I’m writing this today because I’ve run out of things to say about the general election. What will be, will be. I would like to apologise also to anyone coming onto this page from somewhere other than the UK, and/or who googled “The Pod” in 2023 and have been thrown by this introductory paragraph. Don’t worry, it’s all Ween from here on.
The Ween are a band – and with Ween, “band” almost doesn’t apply – that came together in 1984 when two teenagers in New Hope, Pennsylvania, Aaron and Micky, decided to make music together. They chose the name Ween because it is a crude portmanteau of wuss and penis, a decision that tells you a lot about the aesthetic of the band up front. Both of the members played guitar and performed the vocals; the rhythm section was provided by drum machines and samplers, although they had a friend named Chris who sometimes played bass for them.
They started out making four-track recordings of their song ideas. The early stuff shows they had an eclectic mixture of influences, so they genre hopped a lot. This would continue throughout their whole discography, even once they had signed to a major label. They decided to follow-up their 1994 album “Chocolate and Cheese”, which had been a minor hit in 90s alternative-land, with “12 Country Greats”, which a lot of those who became fans due to “Chocolate and Cheese” might have been disappointed to discover wasn’t an ironic title like “Mellow Gold” but instead an exact description of the album’s content – a real, honest to goodness country and western record, where Aaron and Mickey hired a group of actual Nashville session musicians to make it sound authentic.
“The Pod” was the band’s second album. It’s the only Ween album I really, really love, and I love it quite a bit. I’m not on the side of accepted opinion on this, I should point out here. The generally accepted perspective on Ween is that “Pure Guava”, their follow up to “The Pod”, is the first album in their discography worth listening to, a sort of primer for “Chocolate and Cheese”, which is their masterpiece. Then they blew it with the stupid country album and only obsessives care about anything that followed.
It certainly doesn’t help that Ween made “The Pod” as inaccessible as they could. The sound is muddy as hell. Several of the songs are so jokey, either Aaron, Mickey or both of them break down laughing in the middle of them. If one wanted to be as literal as possible with the lyrics, it could be taken as being a concept album about a man who calls himself Rip Van Winkle who gets mononucleosis and decides to recuperate by eating nothing but Mexican food and pork and cheese kaiser roll sandwiches.
They put the worst song by miles and miles on the record, a song that is exponentially poorer than anything else on “The Pod”, something that barely qualifies as a song in any sense, as the lead off track. “Strap On that Jimmy Pac” is, I have always assumed at least, intentionally awful. It involves sections of silence, broken by a drum snare hit followed by out of tune guitar and one of the Ween-ers mumbling the name of the song as if he were drunk out of his mind. And it’s a whole three minutes long. Despite “The Pod” being one of my favourite albums in the history of music, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever listened to “Strap on that Jimmy Pac” all the way through even once.
I perversely love that Ween did this. It reminds me of an early Werner Herzog film called “Fata Morgana”, which begins with a shot of a plane coming into land from the other end of a runway; no music, no cuts, just a 90-second shot of a plane landing. And then this happens again from the same camera angle, just another plane landing. This happens five more times. When asked why he began his film this way, Herzog said he “wanted to sort the audience out”. “The Pod” likewise wants to make sure that you’re really committed, right from the start.
The rest of the album is fabulous. It ranges from parody metal songs (“Dr Rock”, “Sketches of Winkle”, “Can U Taste the Waste”), dark, slow ballads (“Sorry Charlie”, “Right to the Ways and the Rules of the World”, “Laura”), what Ween at the time seemed to think of as pop music (“Oh My Dear (Falling in Love)”, “Pork Roll Egg and Cheese”) and songs that are nothing but elaborate (or not so elaborate in some cases) jokes (“Molly”, “Awesome Sound”, “The Stallion (parts 1 and 2)”).
Instead of trying to dissect the album track by track, here’s some basic things about “The Pod” to know before deciding if you want to dive in. The cover is just that of 1975’s “The Best of Leonard Cohen” with the head of a man wearing a nitrous oxide gas mask superimposed over where Cohen’s head originally sat, and the album details for “The Pod” placed over the ones that had been on the Cohen album – in the exact same font, obviously. In the press notes that accompanied the album’s release, it was said that Ween had conceived of and created the album under the constant influence of Scotchgard, a powerful solvent that can apparently get you high if you inhale enough of it in the right way. When some fans of the album supposedly began incorporating Scotchgard inhalation into their lifestyles, Ween had to admit that they had never done this themselves and only put it in the press release because “it was the most dirtbag thing we could think of”.
It’s entirely believable that “The Pod” was made under the influence of solvents. It was created instead while both members of the band apparently had mononucleosis, or were recovering from mono. The album was entirely recorded in their flat in Pennsylvania, which they had nicknamed “The Pod”, thus the name of the album. I suppose the reason I love the album so much is that it is its own self-contained little world; it demands that you accept its aesthetics or go away. Most of the music I love tends to do this to the listener, whether it be Eric Dolphy, Wu-Tang Clan, or Frank Zappa.
This demand makes it good music to escape into when the world seems cold. Perfect for this shitshow of an election campaign, in other words. Warning: do not use solvents as recreational drugs while listening to “The Pod”, even though it is supposed to help.