THE DEANER ALBUM by The Dean Ween Group
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Dickie Betts.” “Bundle of Joy,” “You Were There”
One of the interesting things about being assigned albums to review is finding out that they aren’t as foreign to you as you think they are. I had actually seen Touche Amore in concert before, and my dad is a huge Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst fan. In the case of Dean Wean, my prom date had actually recommended his most famous project Wean, one of the most bizarre and experimental rock groups of the ‘90s. With a huge array of genre influences ranging from soul to prog rock to country, and bleak, nihilistic lyrics, the group cultivated a huge cult following up until their breakup in 2012. In the aftermath, Dean Wean has released a debut album for his new group. Knowing the wide range of genres his previous band encompassed, it makes sense that THE DEAN WEAN ALBUM is all over the place, but variety can’t save it from being an exhausting and frustrating listen.
THE DEAN WEAN ALBUM has 11 tracks, four of which are instrumentals. The opening track and instrumental “Dickie Betts” kicks off the album with a driving piano melody and nice shredding that would absolutely kill at a live bar performance. However, the energy that makes the vocalless cut work is never replicated by any of the other three, grinding the otherwise energetic feel to a halt. The rest of the album doesn’t provide enough of an atmosphere or story to justify a slower, more contemplative mood, but it’s also not so intense and overwhelming that a cooling off period is needed. “Schwartz Pete” comes the closest to continuing the energy, but it sounds too much like a dance routine in a slapstick comedy.
The highlights are the up-tempo, rootsy cuts that take cues from heartland or folk rock, especially “Bundle of Joy,” which has a tight, building-to-a-punch-line vocal melody ripped straight from Bruce Springsteen. Wean’s deep, rasping baritone works best with the song’s tales of smugly engaging in hedonistic ventures like coke. Rather than sticking to this natural sound, the album diverts into overly distorted, compressed territories with way too much guitar flanging on tracks like “Charlie Brown,” or insufferably repeating the same monotonous, eight-note wind chime beat on “Gum.” THE DEAN WEAN ALBUM clocks in at about 52 minutes, but it feels much longer because of how repetitive its worst moments feel compared to how quickly its best seem to fly by.
Wean’s voice naturally becomes unbearable due to how oafish and loud it is, but the vocal effects and filters that submerge his voice on “Nightcrawler” or “Gum” only create a new problem. Rather than make his voice more palatable or interesting, it only further drifts the album away from the simple folk rock that it’s best at, handicapping any charm or downtrodden Americana feel . Dean Wean’s bargain with the audience is that they have to sit through his half-baked experimentation, post-production fiddling, and a shameless rip-off of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” on “Mercedes Benz” before he plays what he is clearly best at.
As is to be expected from Wean, many of the lyrics are rather bleak and nihilistic. However, they are so to-the-point and miserable that any emotion fades away. THE DEAN WEAN ALBUM feels like a novelty record making fun of such angst, especially on the jolly, profanity-filled commercial jingle “Exercise Men,” detailing how futile his efforts at maintaining his health are since he will simply “die at 57 of a heart attack.” Its refrain of “fuck you, exercise man” and lyrics about liking different types of ice cream, gum, and his mom on “Gum” seem less like a satire of a simple-minded person and more a simple imitation. It’s like that one friend who sarcastically picks everything apart and makes quips about everything he comes into contact with. At first it’s funny, but it starts to get old fast without any charm, charisma, or satire to back it up.
Wean the band did what THE DEAN WEAN ALBUM does, except they had ambitions and went all out with their weirdness. Their experimentation and bleakness never felt insincere or lacking in thought or direction like it so often does here. THE DEAN WEAN ALBUM could have gone for Americana-influenced, driving indie-rock or continued the same path that Wean did, but instead it aims for a non-existent middle path that has all of those option’s weaknesses and none of their strengths. It’s all over the place, but it’s also not zany and out-there enough to give depth to the shallowness of it all.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend