If the rumors are true and we’re dealing with a clean and sober Ween, then these are troubled times, indeed. After eight albums and two masterful and expletive-laden Pizza Hut jingles, the brothers Ween need to strap on that jammy pac to have any chance of coming up with something new. The title track on the Friends EP, Dean and Gene’s first new release since 2003’s Quebec, is an appropriation of a Pet Shop Boys dance number, with brilliantly simple lyrics like “A friend’s a friend who knows what being a friend is.” It’s jarring, for sure, but it’s an interesting stretch for Ween, which has never done roller-disco-meets-gay-bar electronica before. On “I Got to Put the Hammer Down,” Ween goes the complete opposite direction, channeling Gibby Haynes and a drum machine.
Of all the Ween-isms, of all the Boognishes that can rise, the worst of all are the pitch-shifted vocals. But second worst is when Gene decides to put on a Mexican voice, as he does on “King Billy,” a sort of Inner Circle version of the band’s own “Nicole” from Godweensatan (1990). “Light It Up” is essentially Ween taking the common denominator from Santana’s “Smooth” and six or seven Ricky Martin songs and putting funny nonsense lyrics over the music instead of the plain old nonsense of the others.
One of the band’s great strengths has always been its ability to absorb genre archetypes and spit out brilliant, form-perfect niche songs with lyrics that made it okay to like the song’s campiness. They seem to have packed up that cleverness with their Scotchgard bongs and headed straight for the wishy-washy world of adult contemporary without even knowing it.
What happens when a perennially immature band grows up? Clearly, Dean and Gene Ween can’t put their finger on it.