Monday, June 09, 2008

6/9/08 - As Feared, New Weezer = Aggressively Mediocre

Well, consider expectations met. Weezer's new album (idiotically titled "The Red Album" - someone please inform these guys that 3 self-titled albums is not clever, but rather carries the unmistakable stench of creative bankruptcy) is pretty bad.

Not bad in the way that the previous 3 were bad, which were soul-crushingly, agonizingly, terribly bad. This is more like the kind of bad where it becomes apparent that your favorite band is running out of ideas, and is no longer a band because of any pressing needs to communicate through music but rather is a band because, well, it beats working a desk job.

Some of the stuff on there is, as my friend Andrew observed, some of the best material they've put out since Pinkerton. "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived" picks up the punk rock opera thread from Green Day's "American Idiot" album, cramming in falsetto, overly dramatic monologues, tempo shifts, nods to "Simple Gifts" (yeah, "Simple Gifts, as in the song you may remember from middle school chorus...I know I do), and references to mages and magic spells. Unlike anything from albums 3-5, it's not burdened with crushing self-consciousness, and is rather a window into the peculiar workings of Rivers Cuomo's pop-musical mind.

"Dreamin" is a servicable song, 1/2 epic, 1/2 pop trifle, complete with verbal harmony breakdown at the end and a whole lot of ooh-ooh's. "Troublemaker" is catchy and dumb, with several lines that made me smile for real and a chorus that was stuck in my head for 3 days.
Closer "The Angel and the One" is decent, as well.

All of these are markedly inferior to "Pork and Beans", which is the kind of sledgehammer pop that marked Weezer as special all those years ago. "I don't care what they say about us anyway" is now "I don't give a hoot about what you think", and it's all backed up by that glorious 4/4 grind. It's also hookier by far than anything else on the album. Does it point its way toward a potential road to recovery?

Hardly. Depressingly enough, Rivers revealed to "Rolling Stone" that he wrote the song to fit an old riff from '98 that he never used. Hmmm, '98. Right around the time before his talent up and left, apparently. This was crushing news to me. It's gone. The man's a pop song architect now by occupation, not a regular geek with vague dreams of success and happiness gloriously unrealized.

Further evidence of creative bankruptcy - Rivers lets the other members of the band contribute songs to the album. In a long-ago "Alternative Press" article much was made of his dictatorial tendencies, so the fact that he's letting other people get songs onto his band's album surely shows improvement as a person, and I can always support that. But, man, listening to these songs gives me newfound appreciation for Rivers-the-asshole back in '96. Maybe it was just misguided quality control, because the non-Cuomo songs are terrible.

So, 6 songs from Rivers, with 1 great, 1 solid, and 2 decent. 4 terrible songs from the rest of the band. Talk about going out with a whimper instead of a bang. And I'm left to wonder again, what was it about Matt Sharp? Sharp was the most frustrated, had the biggest axe to grind of any of the non-Cuomo members of Weezer according to that long-ago article, and, if the results of the first 2 Rentals albums are any indication, dude had a legitimate gripe. Unlike the dreck churned out on "The Red Album", Sharp has a handful of songs to his credit that not only hit the quality bar set by the first 2 Weezer albums, but also share their unmistakable sonic instincts. It's not like he was churning out sub-Cracker forgettableness like "Thought I Knew" (thanks, Brian Bell, but no thanks), he was touching up songs like the fabulous "The Love I'm Searching For", which had plenty of that chugging melodic low-end drive that earned Weezer so many ducats (and continues to do so - "Pork and Beans" is apparently tearing it up on the charts).

But by all accounts, Rivers was a tyrant then, and dictated the sound of early Weezer with the zeal of a Fidel, so theoretically losing Sharp's bass & falsetto was just a matter of finding another warm body with the same instrumental abilities.

But theory apparently diverged from practice. Something about Sharp's presence or influence seems to have functioned as some sort of quality bar for Rivers, because the fall-off after he left the band is simply astonishing. I'll never know if it was Matt Sharp, or if his departure miraculously coincided with the complete erosion of Rivers Cuomo's musical instincts, but it's a question I ponder anew with each new crappy facsimile of past glory titled "Weezer" and labeled by color that comes down the pipe.

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