Saturday, May 10, 2008

You'd hate for the kids to think that you've lost your cool

Weezer - PinkertonMy love for Weezer is not unconditional.

Rivers Cuomo has a singular talent for writing self-deprecating songs that nevertheless explode with Marshall-stacked power pop sound -- fist-pumping sing-alongs about loneliness and longing. Their first album, colloquially referred to as "the blue album," showed that off to considerable success: "Buddy Holly" and "Say It Ain't So" are just as popular today as they were fourteen (!!) years ago, and the blue album remains one of my favorites. Cuomo sang about surfing to work, playing Dungeons & Dragons in his garage, and the agony of sweater destruction, turning idiosyncrasies into outcast anthems. Millions of high school freshmen found their kindred spirit.

Weezer's next album, Pinkerton, improved upon the blue album in every respect -- it's one of the most raw, confessional records ever recorded. (Pitchfork, while naming it one of the best albums of the '90s, called it "the catchiest LiveJournal blog [we've] ever heard.") And it isn't just raw in emotion, but in sound, too: Pinkerton is infamously underproduced, packed with feedback, screeching and off-key backing vocals. The shaky sound adds urgency to the desperation of the songs, which all ache with that same loneliness and longing. But this time, Cuomo made his lyrics fiercely personal: "El Scorcho," one of the greatest unrequited love songs ever written, burns with intimate details. "Goddamn, you half-Japanese girls do it to me every time/And the redhead said you shred the cello, and I'm Jell-O, baby," he sings to the object of his affection. "Across the Sea" is an even more personal story, inspired by a fan's letter: "They don't make stationery like this where I'm from/So fragile, so refined/So I sniff and I lick your envelope/And fall to little pieces every time/I wonder what clothes you wear to school/I wonder how you decorate your room/I wonder how you touch yourself/And curse myself for being across the sea."

Sure, one might think that such specifics would make it harder for the listener to relate to the songs, but really, that frankness makes it easier to relate -- rather than giving vague, clichéd platitudes, Cuomo tells you exactly what he's going through, drawing you in. I've never longed for an eighteen-year-old Japanese girl who wrote me a letter about my music, but I have felt a disconnect from all of the people around me, and sought desperately for someone to connect with...and found just as much success as Rivers does in "Across the Sea."

But Pinkerton failed, both commercially and critically. (At the time, anyway -- critics and fans have since discovered the album again, with Rolling Stone even giving it a new five-star review.) And when Weezer returned with another self-titled album five years later, something had changed. Those frank details were replaced with...vague, clichéd platitudes. Songs like Pinkerton's "Pink Triangle" -- an achingly sad but funny tale about falling in love with a girl, only to discover "I'm dumb/She's a lesbian!" -- were nowhere to be found. The green album wasn't a total waste -- Rivers still has his gift for pop songcraft, of course -- but it felt like a letdown.

And it didn't get any better with Maladroit. And in 2005, they released Make Believe, an almost entirely forgettable waste of time. So, as I said, my love for Weezer is far from unconditional.

But this morning, I heard their new single for the first time. And while I don't like to give in to hyperbole, "Pork and Beans" may just be the best song they've recorded since 1996. Here, have a listen:

The new album -- which we're calling "the red album," apparently -- comes out next month.

I await it eagerly.

Now playing: Weezer - Pork and Beans
via FoxyTunes


  1. Anonymous7:20 PM

    just wanted to let you know that seven other tracks have leaked off of the new album. reviews have been mixed, but i personally think that it is their best material since pinkerton. the tracks are all over the internet, so you should be able to find them.

  2. Thanks for the tip, um...anonymous person! I will seek those out immediately.

    (And you can leave your name, you know. No need to be shy.)