Weezer (The Red Album) IGN record review
|Studio album by Weezer
|June 3, 2008
|Weezer (The Red Album)
Reviewer: JR (IGN)
Publishing date: June 3, 2008
Weezer have always had something of an identity crisis. As a musician first and a businessman second – but a businessman nonetheless – frontman Rivers Cuomo has spent his 16 years with Weezer careening wildly between making music for himself and making music for everybody else. This problem didn't arise until the multi-platinum success of the band's 1994 debut; after Cuomo attained the level of fame of which he had only dreamed in his Connecticut childhood home, a saga was touched off, one that has been told and retold countless times in the music press.
It boils down to this: Pinkerton was music for Cuomo, resulting in one of the defining records of the 90s—and a tremendous commercial failure. Weezer (2001; "The Green Album") was a return to vast mainstream appeal at the expense of any semblance of musical creativity or lyrical finesse. Maladroit, again, saw Cuomo having fun, but nobody was listening. Then came the divisive Make Believe, Cuomo's largely-failed attempt at striking a balance; critical reception was tepid, much of the material, in retrospect, sounds hideously flaccid, and it made six metric craploads of money for the band and the label. What's alt-rock's pet dork to do?
Now we've got Weezer (2008; "The Red Album"), so named in an attempt to tell the world, "Here we are, totally reinvented. Again. Four of us on the cover. Ten songs. Sound familiar?" For better or worse, that's precisely where the familiarity hits a wall.
The Red Album is totally bizarre, a certifiable mess, and a hell of a lot of fun. It's a rock album, sure, but barely – it's power-pop first and foremost, and a lot of it… is rap. Yes, Rivers Cuomo raps on three of the tracks (bassist Scott Shriner on one; more on that later), and it's about what you'd imagine: awful. Thing is, Cuomo knows it's awful, and he hopes the charm of his tongue-in-cheek, Eminem-better-watch-out antics will purge from listeners' minds the utter vapidity of Make Believe's worst tracks.
So what is this record about? It's about being in a rock band. It's about being yourself. It's about doing dangerous things, stupid things, wild things. Things which are intuitive rather than calculated, hedonistic rather than prudent. It's about getting old, about being a teenager in a middle-aged man's body, about looking back at one's youth not with regret but with teary-eyed, victorious fondness. It's a real pick-me-up. And it's about doing it in the most huge, most theatrical, most bombastic idiom.
That's the common theme of the album. Weezer have opened up a box of knick-knacks and trinkets, strange musical ideas and unorthodox methods of execution, and have simply thrown them up in the air. Some are caught in the loving hands of creative success before shattering on the floor. Some are not.
"Troublemaker," the record's opening track, is catchy as sin but not nearly diverse enough (the pseudo-solo, accompanied by Cuomo spitting "Wa-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na," is its highest point). Much hype has surrounded "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)," mainly because it is a schizophrenic, six-minute roller-coaster of 10 movements, few of which are longer than 30 seconds. Does it work? I don't hear a single, but it's certainly the most curious song to leak from Cuomo's pen, and it is the runaway star of an equally spastic album.
Cuomo name-checks the tunes that form his inspiration in "Heart Songs," a limp R&B tune that blows up into a respectable and proud ballad towards the end of its tenure. "Everybody Get Dangerous" is another curiosity; it's rap, it's hard-rock, and it's got that falsetto-interlude (leading up to a crashing climax) you remember from "Surf Wax America" and "Holiday." The most Weezer-y song on the record is the five-minute "Dreamin'," a pure pop treat that, like "Greatest Man," cobbles together a series of sections that work together, fortunately, more often than not. The vocal interplay between Cuomo and guitarist Brian Bell is effective and, quite appropriately, dreamlike.
It's when Cuomo's bandmates step up to the mic (for the first time on an official release, mind you) that things begin to sound a little… well, normal. And, after a 25-minute theatre of the bizarre, normal tends to come off a little weak. Guitarist Bell contributes "Thought I Knew," a competent but uninteresting tune from his side-project The Relationship, and one that probably should have stayed with The Relationship. Shriner (bass) raps and sings his way through "Cold Dark World," another plodding effort saved by Cuomo's backing vocals and a memorable coda. The final and best entry in this trio is drummer Patrick Wilson's "Automatic," a vanilla hard-rocker in andante time that sounds like the love child of Maladroit-era Weezer and Wilson's own band, The Special Goodness.
Audiences hoping for a worthy successor to "Only In Dreams" can turn to the album's closer, "The Angel and the One." It doesn't quite reach the stratospheric heights of "Dreams"'s squealing-solo climax, but it proves once again that Cuomo can write an earnest and impressive song in spite of the lack of specificity for which many a critic has wailed on him.
If it weren't for "Pork and Beans" – a single-by-request of Geffen executives doubtful that white-boy rap and synthesized overdubs are enough to shift units – it's hard to imagine "The Red Album" getting anyone's attention. Sad to say, much of the material on the disc could have come from virtually any band with talent and guitars. It's by mere virtue of the fact that it's Cuomo & Co., whom you grew up with and whom you're grateful are as geeky as you are, that Weezer is elevated beyond anything other than a curiosity and a footnote. Everybody is going to regard this record, to varying degrees, as a joke. Weezer fans will get it. Others will put the band permanently out of their minds, if they haven't already.
Note: Weezer completists should invest in the "Deluxe" edition of the album, as it contains four extra tracks that were stricken from Weezer for reasons of pacing, mood, and/or aesthetics: "Miss Sweeney," "Pig," "The Spider," and "King." It's obvious that these tracks don't fit in with the album. Their omission from the tracklist was a good move; but, still, they're songs that are worth hearing, if not a little depressing.
- "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)"
- "Pork And Beans"
- "Everybody Get Dangerous"
- "Pig" (Deluxe Edition only)