Quick: skim a few reviews of Ween’s The Pod. If you’ve clicked this far, you’ve probably already read them. Track the adjectives that pop up again and again. “Sludgy” is a big one. “Murky,” too. “Fuzzy,” maybe. Or simply “slow” (online critic Mark Prindle styles it “sloooooooooooooooooooow” to get the point across).
It’s not hard to hear why. Carrying over 76 unrelenting minutes of lo-fi slime (making it more than double the length of 12 Golden Country Greats), The Pod is the quintessential difficult album. There’s a layer of (pick one) sludgy/fuzzy/murky grime here that runs deeper than tempos and performances — it pervades the timbres and textures, especially in the mid-album stretch from “Demon Sweat” to “She Fucks Me”, and it’s a sense of sluggishness lodged into the recording techniques themselves. Listen to the pseudo-industrial snare hits on “Molly”. Hear the sheer bewildering hideousness of Dean Ween’s guitar solo on “Frank”. Is there an adjective for that? Is it any wonder Ween devotees have invented their own (“brown”, which the AV Club succinctly sums up as “the unmistakable qualities that make Ween what it is”)?
The Pod, then, is about as filthily brown as early Ween gets, and there exists a revolving door of possible explanations for it, some supplied by the Pennsylvania duo itself:
A) The band developed a fierce Scotchguard habit while recording the album at “The Pod,” an apartment they shared in Solebury Township, Pennsylvania. It’s hard to say what Scotchguard-inspired music typically sounds like — what other popular album has been recorded under the influence of Scotchguard? — but The Pod’s liner notes support this theory: “In the time this album was completed, we filled up 3,600 hours of tape, and inhaled 5 cans of Scotchgard.”
B) The music was entirely recorded on a Tascam four-track cassette recorder, hence its rough sonic qualities.
C) The legendary Pod itself, where the band lived for 22 months (“with our cat Mandee”), was a cosmic site of creative reclusion, hence the name of the album. As the band notes in the liner notes: “Our apartment was a haven for flies because it sits in the middle of a horse farm.” You can’t help but envision Dean and Gene embracing this gross reality, and adding to the legend, no other Ween record was recorded at The Pod—the band claims to have been evicted on October 1, 1991.
D) Dean and Gene both contracted mononucleosis during the recording process. The Pod is the aural result of their illness.
Option A has since been refuted. In a quote that appears everywhere from Wikipedia to Answers.com (but doesn’t seem to be cited anywhere), the duo explains that Scotchguard was simply “the most slime-bag thing we could think of.” The demented Leonard Cohen parody of an album cover may play up the Scotchguard theme, but the liner notes explain that “that’s [Mean Ween] on the cover doin’ up some nitrous oxide powered bongs.” Option B makes good sense as well, except that Pure Guava, which features helium-voiced breakout single “Push th’ Little Daisies”, was also recorded on a four-track but carries a much more spirited ambience. (And it’s difficult to believe that GodWeenSatan, recorded in 1989 when Dean and Gene were each 19, employed much more hi-fi recording techniques either.)
I think it’s the mononucleosis, chemically bonded with whatever celestial properties cemented themselves in the manure fumes of the Pod’s fly-infected walls, that explains the album. Given this understanding, The Pod is not only the result of mononucleosis, but probably the most disturbingly accurate aural representation of the glandular fever ever put to Tascam cassette. Far from a sludgy mess, the record reveals itself as a brilliant (albeit less-than-pleasant) concept album that probably wasn’t intended as such.
These aren’t just songs about illness (though that arrives in the form of the groaning “Mononucleosis”, which offers this golden couplet: “Dude, I really don’t wish you was dead / Better stay in your sweaty mucus bed”) but songs that approximate the symptomatic malaise, lethargy, and consuming grossness of the disease itself — perhaps better than any other album recorded in the throes of illness. How else can you explain the achy sluggishness of Robyn Hitchcock ripoff “Alone”, or the zombie R&B of “Moving Away”? Beneath the nauseating grunts of “Awesome Sound” and “Molly” (one of the most hilariously irritating choruses ever set to tape), I sense headaches and coughing fits. And I can’t find an adjective better than “sickly” to represent the guitar and vocal tones of tuneless romps like “Sorry Charlie” and “She Fucks Me”. Whether “Don’t Sweat It” and “Can U Taste the Waste?” are meant as further lyrical odes to the illness, I can’t say.
Deaner and Gener suffered through mono together, which is awfully cute, and the album contains ample evidence of their sickly camaraderie — the brotherly well-wishes on “Mononucleosis”, the classically Ween banter that peppers “The Stallion (Pt. 2)” (“Deaner! Deaner! Where can you be? Come hither!”), even their hellish duet on “She Fucks Me”, which I imagine to have been delivered through sinus congestion and exhaustion in a sickbed caked with mucus. Elsewhere, that camaraderie seems to manifest itself in a fascination with ‘70s prog-rock bombast (“Right To The Ways And The Rules Of The World”, “Captain Fantasy”, “Dr. Rock”), an interest the band would fully embrace six years later on The Mollusk. It’s no wonder “Buckingham Green” began appearing in setlists around this time. Even as they suffered through their most insular, alienating material, the duo was pushing ahead and hinting at the future.
Back at Mark Prindle’s site, a commenter named Tommy writes: “i had mono and the mood that this album exerts makes me wanna go home and crawl into bed for about a month.” Spacemen 3 already used the album title Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs to. I wonder if Ween considered Contracting Mono to Make Music to Contract Mono to.