Maladroit Pitchfork Media record review

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Maladroit cover
Studio album by Weezer
Released May 14, 2002
Professional reviews

Metascore 72
Reviewer: Rob Mitchum (Pitchfork Media)
Publishing date: May 27, 2002
Rating: 5.4/10
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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.

— Rob Mitchum, May 27, 2002

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