No matter the attitude or the singer, Weezer’s experiment falls pretty flat on their latest self-titled record. For almost a decade-and-a-half, Los Angeles’ Weezer has been one of the most successful alternative rock bands in America, thanks to the catchy, but also unusual songwriting of singer/guitarist and frontman Rivers Cuomo, along with a loyal fan base. On the band’s sixth studio album, the famously controlling Cuomo gives other members of the group a shot each at writing and singing, but more notable is the straight-faced irony of the ‘rock star’ lyrics. Yet these new spins mostly just subtract from a record that was thin to begin with.
Ever since the infectious, up-front alt-rock strains of 1994’s “Undone – The Sweater Song”, Weezer has been a mainstay in the mainstream alt-rock channels thanks to Cuomo’s song craft (and some particularly memorable music videos, featuring everything from Happy Days to The Muppets to 24’s Elisha Cuthbert), with even lesser-selling albums like 1996’s Pinkerton or 2002’s Maladroit doing well in the long-term. Yet the relative rebirth of indie-rock in the earlier part of this decade, coupled with Weezer’s regularity of sound has led to a critical decline. While the record’s eponymous nature dives back into the band’s glory days (this is the third record to be titled Weezer – it’s often known as ‘The Red Album’, by the cover, to differentiate from their debut Weezer (Blue) and their third, 2001’s Weezer (Green), Cuomo seemingly takes a different tact, not just in letting others to the mike and the pen, but by injecting a literal wry attitude to much of lyrics, as well as drawing from some more disparate sounds. Yet this is all less significant – and certainly less rewarding – than it reads.
Opener (and second single) “Troublemaker” is in the standard Weezer single mode, catchy in its plod, but lacks some of the spark that characterized such earlier singles as “Buddy Holly” or even “Beverly Hills”. First single “Pork and Beans” is better, the simple/loud dichotomy (featured in other singles from “Say It Ain’t So” to “Hash Pipe”) holding up better. The following “Heart Songs” is a slow, quiet, touching number (in the vein of 2001’s “Island in the Sun”) as Cuomo cites all the songs that inspired him, but still not as touching as Cuomo would have it. “Dreamin’” is the kind of bright, happy Weezer one would expect from a song of theirs with this title, but even then, a little less.
While the singles are standardized past the point of diminishing returns, what new aspects are added are not really welcome. The most pervasive is the ironic ‘I’m a rock star’ pose that Cuomo takes in his lyrics; even if meant to be funny, it just makes him insufferable on “Troublemaker”, the following “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)”, and “Everybody Get Dangerous”. At least the ‘anti-rock star’ “Pork” has a riff on the repetitive tendency of musicians to try to get a hit by working with ubiquitous producer Timbaland. There’s also some grab-bag search for new song styles, like the ill-fitting rap, hard-rock procession, falsetto and more on “Greatest Man”, or ‘trying to be tough’ rap-rock on “Dangerous”. Finisher “The Angle and the One” is a grand torch song, slow, epic, and only okay.
Before “Angel” comes the three tracks that were each penned & sung by one of the other bandmates (not an auspicious start, bunching them all together in the penultimate spot…). First one “Thought I Knew”, from guitarist Brian Bell, is the best of the lot, but that’s not saying a whole lot; kind of an emo-blues-rock (reminiscent of lesser Fastball – QRO live review), it’s not a standout, but not annoying, and has some substance. Bassist Scott Shriner’s “Cold Dark World” (which Cuomo co-wrote) is pressing, but the tough-guy vocals from Shriner are not impressive. Last and least, drummer Patrick Wilson’s “Automatic” is an uninteresting grind procession with uninteresting guitar wankery.
Weezer’s sometimes-grating catchiness (and self-conscious ‘nerd-cool’ persona) has long been the grit in many a critic’s teeth. But there have definitely been weaker and weaker returns in recent years from the band and, unfortunately, this latest Weezer is no Weezer – or even Weezer. Where the group stays still, there’s less and less, and where they reinvent, there’s even less than that.