No Joke: Chocolate and Cheese

I discovered rock music the same way a lot of other kids did in 1992: Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The song had been out a year and hit big in ’92. With that song I became a card carrying member of the 120 Minutes/Alternative Nation contingent aka Generation X (which i wasn’t old enough to be apart of actually). I devoured all of the Nirvana clone bands and other acts to emerge from the new alternative movement. The alternative nation had its own sound, language, and style. A counterculture to their parents counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s. The movement was about angst, social issues, depression, drug use, and flannel (I engaged in none of those things at the time but I enjoyed the music immensely).
While there was great music during this movement their wasn’t much musical diversity represented commercially. The alternative nation sound was quite homogenous in its style and themes (adults don’t get it and they suck). Radio stations found the format they were comfortable with (loud/quiet/loud/quiet) and embraced bands that helped create the alternative rock format for radio. Once the mainstream media began to analyze the culture, more light was placed on the artists that fulfilled the long hair/doc martens/heroin addict stereotype. The sound, style, and approach was dictated within the group and reinforced via mainstream media “What’s wrong with these kids??” pieces.

When "Sixspence none the richer" chick met "Ten" dude (Movie: Singles)

It was a great era but the one critique I have is it didn’t promote diversity within rock as the genre today does. If you walk down the street and ask someone who their favorite band is, the answer will vary stylistically, thematically, and musically. In the 70’s we had Soft Rock, Progressive Rock, and traditional Rock. In the 80’s you had Metal and New Wave. The 90’s had Alternative Rock and Nu Metal. Today all of those styles and others from previous eras are embraced by the current wave of artists. You have quiet bands, Hard Rock bands, Country bands, Indie bands, Dance Rock bands, New Wave etc. Rock/Indie or whatever you want to call it today is built on progressiveness. Someone’s always one upping a style that someone else created a week or 30 years ago. This was not a valued quality in the 92-99 commercial rock sphere. This leads us (finally right?!) to the subject of this post:

Chocolate & Cheese by Ween (1994)

90's weirdo geniuses

I remember seeing the video for the single “Freedom of ’76” on 120 minutes and being utterly confused. Why are these white guys singing like black dudes? What are they doing invading my two hours of alt guitar rock goodness? Why doesn’t this song have soft/loud transitions? Where’s the guitar action?! That was my and a lot of peoples reactions to the brothers Ween who stood out like a sore thumb in the midst of the 90’s alternative revolution. Their music was a big inside joke. A wink between them and the people who got “it”. If you didn’t know what “it” was, you felt insecure and left out. You have to remember that music was beyond sinserious at that time. The major alternative acts were writing material about their generations issues from teen suicide to the effects of a previous generations war to broken homes. You could see how a lighthearted song about the theft of the Philadelphia Liberty Bell would be seen as a interruption to generation x’s pity party and collective therapy session. “Freedom of ’76” the first single is a doo wop style soul song. It stood out in all the wrong ways at the time due to its light heartedness and that it wasn’t a rock song. The video consisted of the brothers Ween stealing the Philadelphia Liberty Bell, getting caught, and the insane media coverage of their trial. A girl who puts down her copy of Ghost World to watch the new Jeff Buckley “Last Goodbye” video back in 1994 would not have transitioned well to the “Freedom of ’76” video. We were in a perpetual bummer state of mind and didn’t need anyone to try and make things better or crack a joke. Although Ween had a serious cult following, majority of the alt kids that I knew saw Ween as a joke.
Why is Chocolate and Cheese a classic album? Numerous reasons…
Kicking off the album with the song “Take Me Away”, Gene Ween sounds like Robert Goulet mixed with a desperate lounge singer. It’s roots rock mixed with washed up lounge music. If you bought the album thinking you would get “Freedom of ’76” soul cuts then you were in for a surprise. The diversity of styles for Chocolate and Cheese spans across various genres. There’s a country song (Drifter In The Dark), a instrumental with a filthy guitar solo (A Tear For Eddie), 70’s A.M pop (Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony?) and many other styles presented throughout the recording. They attempt and win with their interpretations of Pop, R&B, Soul, Funk, and Country. You would think because the album takes on various genres that it is unfocused. That’s anything but the case as Ween had a unique ability to play a particular style while making it fit within an album format.
The subject matter on Chocolate and Cheese is funny and sometimes downright offensive (I had never seen a rock album with a “Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics” sticker before Chocolate and Cheese). Reading the track listing before you even listen to the album you’ll be sure to laugh. The riot doesn’t stop once you begin to listen. There’s a song (I Can’t Put My Finger On It) which a song version of the game “Twenty Questions”. There’s a song (Baby Bitch) about seeing a ex that you went through hell with. What’s funny about this song is the gangster rap line out of nowhere: “Fuck you, you stinkin ass ho”. It’s a beatles-eques tune that has a few explicit lyrics within it. Charming. There’s “Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony?” a strange song which seems to be about a kid asking a stranger to assist his pony who’s in poor health due to the kid putting a lit cigarette in the animals mouth. “Buenas Tardes Amigo” is a spaghetti western revenge story where they only use the most common spanish words anyone who’s ignorant to the language would use (fiesta, cinco de mayo, hola). There’s other satirical songs on the album such as “The HIV Song” (a positive song actually) and “Don’t Shit Where You Eat” (self explanatory). While the album is funny in select areas, the music is professional and beautifully played. A perfect combination.
What made for bad reception with a typical 1994 listener (varied approach and themes, unpredictable song structures, etc) is what makes Chocolate and Cheese timeless. The album is not a period piece indebted to the guitar gods of the 90’s like most alternative albums at that time. Because of this it’s not easily dated when you listen to it like most 90’s bands. You wouldn’t be able to say what era it came from if you didn’t know when it was released due to its diversity and weirdness. It’s originality as well as its individuality aligns it with no scene or style within the last 30 years.
What cuts through after listening to Chocolate and Cheese a couple of times is Ween wrote great songs. The delivery, the timing, and the messengers (Ween) could confuse some listeners and make them not take the music portion seriously. Don’t let it happen to you. These are great songs.
The album is dedicated to John Candy. How could you not love that?!
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One Response to No Joke: Chocolate and Cheese

  1. thai seo says:

    howdy Classics Party , i read your blog , be a nice blog and perfect. Good for everyone. bulk Classics Party Blog and Ween content. i will visit to read and comment your site.

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