Ween's Pure Guava turns twenty years old today
Pure Guava by Ween was released twenty years ago today, on November 15, 1992.
Twenty years hasn't done much to mellow the pure weirdness of Pure Guava, Ween's third studio album and major label debut from 1992. Like 1991's The Pod, Pure Guava includes plenty of sound experiments and bizarre conceptual flights of fancy. But the album - released twenty years ago today - also takes much bigger steps than its predecessor, both creatively and commercially. In addition to "Push Th' Little Daisies," arguably the band's best-known song, the album contains bare-bones versions of tunes like "Don't Get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy" and "Reggaejunkiejew," brilliant tunes that would evolve and blossom during decades' worth of live performances.
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The record remains an impressive creative achievement, especially considering its context. According to author Hank Shteamer, Ween sold the licensing rights to the completed album to Elektra Records for $200,000 as part of a record deal that produced the 1994 classic Chocolate and Cheese. Recorded on a four-track machine in the bare-bones setting of a western Pennsylvania shack and mixed by Andrew Weiss, the album cost less than $100 to make.
It's not tough to see that low production value. Indeed, the album may have been the major label debut for Gene Ween (aka Aaron Freeman) and Dean Ween (aka Mickey Melchiondo), but the nineteen tracks still boast the DIY feel of The Pod and even 1990's GodWeenSatan: The Oneness. Pure Guava indulges heavily in the group's trademark brand of experimentation, and it's tough to place it among the other major Elektra Records releases around that same time (Natalie Cole's Unforgettable: With Love and Metallica's "Black Album" came out in 1991, and the label released Tracy Chapman's self-titled debut in 1988).
Pure Guava kicks off with "Little Birdy," a hazy ballad featuring a drum machine, simple bass lines and a distorted guitar that sounds slightly out of tune. Gene Ween crows about a little birdy, its songs and "Tender Situation" is similarly stark and odd; "Hey Fat Boy (Asshole)" features Gene Ween muttering threats in a vaguely foreign accent to someone who "killed my mother." "Pumpin' 4 the Man" offers speedy tempos and vocals that show the band's roots in early punk. "Poop Ship Destroyer," "Flies on My Dick" and "Loving U Thru It All" are just plain surreal.
Even "Big Jilm," a tune that would morph into a tightly delivered anthem during live shows, feels raw and basic here. The transformation of the tune from experiment to live staple snuck up on the band members themselves.
"We have a song on Pure Guava called 'Big Jilm.' It's written about a guy worked for my father, this old black guy who had a car detailing service when I was growing up, this nice old guy, Jim Lemons," Dean Ween told us in 2010. "We posted something online saying, 'Rest in peace, Jim Lemons.' One of our fans responded to it and put up a YouTube video of a version of 'Big Jim' from Pure Guava. I think it's been like seventeen years since I heard it. It took me a second to even realize what I was listening to. It's like no similarities at all to the live versions."
Such cues may be straight from The Pod, but Pure Guava also takes a step further. While the record indulges in weirdness, it also offers a push toward polish and a fuller band, hints of evolution that would fully flower on Chocolate and Cheese.
"Sarah" is a measured and tender love song, a moving ballad that hints at creative achievements to come such as "Baby Bitch" and "Stay Forever." "The Stallion, Pt. 3," the third installment in a series that started as free association on The Pod, feels more streamlined and cohesive with its bright chords and dynamic vocals. The choral rounds between Gene and Dean on "Don't Get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy" would become a standard live staple until the band's final show in Denver in 2011, as would "Reggaejunkiejew."