Ween has a perception problem: Non-fans know it best as a somewhat offensive, zany, wacko goofball outfit mainly out to parody and desecrate. But if no one's taking Ween seriously, we can safely blame the victims here, what with such career moves as openly discussing plans to spray diarrhea onto audience members from cannons during the live set piece "Poop Ship Destroyer." Fortunately, Ween also made a note-perfect, old-fashioned country album, 12 Golden Country Greats (1996), with a lineup of seasoned Nashville sidemen. While the band may insist it was meant as a sincere country-and-Western move, with songs like "Mr. Richard Smoker" ("Mr. Richard Smoker/ You're a poopie poker"), well, bullshit must be called.

But, no joke: White Pepper is a very good record, one with an agreeably wide sonic and emotional range. If Ween is still guilty of facile genre-hopping -- and this record seems more sincerely felt than that -- the influences here are Steely Dan ("Pandy Fackler" is Becker/Fagen damaged beyond coincidence) and the wide world of sometimes sunny, sometimes woozy neo-psychedelia. The ghosts of varied pop-psych forebears flit through the record, from XTC to 10cc and Pink Floyd to Alan Parsons, with the Beach Boys and the Beatles (or at least solo McCartney and Harrison) stopping in.

White Pepper was made with faux brothers Dean and Gene Ween's full touring band. And whether they're playing hard or soft, distorted or clear -- even in the midst of an absurdist take on fake-tropical Latin explosion -- the bandmembers are flawlessly in command of their various sounds. Ween's problem isn't really the band's problem -- it's the audience's. With the boring one-dimensionality of so many of today's pop artists, people seem to have forgotten how to react to witty, creative music-makers with well-rounded personalities. Real human beings can move from sweetly lilting tender thoughts about lovers ("Stay Forever") to sincerely felt, piqued lopes about ex-lovers ("Falling Out") to angry, thrashing, bragging, punky metal ("Stroker Ace") to elaborate gags about being stranded alone in a tropical cabana with nothing but cocaine and bananas to entertain oneself ("Bananas and Blow"). People like that make the best party guests, at least. And the best records.


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