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Pitchfork Media, usually known simply as Pitchfork, is a Chicago-based daily Internet publication devoted to criticism, commentary, news, and interviews pertaining mostly to independent music. Weezer fans have expressed disdain for Pitchfork in the past, due to what they believe is overly harsh criticism of Weezer's post-1996 albums. Despite their criticism, they continue to post news about Weezer regularly. Pitchfork records reviews give albums a score out of 10, while its track reviews give songs a score out of 5. Pitchfork also maintains artist pages for its main artists, and Weezer has one of its own.
Pitchfork's ratings of Weezer albums
- Pinkerton - 7.5 (Original release)/10.0 (Deluxe Edition)
- The Green Album - 4.0
- Maladroit - 5.4
- Make Believe - 0.4
- The Red Album - 4.7
- Raditude - 4.5
- Hurley - 5.0
- Death to False Metal - 3.5
- Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo - 7.2
- Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo - 6.0
Pitchfork's ratings of Weezer songs
- Pitchfork's staff voted "The Blue Album" as 26th and "Pinkerton" as 53rd record of the 90s in their 100 top albums list for that decade.
- "Pork and Beans" was chosen as the 3rd best video of the 2000s, and included in the list of Top 40 Music Videos of 2008.
- "We Are All On Drugs" was chosen as one of the 15 Worst Releases of 2005.
- Weezer's performance at Lollapalooza in 2005 was reviewed by the site.
- The album cover of "Maladroit" was chosen as one of the Worst Record Covers of All Time.
Note: Pitchfork has removed its review of Pinkerton and no longer makes it available online.
The Green Album
I could fill an entire paragraph right now simply repeating the name Weezer. Oh, Weezer, Weezer, Weezer. Oh, Weezer. How sad I am for Weezer. Let's backtrack. This requires a lot of personal history to be revealed-- total stream-of-consciousness memory recall. We'll start in 1994. In 1994, I was ten years old. Rock music was a new and relatively unknown concept to me. By rock music, I mean rock music: distorted guitars, hard-hitting drums, the harshness of grunge and rock. It had already broken onto mainstream radio, but I was too young to pay attention. I was a weird kid, busying myself with Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson records.
The girl who lived next door (and who also happened to take care of me on occasion, when my parents were out) was probably around 12 or 13 at the time. I thought she was beautiful. It resembled a crush, although it probably wasn't. And occasionally, we would listen to CDs. She brought over her very small collection-- mine was already three times as large. There was a blue disc amongst her discs. She pulled it out and pressed play. My world was blasted apart. She clearly loved this, and I had no idea what to think. "Undone (The Sweater Song)" was her favorite. It was one of those rare 'brand new' experiences I'm lucky enough to be able to remember. Not long after, I obtained a copy of my own. It was my favorite album for a very long time. I ordered lyrics from the fan club through the mail. I memorized the handwritten words while listening to the album on repeat. "My Name is Jonas" was pure beauty, and "Only in Dreams" was pure power. It still is.
Somehow, I didn't manage to pick up Pinkerton until 1999. I'd kind of forgotten about Weezer for a year or two, and then suddenly I remembered them. At first, I wasn't terribly impressed, clearly being more familiar with the sound of grunge and angst. And then I listened to it a second time and was knocked out all over again. I went back to "the blue album," this time understanding the intricacies of the sound-- what makes the songs so warm and effective. Its simple brilliance slapped me; it sounded as fresh as it did the first time I ever heard it. So naturally, as news of Weezer recording began to circulate late last year, I was overjoyed. How would they follow-up the blistering, angry Pinkerton?
And then, months later, Weezer released "Hash Pipe." It was on the radio one day a few weeks ago. I listened to it. I listened to the whole song, from beginning to end. And when it ended, I said no. I said no no no no no. No! Weezer! NO!! Where has Rivers Cuomo gone? What has he done? What has happened to Weezer?! WHERE ARE THE REAL WEEZER?!! My heart was broken. Really. This is going to sound like hyperbole, but I hated music at that moment. For just a moment, I lost faith completely. It was an overblown reaction, granted, but even after I realized how ridiculous I was being, I still felt a hatred. The song was abysmal, no two ways about it. It wasn't awkward. It wasn't charming. It didn't have dueling guitar solos with soaring and intricate harmonies. And what it wasn't made it what it was: stale, polished, emotionless.
The new self-titled Weezer album, as it turns out, is average from beginning to end. There are maybe one or two decent melodies out of the ten songs here, and the only change in tone comes with "Island in the Sun," the album's only truly enjoyable song and its catchiest hook. It's the first and only moment of even moderate pleasure in the record's brief yet far too long 28-minute length. But even with this singular change in volume and mood, Weezer lacks the sense of dynamics and intricacy that Pinkerton-- and especially their debut-- held in spades. There's no power to these songs, and even less depth.
It's a de-evolution back through Pinkerton, through the blue album, and beyond. Like "Hash Pipe," it doesn't seem genuine anymore. But The Green Album doesn't generally sound like the canned, artificial angst of "Hash Pipe"; it has a sunny disposition, with songs like "O Girlfriend" and "Glorious Day." An actual line from the song "Smile," for instance: "Open up your heart and let the good stuff come out." It's unoriginal, moronic and tacky, and that's all there is to it. Nothing under the surface. Disappointment.
I was bitter. At Rivers, at Weezer, at Geffen and Interscope. This was one of my favorite bands. They were the only band whose fan club I have ever joined. They had significance. They opened musical doors for me. This album is not that Weezer. But I had to write a review, so I did a little research. And I read that, after the complete failure of the angst and emotional extremes of Pinkerton in the music world, Cuomo felt as if his goal to be a rockstar was completely obliterated. So he locked himself in his room for a year, with no outside contact, and when he came out, his work suddenly had no emotional content.
He's now afraid that fans of the band will hate the new album and lose touch with him and the group. He genuinely realizes that all of the feeling in his vocals and lyrics are gone, and he realizes that it's probably a phase. And I suddenly share his fear. So maybe the real Weezer-- the Weezer I know and love-- can come back now. After this phase ends and the album goes platinum, maybe they'll feel better about themselves. I'm going to go upstairs now to listen to the album that is 1994 to me, the album that is still new and marvelous to me after seven years, and fall asleep content.
Allow me to start by making a rather dorky connect-the-dots between two landmark cultural institutions of our key demographic: Weezer and Star Wars. Check it out: Weezer's self-titled return from hibernation (colloquially known as The Green Album) was The Phantom Menace of indie rock. Both sci-fi epic and alt-rock record were long-awaited events that had even the most jaded hipster hopping around like a small child with a full bladder. However, reactions to Star Wars: Episode One and Weezer: Episode Three were predominantly (and in some cases, absurdly) negative, despite small pockets of supporters slinging the old "just turn your brain off and have fun" argument.
To be fair, the analogy isn't completely fail-safe. After all, The Phantom Menace didn't break the Star Wars hiatus with a skimpy 28 minutes of new material, and The Green Album didn't have some of the worst acting-- human or computerized-- in the history of film. Furthermore, by my standards, Weezer's second eponymous release was nowhere near the memory-raping experience Episode I entailed, nor was it as terrible as judged by this site and elsewhere. Freed from the skyscraper-high expectations surrounding its release, The Green Album on return visits has shown to carry a fair amount of damn fine singalong tunes, while rewatching The Phantom Menace induces more wincing than a Jackie Chan blooper reel.
Now, convenient for my journalistic maneuvering, both franchises have produced their next efforts to get in your wallet-- Attack of the Clones and Maladroit. Regardless of what you might have thought about The Phantom Menace or The Green Album, it's undeniable that the rollouts of their respective followups are not garnering the same kind of delirious Second Coming-level hype. Not surprisingly, the response to Attack of the Clones has fallen along more traditional critics-vs.-the-public lines, with film writers generally turning up their nose at the flick's wooden dialog while normal people celebrate the picture as quality escapism. Maladroit, by continuing in the vein of The Green Album, promises a similar division of opinion, meaning a responsible critic (like myself) should probably submit it to the Mindless Fun Litmus Test.
The MFLT is appropriate because, yeah, Maladroit is definitely not a return to the sound of the band's mid-90s artistic peak. But to give them the benefit of the doubt, it's pretty apparent what the Weez are shooting for with the new record-- a further distillation of their power-pop specialties into short, catchy, big-riff-centered nuggets. Many writers will probably try to lump this incarnation of the band in with Andrew W.K. and the White Stripes for a 'Return of the Rawk!' style feature, but what's truly apparent is Weezer's now-complete focus upon the concert experience rather than studio twiddling. The flying-V guitars and large light-up =W= of their stage act no longer carry the wink that they used to, and these songs are tailored specifically to provoke mosh pits and elicit rampant flashing of devil-horns.
With Maladroit, Weezer has finally given the full punt to the nerd-rock label they sorta invented and always shunned, settling instead for being our generation's version of Cheap Trick. Rockford, Illinois' finest is just one of the classic guitar-worship pop bands invoked by the majority of the songs here, many of which seem like slight musical and thematic variations upon "I Want You to Want Me," and all of which make room for a fingers-flying solo. Things are harder-edged musically than the sunny Green Album tunes, with guitarists Rivers Cuomo and Brian Bell laying on as much distortion as possible over the crunchy riffs that hold up "American Gigolo" and "Take Control" and, well, pretty much the entire affair. But lyrically, things are still anchored in your usual white-man pleading-voice girl courtship, as song titles like "Love Explosion," "Possibilities," and "Slave" clearly indicate.
When this full-bodied attitude accompanies typically gooey Cuomo melodies, it makes for a handful of some of the best in-car rockout material of recent years. "Keep Fishin'" has boisterous call-and-response vocals and at least three different sections catchy enough to serve as choruses, while "Fall Together" is grunge-pop worthy of the late St. Kurt himself. Many songs on Maladroit come off as near-cover version love letters to Cuomo's rock heroes, most noticeably when "December" grafts a replica of the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" to a souped-up 50s prom theme arrangement.
On the other hand, the Kiss emulation and guitar-god posturing is a pretty thin disguise for a band that's pretty obviously a mere shadow of its former self. Weezer's first two albums were almost unanimously loved, hyper-influential, near-masterpiece collections of quirky, personal, addictive power-pop. Stripping down to the basics is one thing, but removing almost every element and characteristic that separated the band from the other million quartets-with-guitars is a sad, sad sight to see. There's a thin line between homage and unoriginality, and it's hard not to notice that, in their effort to emulate their guitar-rock heroes, Weezer has to some extent become a fairly straightforward, above-average bar band.
Don't come looking for any of the eccentric flourishes of "Undone" or "El Scorcho," as Maladroit is predominantly a one-note, homogenous affair. Deviations from the hard-rock mean are whiffs: "Death and Destruction" slows things down for some nazel-gaving, but can't come close to the emotional weight of a "Say It Ain't So," for example. "Burndt Jamb" revisits the tropical flair of "Island in the Sun"-- and is only a keyboard and a Laetitia away from being Stereolab-- but can't resist falling back on steel-toed overdrive theatrics in the middle. Meanwhile, Cuomo continues to move away from the intensely specific lyrical content of earlier work (I've always wondered if that half-Japanese cellist got a cut of Pinkerton's profits), preferring instead to drop angstful Everyman phrases like, "Get yourself a wife/ Get yourself a job/ You're living a dream/ Don't you be a slob."
Right, so now's the part where I'm accused of underestimating Maladroit's youthful relevancy, missing the possibility that this album might mean as much to today's disenfranchised high school crowd as The Blue Album or Pinkerton meant to me in more innocent times. Maybe so, but it should be noted that I was a late-blooming Weezer fan, having written them off back in their first heyday and only cultivating a true appreciation for them over the last couple years. Given that fact, I have no qualms about taking a stand and pegging Maladroit as the slightest effort yet from the Weez, marking a continuation of their distressing downward trajectory and a perpetuation of their post-comeback complacence. It may have a handful of premium-grade headbangers, but in the mindless fun department, it sure ain't Yoda battling Christopher Lee.
If you're one of those poor souls who while away the day job by keeping a scorecard of music review sites, there's one thing you already know: There are two distinct groups of bad albums. The more prevalent kind is the fodder that fills a critic's mailbox, bands with awkward names and laser-printed cover art that don't inspire ire so much as pity. The second group is more treacherous: Bands that yield high expectations due to past achievements, yet, for one reason or another, wipe out like "The Wide World of Sports"' agony-of-defeat skier.
Often, these albums are bombarded with website tomatoes for reasons you can't necessarily hear through speakers: the band changes their sound and image to court a new crossover audience, perhaps, or attempts a mid-career shift into ill-advised territory. Or maybe they start writing songs about Moses in hip-hop slang. But sometimes the bad album in question is none of the above; it doesn't offend anyone's delicate scene-politics sensibilities or try to rewrite a once-successful formula in unfortunate ways. Sometimes an album is just awful. Make Believe is one of those albums.
Weezer have been given a lot of breaks in their second era-- both The Green Album and Maladroit were cut miles of slack despite consisting of little more than slightly above-average power-pop. The obvious reason for this lenience has to do with the mean age of rock critics, and the fact that most of these mid-20s scribes were at their absolute peak for bias-forming melodrama when The Blue Album and Pinkerton were released. Even for someone like me, who came late to the Weezer appreciation club, it was impossible to hear these "comeback" albums without the echoes of the earlier alt-rock pillars ringing in our ears.
But now there's an antidote to that nostalgic interference. Right from the start of Make Believe, when Weezer lurches into a flaccid take on Joan Jett's "I Love Rock N' Roll" with an unfathomably horrible speak/sing vocal from Rivers Cuomo (think "I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch"), you can hear hundreds of critics mouthing "no no no" and going into crumpled shock. What's more disconcerting is that the song gets worse over the course of its three minutes (let's just say "Framptonesque voicebox solo" and get back to repressing the memory)-- and it's the album's first single.
Hearing a song like "We Are All on Drugs", which nicks the classic melody of the schoolyard "Diarrhea" song (you know, "when you're sliding into first..." and so on) for an anti-drug message stiffer than Nancy Reagan's "Diff'rent Strokes" cameo, it calls into question whether The Blue Album was really that great, or whether it just stood out as a rare beacon of guitar pop in a grunge-obsessed era. Trying to wrap your mind around the land-cliché-record lyrics of songs like "My Best Friend" and "Haunt You Every Day" leads me to wonder how Pinkerton could ever have seemed like such a cathartically resonant treatise on unrequited love. Was Rivers Cuomo always on the notebook-scrawl level of "I don't feel the joy/ I don't feel the pain," and did we not notice because scrawling in notebooks was the depth of our emotional knowledge at the time?
Okay, let's not be so hard on ourselves here: I'm pretty sure this is all Rivers' fault. Pinkerton triumphed by being an uncomfortably honest self-portrait of Cuomo. On Make Believe, his personality has vanished beneath layers of self-imposed universality, writing non-specific power ballads like he apprenticed with Diane Warren, and whoah-oh-ohing a whole lot in lieu of coming up with coherent or interesting thoughts. Coupled with his continued obsession with tired power chords and bland riff-rock (surprisingly not sonically boosted by producer Rick Rubin, whose post-"99 Problems" grip on relevance is now officially spent), the creative driving force behind the Weez is asleep at the wheel.
Considering Weezer supposedly went through hundreds of songs and several discarded albums to arrive at this final product, the laziness of this songwriting borders on the offensive. Whether recycling dynamics from the band's back catalog (see: "Perfect Situation") or taking the easy Mother Goose rhyme (see: every fucking song here), these 12 tracks sound as if they were dashed off in an afternoon's work, maybe with Rubin holding the band at gunpoint. The one half-decent song on the record, "This Is Such a Pity", fails to even maintain its status as a pleasant Cars homage, interjecting a guitar solo that sounds like it was cut from the original score to Top Gun.
So does Make Believe completely ruin not just present-day Weezer, but retroactively, any enjoyment to be had from their earlier work? I don't know-- I'm too scared to re-listen to those first two albums-- but it certainly appears that Make Believe will expertly extract the last remaining good graces the critical community has to offer latter-day Weezer, unless my colleagues' memories of slow-dancing with Ashley to "Say It Ain't So" are more powerful than I can possibly imagine. Of course, if Ashley went on to break your heart, fellow critic, Make Believe might be just the medicine you need; put it on repeat and watch your emotional scar be obliterated as collateral damage in the torpedoing of Weezer's legacy.
The Red Album
Although weaned on prog-metal, educated in classical music at Harvard, and once viewed as a representative of the indie rock set, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo prefers to write simple music that can be easily enjoyed by a mass audience. It was one of many elements that defined him in the beginning, on his band's hugely popular 1994 self-titled debut (The Blue Album), if one of few remaining characteristics defining his music today.
Following poor initial sales of the record's follow-up, the more introspective cult hit Pinkerton, Cuomo famously retreated from the public eye. Over the next five years, the band would remain silent, cultivating goodwill and an ever-growing army of fans. But most of that goodwill has deteriorated since their re-emergence in 2001, in the wake of three mediocre-to-awful albums that were, in many ways, the opposite of what made Cuomo's band so adored in the first place.
Sadly, the once burned-out Weezer continue to fade away: Those first two records capture their decade in 75 minutes of near-perfect power-pop: straight-faced irony, eccentric sincerity, meta references, and bipolar guitar distortion from ordinary-looking outcasts who became stars and then complained about it. Punk that's too catchy to offend. Pop that's too smart to cop to itself. And, uh, emo. After Pinkerton, the deluge; rap-metal and post-grunge wound up so thoroughly conquering modern rock that now even staunch rockists are making excited noises about "American Idol" winner David Cook. Hey, somebody's supposed to save mainstream rock'n'roll, right?
Not these guys. Beginning with 2001's so-so Green Album and plumbing Jules Verne depths with 2005's terrible Make Believe, the band began to take on some of the most infuriating characteristics of the very bands that had replaced them during their absence: intelligence-insulting songwriting, cookie-cutter dynamics, questionable facial hair. At the very least, The Red Album (as Weezer have nicknamed their latest) is a first step toward rehabilitation-- a tacit admission that recent discs, with their empty universality and recycled riffs, had a problem. But it's not a return to glory unless you consider 2001 their glory days.
Judging by appetizing first single "Pork and Beans", The Red Album could've been almost as funny and catchy as Pinkerton's "El Scorcho", only from the perspective of a married man coming up on 40. It's as if last year's demos compilation, Alone, helped Cuomo remember how to do this stuff right. His sarcastic mention of super-producer Timbaland's chart magic is as hilarious as it is on-point-- especially after Madonna's dreadful, Tim-helmed #1 single, "4 Minutes". Jacknife Lee (who co-produced the album along with Make Believe overseer Rick Rubin) lets the chorus explode from the mix in a way that little on the radio does anymore. It demands to be sung by millions of uncomprehending bar-goers.
With an opening Rogaine reference, "Pork and Beans" also establishes The Red Album's main theme. Already a self-described "old man" on Pinkerton, Cuomo is focused these days on reliving his lost youth-- probably the same reason some of us still listen to Weezer albums. Lead track and third single "Troublemaker" starts back in school, a faint whiff of existential angst and a surging bridge helping to redeem a vapid chorus and monotonous, familiar-sounding guitars. The laughably bad "Heart Songs" is The Blue Album's nostalgic "In the Garage" schmaltzed up as a sort of name-dropping "Circle of Life"; if Nirvana had "the chords that broke the chains I had upon me," kudos to Cuomo for swiping them on the otherwise forgettable teenage prankfest "Everybody Get Dangerous" (to quote: "boo-yahhh").
At this point, Weezer is as much a brand as a band. When Cuomo relinquishes the mic, The Red Album could be by any group of modern-rock mediocrities. Longtime guitarist Brian Bell gets throaty and twangy like a poor man's Rob Thomas on repetitive non-apology "Thought I Knew", backed by bland acoustic guitar and a TR-808 drum machine. Bassist Scott Shriner speak-sings in creepy stalker mode on "Cold Dark World", with Cuomo swooping to the rescue on the choruses. "Automatic", led by original drummer Pat Wilson, returns to the faceless crunching of 2002's Maladroit.
Not that Cuomo needs other voices to reveal that The Red Album is hardly the work of idiosyncratic auteurship the first couple of singles could've suggested. He sings on peppy, tempo-switching "Dreamin'" and the grandiose finale, "The Angel and the One", but for all their background-friendly polish, both are typical, vacuous latter-day Weezer tracks.
The Red Album's most ambitious song adapts the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts". The melody, played first on piano recalling Pinkerton's "Across the Sea", is more obvious than the Erik Satie snippet Cuomo ganked for The Blue Album's "Surf Wax America", but now, as then, the theft isn't the point. "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" is the warped genius let loose, from half-rapped intro to Queen bombast to baroque a cappella. Like the YouTube culture the "Pork and Beans" video depicts so well, the song-- and this album-- relies on a high quantity of short-lived pretty good ideas to distract from a shortage of great ones.
Right now, psychiatrists are feverishly debating over what to include in the next revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: the DSM-V, the psych bible. Among the syndromes those experts may decide whether to include in the latest edition is Peter Pan Syndrome, adults who long for youth so powerfully they begin to act like eternal children. Think Michael Jackson, who in naming his ranch Neverland, certainly invited the diagnosis.
But most people with Peter Pan Syndrome regress to pre-pubertal life, an age before the complications of responsibility and sexuality. So what do we call what Rivers Cuomo has? The Weezer frontman seems to be stuck in an eternal puberty, forever 13-- confused, horny, hyperbolic, obsessed with brand names. It's a characteristic that has always been at the heart of Weezer, from "In the Garage" onward. But it's never been more concentrated than on Raditude, which, from its goofy name and cover art to its Mountain Dew-jacked sound and melodramatic lyrics, is designed to hit 13-year-old boys directly on target.
And Cuomo is damned good at getting inside the frightening mind of a teenage boy. "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To" is a perfect title for a song about awkward courtship, and the fact that the narrator takes his date to Best Buy (teenage Mecca) before a home viewing of Titanic is pinpoint detail. Echoes of "In the Garage" turn up in, well, "In the Mall", written by drummer Patrick Wilson but sold by Cuomo emphatically chronicling the cruising circuit of elevator-to-escalator-to-elevator. Elsewhere on Raditude, Cuomo whines about going to work, pressures girls into third base, parrots hip-hop slang, escapes into ridiculous fantasy, and on bonus track "Get Me Some" portrays the teenage experience in four words: "Right now/ Everything sucks."
Of course, these journal scrawls are backed largely by power-pop-- what else could it be? Cuomo proved for all time with the first two Weezer records (and fleetingly since) that he's a master of the genre, popping out melodic sing-alongs and fuzz-guitar riffs, and Raditude largely goes back to those basics. "Let It All Hang Out" is a song about celebrating the weekend and forgetting your troubles and sounds like the song you would play to do exactly that. The peppy (if a bit on the creepy side) "I'm Your Daddy", made with Britney and Miley collaborator Dr. Luke, justly turns the table on rock-borrowing pop like "Since U Been Gone". All together, it sounds like the first record ever written with the goal expressly in mind of being kick-ass to play on Rock Band. The departures from that formula are harder to stomach, particularly the Bollywood-drenched Hallmark card "Love Is the Answer", which is absolutely awful.
I still get hate mail for saying Make Believe was so bad that it retroactively ruined the Blue Album and Pinkerton, and I still believe it-- "Beverly Hills" was the sound of a band that had learned to do as little as possible to write a hit. But Raditude doesn't have that stench of minimal calculation on it; if anything, it's as earnest as the famously confessional Pinkerton, just written by someone whose age doesn't match his POV. But the record's teen-boy empowerment message doesn't have much to offer anyone over 13 years old. Perhaps the proper fictional character to reference isn't Peter Pan, but Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson from Dazed and Confused-- we all get older, Rivers Cuomo stays the same age.
Somewhere along the way, someone told Rivers Cuomo that he needed to rein it in. To the world's dismay, he listened, and made three records of faceless, predictable approximations of what the public supposedly wanted his band Weezer to be. Demo collection Alone does the opposite, collecting all sorts of goofy and indulgent ideas-- robot voices, barbershop-quartet harmonies, over-emoting, an Ice Cube cover-- reminding us why we fell for dorks with horn-rimmed glasses and flying-V guitars in the first place.
Casual fans and/or haters might wonder what, after three records that were stagnant at best, could be possibly left in the vaults; the superfans know exactly what he's holding back. The inside cover shows off a crammed collection of cassette tapes, their spines promising untold treasures-- Songs From the Black Hole is there, as well as previously unheard of titles and bandnames-waiting-to-happen like Psoriasis Babies and Angst Muffins. As far as basement tapes go, Alone ranges wildly in fidelity and style while still hanging together as a surprisingly cohesive whole. Its liner notes have detailed histories and inspirations for each song-- with lyrics, even-- and photos that exhibit a disconcerting lack of shame. (Bearded Basoon-playing Rivers, Despondent Glam Rivers, collect 'em all!) Best of all: More than two-thirds of the material here was recorded before 1996. As for the rest... we'll get to that.
A lost Weezer record it isn't, even if fans have been waiting on one. Songs From the Black Hole was reportedly a full concept album meant to follow the "Blue Album" that was scrapped completely before recording what would become Pinkerton. Its story arc follows a five-person (plus one mechanoid) crew of a spaceship on an important mission, our noble protagonist Jonas (hmm...) is given a meaty role while crewmates Wuan and Dondo (seriously, it's in the liners) are one-dimensional avatars for womanizing and partying. That only sort of matters in "Blast Off!", the collection's crown jewel and such a fleeting rush of distortion-driven joy that the edges of the supposed dialogue are entirely blurred, and are hardly essential to enjoy it.
Not so when it segues directly into "Who You Callin' Bitch?", the lament of the unfairly maligned female spaceship cook, whom Cuomo brings to life with some fairly operatic solo vocal moments. More narrative confusion and dick references follow in the cheery a cappella "Dude, We're Finally Landing" and the twee-cranked-to-11 of "Superfriend", which is at least on par with Pinkerton's stellar B-sides (many of which would have made up this "lost" album). If it sounds silly on paper, go over the lyrics to your favorite Weezer song in your mind for a moment, and then take into account that these were written with the help of painkillers as Cuomo healed from leg surgery. These hopelessly corny, irrepressibly infectious songs are the stuff that Weezer freaks are forged in.
The rest of the songs come from more familiar territory. "Lemonade" borrows its paunchy low-end straight from the Blue Album, while more introspective tracks like the would-be teen-flick soundtrack cut "Wanda (You're My Only Love)" and piano ballad "Longtime Sunshine" will satisfy the Pinkerton lover on your Christmas list. There's only one previously released Weezer song in the bunch, however. While its plodding tempo nearly turns it into a dirge, "Buddy Holly" still sounds pretty great in any incarnation, but doesn't reveal much in demo form besides some silly keyboard presets; it's not as if a Weezer song has ever been ruined by over-production. It does show that Cuomo has his compositions nearly finalized before they get to the band, right down to the falsetto harmonies and lightning-quick licks tucked into the verses.
There are more unexpected pleasures as well, like hearing Cuomo moonlighting as frontman for the band Sloan on a strutting cover of oldie "Little Diane". Even the compilation's rough spots reveal something: The choked angst of "The World We Love So Much" is intimate enough to cause embarrassment by proxy, but it's worth noting that it's a Gregg Alexander cover (yes, the guy from the New Radicals). It divulges an unexpectedly modern influence, and from a relative peer of Cuomo's at that; either could have switched career trajectories if the cards had fallen just a bit differently. And yet, the biggest surprise is that Weezer's latest material is not the bottom of the barrel, and that crossover smash "Beverly Hills" only hinted at the depths Cuomo has yet to plumb. Recorded in 2007, "This Is the Way" is a stab at MOR urban pop, with what are likely his least inspired lyrics yet. He rhymes "love" with "heaven above" over a track that, even for a demo, makes old Jon Secada look like old Timbaland, finally indulging in the supposed funk influence he once so studiously avoided. The chorus: "This is the way a man loves his lady." It's as if "Beverly Hills" was a black hole, and this was the extra-dimensional hell on the other end.
But more than being adrift in an unfamiliar genre, "This Is the Way" is crippled by the same thing that drags down "I Was Made for You", a 2004 demo that closes the compilation. The mostly chronological track list of Alone exposes the same drawbacks of Weezer's later records by the end: By chasing down broad notions of universality in his lyrics and melodies, Cuomo's songs have become increasingly impersonal and vacuous, even when they're as pretty as "I Was Made For You". There's nothing about angst-ridden singer-songwriters, forgotten power-poppers, or rappers that we can't all relate to; nor do songs that draw inspirations from science fiction or Madame Butterfly necessarily appeal to a niche audience. It's frustrating that Cuomo has sidelined these weirder, often endearing influences. If nothing else, Alone reminds us that a lot of those over-ambitious, silly-on-paper ideas often blossomed in Cuomo's hands, and there was more to Weezer in their early days than just crisp power-pop and cute videos.
Sequels to vault-clearing compilations tend to dip in quality, to no fault of their compilers: An initial volume of demos and leftovers should be the cream of the crop-- who knows if there will be interest or time for a second? For Rivers Cuomo, there naturally was plenty of interest. Thankfully, Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo-- the follow-up to last year's Alone-- is nearly as good as the earlier volume: There's less deep-vault revelation this time around but there's more variety in style and sound.
Bad news first: Despite a flashy guitar solo and some laborious harmonies, "I Want to Take You Home Tonight" plods, and "The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World" would have been better left in the garage. Alone had its silly spots, for sure, but they at least revealed a lot of Cuomo's personality and charm. There's not a lot of replay value in marching-band interludes and song snippets played into answering machines, and while covers are fun, the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" is a choice and an arrangement that will surprise no one, ably performed or not.
The best Alone II offers is straight-ahead, no-nonsense power-pop-- not that anyone's ever complained about that from Cuomo. "My Brain Is Working Overtime" joyously rides a scant few chords into the ground, "Walt Disney" sparkles gently but confidently, and "I'll Think About You" is a staccato acoustic jig with Cuomo sounding, for once, relaxed. More pieces from "lost album" Songs From the Black Hole are revealed yet again with a full-blown song suite: Longing ballad "Oh Jonas" features some vocal schizophrenia, which segues into the lurching "Please Remember", and ends on the playful and slightly-seedy "Come to My Pod". All of them are goofy, off-the-cuff, and charming.
Bleeding-heart Weezer fans will still find at least a few tracks to pin their fond memories on. "The Purification of Water", a strident Blue Album-worthy ballad, pins familiar low-end riffery on some Hammond-esque organ. "I Don't Want You Let to Go" [sic] has lovely acoustic instrumentation, and even the maudlin piano bitch-out to critics, "My Day Is Coming", is believably wounded. Any of these would fit onto any of their records with a little more time and attention, but the instrumentation and faux-Romantic lyrics of "The Purification of Water" is the only one that distinguishes itself in this early form.
The novelty acoustic rap cover might be the most odious trend of my generation, but previously-unreleased track "Can't Stop Partying" subtly bucks the trend. A lack of irony doesn't make it less awkward, but it's certainly more palatable: it's a collaboration with Jermaine Dupri, for one, has an oddly striking melody (even if it's a little close to Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm" for comfort), and made slightly more interesting in a sad-libertine sort of way for a mournful tone behind it's party-ready lyrics.
"Can't Stop Partying" doesn't sound awkward from Cuomo, necessarily-- but it does sound heavily labored. Cuomo isn't the type of artist to wait around for divine inspiration-- he's a worker, songwriting is his job-- but as we get deeper into the vaults, more of the material sounds like actual work, or daily exercises without a spark of fun or unpredictability (outside of a woebegotten space-themed rock opera, of course). Alone was worth the occasional cringe to show Cuomo's experiments and sonic baby photos through the years, especially after three studiously formulaic records. The weird part is that, after the Red Album, Cuomo's day job is actually more unpredictable than these demos-- for better or for worse.
Can't Stop Partying
The new Weezer album picks up where the last one left off, which was highlighted by a return to uptempo singles trading in an offbeat sense of humor and an unironic embrace of fun rock'n'roll (see "Troublemaker", "Pork & Beans"). Here they rope in Lil Wayne, however, for the anti-fun rock'n'roll song. And the idea works: Cuomo and Weezy frame the satire with that sort of detached, knowing, arch-ironic vocals that sharpened and sold a ton of Pet Shop Boys songs.
And, hell, it's a message worth stating, too, especially in the context of a pop song. There's been a lot of talk recently-- from The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones fretting about the state of hip-hop to Jay-Z claiming the genre is in its hair-metal phase-- about the increased vacuousness and predictability of hip-hop (and, by extension, U.S. pop music). A genre that was once so sonically adventurous it arguably frightened rock away from the idea of progression is now a retread itself, though it's still oddly unfashionable to point that out. If you're suggesting that hip-hop, or electronic music or pop, might be in a bit of a rut lyrically or otherwise, it doesn't follow that you're making some sort of knee-jerk, Luddite rockist statement.
Problem is, the joke/comment here on "Can't Stop Partying" is one-note and, ultimately, a snooze. Iggy on "Nightclubbing" proved you could take on going out dry, glassy-eyed, and droney without sounding like you're nodding off, or worse that the listeners will. Cuomo's a smart guy, and to his credit his somnambulist take and the sort of hypnotizing, zombie-like way in which he and Weezy are reading their lines here mirrors the way in which the country is still sleepwalking, distracted and uninformed, through an economic crisis, an anemic health care debate, and a couple of wars. But the song itself isn't making that leap; it's not capturing or chastising a national mood so much as preaching to their converted, like-minded fans.
There is in an actual great single from 2009 that addresses some of what this song does plus way more, and does it much better: Lily Allen's "The Fear", which is pointing a finger not only at herself but the entire rubbernecking, shameless, celebrity-obsessing crumbling empires of the UK and the U.S. By comparison, Weez(y)er risk coming off seeming like boring/bored rock stars, and their song, worst of all, is rote and drab. Ironically, it's victimized as a listening experience by the very things it does to make clear it's satire.