The Mollusk is a masterwork; a masterwork of *what* is less clear. Is it parody? Is it serious? A tribute? An homage? The listener, familiar with Ween's alleged habit of parody (exemplified, I think, on 12 Golden Country Greats) is well-known. But, how could a parody be conducted so straight-faced, with such conviction and effort? This is the crux of the problem with Ween; does one understand the music as a parody, a joke, and laugh while listening? Or does one instead appreciate it as good music, and run the risk that the joke is, in fact, on oneself?
The musicianship is impeccable. Vocals, guitars, synthesizers -- they're all tight. The music itself is excellent, as well -- each song, each vignette, is orchestrated carefully with surprising attention to detail. The title track features surprisingly well-executed Wakeman-esque keyboard lines, while the guitar solo in "Polka Dot Tail" (an otherwise bizarre song) screams from the bottom of an ocean.
This album, ostensibly a "prog-rock" epic, juxtaposes pieces like "I'll Be Your Johnny on the Spot," a new-wave punk tune, with the bizarre Irish drinking song "The Blarney Stone." The seriousness with which these songs, and the lyrics, take themselves lead me to believe the album is in fact an elaborate parody, with the music serving as straight-man to the comic antics of the lyrics. The prog-rock influences are obvious, but serve more as tools to the music rather than objects to be acted upon.
However, that is not to suggest the album is entirely unmoving, emotionally. "Cold Blows the Wind" is quite possibly one of the best love songs ever written, although it is a bit emotionlessly delivered (some might say that is its strongest point.) The album closer, "She Wanted to Leave" is hauntingly beautiful, made even more so by the soft, restrained reprise of the album-opening melody echoed a few seconds following the final verse.
The Mollusk may be Ween's most cohesive work (outside of the aforementioned 12 Golden Country Greats which was significantly more restrained in style,) and it is certainly their best from a musical standpoint (the guitar solos alone cement this statement.) If anything, it suffers from perhaps over-doing the point.