of the American Indian ("Among His Tribe"). Having mastered every conceivable permutation in the musical spectrum this side of the Gregorian chant, Ween reins in its snarkier tendencies for a goof on shut-ins ("So Many People in the Neighborhood") and updates The Pod's 1991 "Awesome Sound" with three minutes' worth of deliberately irritating but funny start/stop instrumental Weenness ("The F**ked Jam"). The contagiously happy vaudeville stylings of "Hey There, Fancypants" recall "Mr. Richard Smoker" from the band's Nashville-baiting era, while "Chocolate Town," a tender, if poop-obsessed, answer to the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville," marks a crowning achievement in songwriting. As does "If You Could Save Yourself (You'd Save Us All)," a sweeping operatic tale (and possibly the duo's parting shot to Elektra) that sums things up with faux-tragic brilliance: "I was on my knees when you knocked me down/The wheels fell off/ The bottom dropped out/ The checks all bounced/I came in your mouth/Your mother came calling but there was no one around/The trash caught fire when the leaves turned brown/The vultures were circling when the circus left town/I left you a note but I wrote it in disappearing ink."

More independent now than the namesake province of its eighth album, Ween still astounds.

 
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