Weezer (The Red Album) Pitchfork Media record review
|Studio album by Weezer
|June 3, 2008
|Weezer (The Red Album)
Reviewer: Marc Hogan (Pitchfork Media)
Publishing date: June 2 2008
Although weaned on prog-metal, educated in classical music at Harvard, and once viewed as a representative of the indie rock set, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo prefers to write simple music that can be easily enjoyed by a mass audience. It was one of many elements that defined him in the beginning, on his band's hugely popular 1994 self-titled debut (The Blue Album), if one of few remaining characteristics defining his music today.
Following poor initial sales of the record's follow-up, the more introspective cult hit Pinkerton, Cuomo famously retreated from the public eye. Over the next five years, the band would remain silent, cultivating goodwill and an ever-growing army of fans. But most of that goodwill has deteriorated since their re-emergence in 2001, in the wake of three mediocre-to-awful albums that were, in many ways, the opposite of what made Cuomo's band so adored in the first place.
Sadly, the once burned-out Weezer continue to fade away: Those first two records capture their decade in 75 minutes of near-perfect power-pop: straight-faced irony, eccentric sincerity, meta references, and bipolar guitar distortion from ordinary-looking outcasts who became stars and then complained about it. Punk that's too catchy to offend. Pop that's too smart to cop to itself. And, uh, emo. After Pinkerton, the deluge; rap-metal and post-grunge wound up so thoroughly conquering modern rock that now even staunch rockists are making excited noises about "American Idol" winner David Cook. Hey, somebody's supposed to save mainstream rock'n'roll, right?
Not these guys. Beginning with 2001's so-so Green Album and plumbing Jules Verne depths with 2005's terrible Make Believe, the band began to take on some of the most infuriating characteristics of the very bands that had replaced them during their absence: intelligence-insulting songwriting, cookie-cutter dynamics, questionable facial hair. At the very least, The Red Album (as Weezer have nicknamed their latest) is a first step toward rehabilitation-- a tacit admission that recent discs, with their empty universality and recycled riffs, had a problem. But it's not a return to glory unless you consider 2001 their glory days.
Judging by appetizing first single "Pork and Beans", The Red Album could've been almost as funny and catchy as Pinkerton's "El Scorcho", only from the perspective of a married man coming up on 40. It's as if last year's demos compilation, Alone, helped Cuomo remember how to do this stuff right. His sarcastic mention of super-producer Timbaland's chart magic is as hilarious as it is on-point-- especially after Madonna's dreadful, Tim-helmed #1 single, "4 Minutes". Jacknife Lee (who co-produced the album along with Make Believe overseer Rick Rubin) lets the chorus explode from the mix in a way that little on the radio does anymore. It demands to be sung by millions of uncomprehending bar-goers.
With an opening Rogaine reference, "Pork and Beans" also establishes The Red Album's main theme. Already a self-described "old man" on Pinkerton, Cuomo is focused these days on reliving his lost youth-- probably the same reason some of us still listen to Weezer albums. Lead track and third single "Troublemaker" starts back in school, a faint whiff of existential angst and a surging bridge helping to redeem a vapid chorus and monotonous, familiar-sounding guitars. The laughably bad "Heart Songs" is The Blue Album's nostalgic "In the Garage" schmaltzed up as a sort of name-dropping "Circle of Life"; if Nirvana had "the chords that broke the chains I had upon me," kudos to Cuomo for swiping them on the otherwise forgettable teenage prankfest "Everybody Get Dangerous" (to quote: "boo-yahhh").
At this point, Weezer is as much a brand as a band. When Cuomo relinquishes the mic, The Red Album could be by any group of modern-rock mediocrities. Longtime guitarist Brian Bell gets throaty and twangy like a poor man's Rob Thomas on repetitive non-apology "Thought I Knew", backed by bland acoustic guitar and a TR-808 drum machine. Bassist Scott Shriner speak-sings in creepy stalker mode on "Cold Dark World", with Cuomo swooping to the rescue on the choruses. "Automatic", led by original drummer Pat Wilson, returns to the faceless crunching of 2002's Maladroit.
Not that Cuomo needs other voices to reveal that The Red Album is hardly the work of idiosyncratic auteurship the first couple of singles could've suggested. He sings on peppy, tempo-switching "Dreamin'" and the grandiose finale, "The Angel and the One", but for all their background-friendly polish, both are typical, vacuous latter-day Weezer tracks.
The Red Album's most ambitious song adapts the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts". The melody, played first on piano recalling Pinkerton's "Across the Sea", is more obvious than the Erik Satie snippet Cuomo ganked for The Blue Album's "Surf Wax America", but now, as then, the theft isn't the point. "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" is the warped genius let loose, from half-rapped intro to Queen bombast to baroque a cappella. Like the YouTube culture the [["Pork and Beans" video depicts so well, the song-- and this album-- relies on a high quantity of short-lived pretty good ideas to distract from a shortage of great ones.
— Marc Hogan, June 5, 2008
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