The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Red Album Has Me Feeling Blue: Weezer’s Return to Form

Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer

Image The cover art for Red, the first Weezer album since 2005’s Make Believe, is more of a harbinger than one might expect.  The four disparate images presented—hipster, prep, country, and rock—actually make up the chief winds blowing through the new album.  And no, that’s not this writer’s way of saying the new album blows…quite the opposite in fact.

Maybe it was the release of Rivers Cuomo’s Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo, or, dare I say, the return to a solid color scheme, but Red sounds more like vintage Weezer than anything since, well, vintage Weezer.  Usually this can be a problem, like on Maladroit when we heard, for a few wonderful seconds at a time, the makings of a return to form, followed by an abrupt shift towards garbagerie.  But rest assured, Weezer stalwarts, Red is the first true Weezer album worth buying since Pinkerton.

Lead single “Pork & Beans,” despite a few nonsense lyrics, says more about the vision and motivation of Weezer than any song prior.  The straightforward structure recalls vapid former singles like “Beverly Hills,” but the simple, metafictional lyrics—“Everyone likes to dance to a happy song with a catchy chorus and beat so they can sing along”—“I’m gonna do the things that I want to do/I ain’t got a thing to prove to you”—offer something more, a reference point into the emotions of a band that so often seems soulless or even lazy.

“Heart Songs” combines the self-conscious Weezer we heard on “In the Garage” with the spirited bombast of “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.”  A song about influence—Cuomo namedrops Nirvana, Joan Biaz, Cat Stevens, Devo, Quiet Riot, Michael Jackson, and many, many others—the unpretentious chorus, “These are my heart songs, they never feel wrong,” forms the emotional centerpiece of Red.  Turns out, once you get into the second half of the song, Cuomo finally reveals that, had it not been for Nirvana, we might not have ever heard a peep from him. The lyrical apex says it all:

Back in 1991/

I wasn’t having any fun/

till my roommate said come on/

and put a brand new record on/

Had a baby on it/

He was naked on it/

Then I heard the chords that broke the chains I had on me

“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” could be the most confusing and least focused Weezer song in recent memory, but every time it sounds like a jalopy careening off a cliff, Cuomo enters with another vintage hook.  It starts with crowd noise and then faux-rap, Cypress Hill style verses.  At every 30 second turn of it’s nearly 6 minute run, Weezer channels and mimics riffs and vocals from its most cherished and strangest influences—Queen, The Kinks, Cheap Trick, NWA, and, yes, Weezer—all with equal aplomb and the endearing self-consciousness that defines the band’s greatest moments.

Some things you have to hear for yourself:

"The Greatest Man That Ever Lived"

“Dreamin’” sounds like a rough cut off Blue, with Cuomo launching into the most straightforward rocker on Red.  Lines like “Teacher says I gotta learn some facts, so I can make it in the wider stacks” and “Daddy says I gotta pay some bills, so I can learn to be responsible” are vintage Weezer throwaway lines that recall just how talented Cuomo and Co. can be when they veer towards their roots.

“Thought I Knew” has the kind of buried guitar riffs that made Blue so successful and complex.  Combined with a barely recognizable Cuomo vocal—he sounds at once like his less credible post-grunge contemporaries or The Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean—and genuinely transcendent peaks, the track offers yet another moment where Weezer spin-off formulaics without sounding like a cover band.

Weezer show a maturity on Red that is at once an improvement on their more recent schtick and an acknowledgement of current indie rock stalwarts.  For instance, “Cold Dark World” carries verses that sound like Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.  Yet despite apparent contemporary influences, Red is unmistakably the work of one Rivers Cuomo, the geeky, charming pop maestro we loved on Blue, cried with on Pinkerton, welcomed back on Green, forgot about, and now can feel free to love once again.  Red, for its real, Weezer-esque problems (see “Troublemaker”), is an unmistakable triumph for a band running low on our patience.   And it’s more than that.  It’s a bold and ultimately successful new direction for a band that’s been long on promise but short on results for far too long.

"Cold Dark World"

The Red Album is due on Geffen June 26, 2008.