Weezer is a band I have loved, and a band that I have loved to hate. When I heard about the new release, I stood at the sky and asked the gods of the musical universe “WHY oh why should I care about this? After Raditude? After freaking BEVERLY HILLS? After EVERYTHING you’ve done to me, Weezer!? Why should I care?” I didn’t even listen to Hurley, even though some people said it didn’t suck, and now another album with a positively ridiculous album cover?”
OK, so it’s produced by Ric Ocasek, who did the Blue album. OK, so the first single contains some kind of apology for the last 6 + years. OK, so it’s been 20 years since they formed as a band, created a genre, and attained one of the biggest cult followings ever – so it might be time for something awesome to happen, especially considering that whole “Last 9 Years of Bizarre MegaPop Striving Mixed with R&B Mediocrity” thing.
Around the time that the Red Album came out, I publicly ranked Weezer’s albums in that oh-so-professional venue of a Facebook status. It said “Weezer Albums: #1. Pinkerton. A VERY close #2: The Blue Album. #3. Maladroit. #4. The Red Album. #5. The Green Album. #1,000: Make Believe.” It was inconceivable to me that an album could be any worse than the tripe that was “Make Believe” and the rest of that hollow-y plastic amorphous, depressing prepackaged formulaic shlock called an album.
So, for me, all of the hype of EWBAITE is kind of hard to take in, since the same voice that is giving us “Sorry guys, I didn’t realize that I needed you so much/ I thought I’d get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks/ I ended up with nobody and I started feeling dumb/ Maybe I should play the lead guitar and Pat should play the drums” also gave us “I eat my candy with the pork and beans.”
But at the end of the day it’s Weezer, and having Ocasek on board does make me interested, and then some writers that I respect reviewed it from Itunes Radio and didn’t hate it, and it turns out I have an extra hour or so to kill that I won’t miss if the album is horrible again, so I decided to give it a whirl.
So, before I go track by track here’s a framework for interpreting the record: Is it a good album unto itself, or just a good Weezer album? All it would have to be in order to work as “Good Weezer” is better than Make Believe and Raditude. It would bring back the rawness, the emotion, the harmonious blend of happiness and regret that early Weezer brought. It would sound like the 90s again, but with some kind of 2014 relevance. That would be good, in its own right.
But to be a legendary album and transcendent of the herky-jerky Weezer story altogether, it would have to be at the level of “Suzanne” or “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly.” I believe that everyone who hears those songs will love them on first listen, and feel a connection whether they “got” Weezer back in the day or not. To succeed on this level, the songs would have to stand up against everything in the musical universe that has happened SINCE the four guys rocked our faces in 1994 and 1996, and that’s a pretty tall order.
So, the album opener – Ain’t Got Nobody: It has the big vamps, build, and emotional intensity of the early years. It’s repetitive, but satisfying and definitely draws in the listener. Even a few “doo doo doo-do-doos” don’t feel completely out of place.
Then comes Back to the Shack, opening with a big ol’ stinkin’ power chord riff and guitar solo trade-off. I like what Cuomo is trying to do with this apology, but like I said above, it’s just hard to take him at face value anymore. I’ve still got baggage from “Beverly Hills” – I’m sorry. So I’m listening to this, thinking it sounds like a “back to my roots” song, but I’d rather him demonstrate that instead of talking about it so nakedly. Show, don’t tell.
Eulogy for a Rock Band: Green Album harmonies and melodic tightness come through well in the chorus. Cuomo even comes up a rather impressive wail – the likes of which we haven’t heard since “Falling for You” or “Across the Sea.” This is good, but still not really even to the level of achieving Weezer-greatness, much less cultural perpetuity.
Lonely Girl: More self-revealing than the previous track, and has a nice break in the bridge with just Rivers singing with his “Strat” before the drums break in and the whole band then joins for a rousing chorus. It’s good. It’s what Weezer should be. It meets expectations.
I’ve Had It Up To Here: Bouncy and a little more simple in structure and lyrics, a weird mix of shallow and diary-entry antics. Not at all on the level of “I asked you to go to the Green Day concert / You said you never heard of them / How cool is that? / So I went to your room and read your diary.” See, old Weezer surprised you with the brutal honesty and vindictiveness. Current Weezer tries that, but it does a not-as-interesting job of it.
The British are Coming: Weezer gets really close to a concept song here. It’s likely to grab newcomers for its novelty and the intense delivery. I’m not sure if I like it, but there’s no mistaking that Cuomo really cares about what he’s saying, even if his reasons for writing a song about the Revolutionary War in a not-at-all ironic way are completely hidden.
Da Vinci: The first song whose chorus REALLY surprises me, and gets me in the feels on first listen – which is what Weezer always did best – is “Da Vinci.” I love the dynamics, how the whistling verses explode into a riveting chorus, and Rivers’ voice is quavering and soul-baring just like on Pinkerton. I mean, JUST like it. He even has a lyrical theme that ISN’T the title of the song. I respect that a lot. The structure and rhymes just slay. This is the transcendence that Weezer is going for. This can compete with any indie zine or rock publication’s most strict cultural winnowing. Very, very good.
Go Away: The notes that Rivers hits here are nostalgically beautiful. The call and response with Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast is definitely an interesting experiment too. The give and take works, and it’s not something they’ve ever done before.
Cleopatra: It starts sounding like an Eagles song, then almost morphs into a Bron Y Aur stomp before quickly getting into the “melancholy space rock” that Weezer sort of (kind of?)pioneered on Maladroit. The chorus lead-up sounds like Rivers is trying to cram too many syllables into the frame. But the song overall has the melancholy rock mood that Weezer made so successful in their early years.
(Forgive the) Foolish Father: This one is less about the obscured lyrical meaning and more about the huge, sweeping, satisfying production qualities. Big drum builds, soaring guitar, cymbal crashes and then, ultimately, silence for a plink-plink-plink before a final wave of chorus crashes down on the beach. And just then, a rhythmic, melodic choral chanting “Everything will be alright in the end…..” to both the singers’ and the listeners’ content.
The album closes with a really interesting rock opera type of medley. It’s equal parts Queen, the piano-plinking of “Let it Be”and the stratospheric guitar work we fell in love with way back on “Only in Dreams.” There are three movements, and it closes out the album in a very epic way.
So the album has its very, very high points. At times, the band is as “iconic Weezer” as it gets. And it’s not Weezer’s best, but it’s definitely a stand-out of their catalog, probably top 3 after the early two. If they’re trying to redeem themselves and their reputation, they succeeded.
And, as for it being a fully transcendent album in the wider music world: it’s probably not, but they’ve got “Da Vinci” and many other epic, sprawling indie rock soundscapes that will likely land the album on at least a couple of the coveted (and loathed) year-end lists just because it isn’t awful. Altogether it’s something that Weezer fans should definitely experience, and music fans everywhere should at least give a shot.
So fear not Weezer lovers of yore! You won’t get burned again. It’s a good record. Listen to it now on iTunes Radio First Play if you can tolerate credit card ads every two tracks. Otherwise wait until next Tuesday and buy that baby.