With another concretized representation of the mental breakdown that underlies and ties together quebec completed, Ween moves to the dark and acidic irony of “Hey There Fancypants.” At first, this flippant, jangly jaunt signals to the listener another instance of the ebb in tension that was used so prominently throughout the first half of the record. However, when apprehended properly, “Hey There Fancypants” evinces a similar degree of mental health to its predecessor. Rather than address breakdown directly again, the narrator offers a bitter, self-reflexive portrait of destitution: “Hey Mr. Fancypants, play the songs that make us dance…a song for all the lonely hearts / shattered dreams and broken parts / feels like sunny days are coming soon…tonight’s the night when all your dreams come true…drinking down your dinner all alone.” As on the first two tracks, a kind of narrative cause-and-effect is apparent here in the situation of loneliness that is described and contrasted with both the presence of a significant other in “Happy Colored Marbles” and the repeated reference to couples throughout the rest of the unquoted lyrics. The alcoholic isolation described here is wrenching, yet the sympathetic pain it elicits from the listener is minor in comparison to that engendered by the raw humanization (coupled with the maintenance of bleak tone and circumstance) that follows.
This humanization begins in the oneiric and despairing “Captain,” which in a looping and largely static composition, condenses the entire undercurrent of somberness in quebec. This is perhaps the simplest and most crushing of any Ween song, and one of the more moving portrayals of addiction in the decade. Using repetition once again — in the singular, continuing exhortation “Captain, turn around and take me home” — Gene manages to encapsulate in allegory the experience of lost control in depression, mental illness, and drug addiction. It is, in fact, an extraordinary testament to Ween’s musicianship that they are able to render this situation in such an emotionally accessible product despite limiting their formal coloration so severely, essentially to the single line and Gene’s pained, desperate delivery.
“Chocolate Town,” too, demonstrates Gene’s expressive vocal mastery, but in the context of a truly beautiful pop song. Simultaneously one of the more transparent and misdirecting offerings on quebec, its sonic euphony and rather silly way of phrasing the subject (one of few strained attempts at cheeky humor in the record) invite the listener to appreciate “Chocolate Town” as a “happy song,” but actually represent a high — the “sunny bunny feeling” — that the narrator is experiencing. However, there is no misdirection in the actual story, which (as is often pointed out) describes the narrator making a desperate trip to the ghetto to acquire drugs. One can observe the relation between this scenario and “Captain” in the guilt-ridden words of the narrator, “tired of the life I was facin’ / I couldn’t hide a secret from my mother / Any other mother wouldn’t bother,” whose depression pulls him ineluctably towards self-destruction, despite some kind of familial support.
The confessional tone in “Chocolate Town” segues smoothly into the narrative, confessional ballad “I Don’t Want It,” which describes the interpersonal relationship of concern in quebec in significantly more direct terms. This, I believe, is apt at this moment in the album, following the preceding sequence of admittedly devious tracks that portray the crisis in a unique and indirect manner. Here, Ween retreats to convention (one of only a few times on quebec) just when it is needed to further enhance the sympathetic character of the narrator. In other words, only now, after having experienced so much abstraction, is the listener adequately receptive to this background and unmasked monologue. This is not the final time that Ween does this on quebec.
After the brief interlude “The Fucked Jam,” one of Ween’s few responses to hip-hop music, quebec resumes with the entirely abstract “Alcan Road.” Again, Gene’s growing predilection towards poeticism surfaces in lush, imagistic, and nonsensical lyrics: “Mountain man, frosted child / eagles cry, puppets of god / strung like time, molded in form / trees bend back, and trails distort.” There is a similarity to some of the more psychedelic moments on The Mollusk (“Mutilated Lips,” “The Mollusk”) here, though the fey ponderousness with which they are articulated now is largely unprecedented in Ween’s catalog. The following track, “The Argus,” largely retains this tone and psychedelic poeticism, only becoming slightly more focused and representational in its use of “the Argus” as its central figure. This is undoubtedly the most interesting and complex song on quebec from a lyrical standpoint, demonstrating concerns with perception and knowledge in consistently paradoxical formulations: “Yesterday we lost our lives / tomorrow we were born…letting droplets of light erupt from the sea…lying in beds of garlic and orchids / he closes an eye, which closes another / and in sleep he dreams of watching and looking / and feather clouds dancing he curls up his lid and sleeps.”
The fantastical psychedelia of these two tracks comes crashing back down to earth in particularly catastrophic fashion on the album closer “If You Could Save Yourself (You’d Save Us All).” This bleak title does not belie the content of the song which, in direct address to the now ex-significant other, expresses complete and utter despair: “The wheels fell off, the bottom dropped out / The checks all bounced, I came in your mouth…The trash caught fire when the leaves turned brown / The vultures were circling when the circus left town…If you could save yourself, you’d save us all…The time I’ve spent working myself to death / Thought that’s what you wanted / I thought you needed my help…I was on my knees, when you knocked me down.” Here, again, Ween adopts the massive rock ballad form that they know so well, and, again, it behooves their purpose. The deftness with which Ween is thus able to channel sheer woe here — in Gene’s soaring yet defeated cadence and the extreme dynamism of the song’s transition points — allows the listener tortuous tangibility of this deeply personal, pained subject matter. Ween has always displayed a tendency to craft elevated, affecting closers on their albums (“She Wanted to Leave,” “Fluffy,” “She’s Your Baby”), but in this case they transcend even that precedent, closing quebec’s story of suffering with a fittingly agonizing end before cutting off abruptly and leaving the listener with silence.
What Ween communicates here does not represent the entirety of human experience. The existence of hope and happiness in the world isn’t in question, and Ween has almost always championed these things with aplomb in their vibrant, joyous, and regenerative humor. But Ween expresses something very different and just as true here, in this strange, sad record that begins and ends so definitively. The tribulations contained within are an evocative portrayal of the very inevitable crises of life, which do sometimes overwhelm even the power of laughter. And, in the way that quebec begins and ends more abruptly than you’d expect — well, that too reminds me of life.