Album Review: Weezer, "Hurley"

Part of the problem with the albums Weezer has released since they reformed is how easy it is to dismiss them.  They lack substance.  I'm firmly of the belief that this is because four of those five albums (I'm not counting Hurley in any of this) weren't really full records.  Each contained a few really good songs surrounded by what can only be referred to as filler.  Compare to that to the Blue Album, for example.  There's exactly one song on Weezer's debut that I'm not fond of ("Holiday," for those wondering) which means that 90% of the record is, to me, great.  That's a pretty high bar, I grant you, but Weezer hasn't even come close to that.
(Yes, I said four of the five albums.  I will go to my grave preaching the greatness of Maladroit, a rawk masterpiece that sold almost no copies, but was a complete record in the same way that the Blue Album and Pinkerton were.)

So how does Hurley stack up?  Well, that's a complicated answer.

As a whole, Hurley is a much better album than the majority of what Weezer has released in the last few years, just due to the simple fact that it contains a higher number of good songs.  That said, it's not at the level of the Blue Album, Pinkerton, or Maladroit because it's not a work unto itself.  It's actually something of a mash-up.

I'm a long time R.E.M. fan.  My brother introduced them to me when I was a kid and I was hooked.  But in later years their music didn't do it for me.  Not unlike Weezer, their music started feeling less and less substantial.  I think there might be a couple albums that I own that I only listed to once or twice.

But then they released New Adventures In Hi-Fi.  I loved that album.  What was really curious about it, though, was how each song seemed very different, and how each one seemed like a B-side from an early record.  You could actually go through the entire record and say "that should be on Document, that should be Green," and so on.  The album was great, but it was completely scatterbrained.

Kind of like Hurley.

Before I get into specifics, I'd also like to mention that those waiting for a return to the old days of Weezer have more than just Rivers' songwriting to fight, they have Weezer's entire recording process.  Blame it on the loss of Matt Sharp if you want, but Weezer doesn't have the same sound that it had and probably never will.  There's less crunchy bass, less quirky vocals, and more production.  Even this album, with it's "raw" production is still miles apart from their debut.  That is a ship that sailed away a long time ago and will never return.

Now, on to the tracks.

"Memories" -- I have no idea what to do with this song.  I like it well enough, but that chorus is pushing the limits of Weezer-style cheese.  This feels like it would fit in nicely on the Green album or maybe Make Believe, two albums I believe could have been merged to make a single, stronger record.  I have to wonder if the strings in the very beginning are a nod towards the fact that the bass line at the start of the song sounds like an Arcade Fire song.

"Ruling Me" -- Another track that would have fit nicely on my imaginary Green Believe record, I actually of dig this track.  Lyrically, it's a got a bit of that old Rivers charm to it, like "my ocular nerve went pop zoom."  That's a disturbingly sweet way to describe first meeting someone.

"Trainwrecks" -- Probably lyrically as close to Pinkerton as we've gotten on this album, kind of picking up where "Good Life" left off.  Musically, I think this one might actually fit on Red Raditude (yes, I believe those two albums should be combined into one, too).

"Unspoken" -- And then it hit!  Perhaps of all the tracks on Hurley, this feels the most like something that could have been written during Weezer's early days.  It could have been a B-side from the Blue Album that failed to make it on to Pinkerton.  There's a nice angstiness to Rivers' voice here and the song itself has some nice changes.  The big thunder that comes in towards the end puts me more in a mind of Pinkerton than the Blue Album, but that's not a bad thing.  The production is a great example of one of the positive effects of Weezer's evolution.

"Where's My Sex" -- Almost, but not quite.  As the story goes, Rivers' kid calls "socks" "sex" and thus was born this song.  There are moments when the swapping of words almost works in a crazy abstract way, but those are few and far between and mostly it just comes off as bad.  The music is actually pretty catchy, but then it has this weird, out of left field middle section that's completely jarring.  Rivers also goes a little crazy with his high pitched, desperate singing voice in this one.  I'd probably place it on Red Raditude, but I don't know that it would make the cut.

"Run Away" -- And so, Ryan Adams comes in to co-write one of the better tracks on this record.  This one might upset my theory of each song sounding like a B-side from another album, but I'm okay with that.  It's a nice song, and I think perhaps "nice" is the best way to describe it.

"Hang On" -- This might be my favorite song on the record at the moment.  The inclusion of the mandolin is nice and it's something I wish WeezerWeezer lyrics going on here.  Really, this song and "Run Away" are a nice combo, and would be great as a build off point for Weezer's future work.

"Smart Girls" -- No.  Just...just...no.

"Brave New World" -- I'm always a fan of rocking riffs, and the intro for this song is a good one.  It loses steam in the chorus, though, which sounds a lot like the "Age of Aquarius."  I'd place it on Red Raditude, although it might have fit on Maladroit, if the guitar sound was more epic.

"Time Flies" -- I appreciate the effort, Weezer.  That's not to say I think this is a bad song.  It's actually kind of catchy.  But I loathe the production.  Why does it sound like everything was maxed out?  This actually might have been a better track had it just been Rivers and co-writer Mac Davis and a couple of guitars, recorded simply.

BONUS TRACKS

"All My Friends Are Insects" -- I love this song.  I love everything about this song.  I don't watch "Yo Gaba Gaba!" so I don't know if it's actually been on the show (it was written by Adam Deibert, who also writes music for that show), but I love this version.  I love the crazy changes, I love the crazy guitar solo, and I love the crazy lyrics.  Did I mention that I love this song?

"Viva La Vida" -- While I appreciate the humor and novelty in Weezer covering a Coldplay song, this really isn't much of a cover.  There's nothing about it that makes it a Weezer song.  That's the beauty of a good cover: it should still be recognizable, but it should have the covering band's stamp on it.  This does not.

"I Want To Be Something" -- I wish this track were on the standard addition and I'm confused as to why it isn't.  Honestly, though, all of Weezer's recent releases have featured bonus tracks that are better than the standard ones.  This one definitely puts me in a mind of Pinkerton, and not just because Pinkerton actually had an acoustic song on it.  Even the lyrics make me think of Pinkerton.


"Represent (Rocked Out Mix)" -- I didn't realize there was a different mix of this song.  Anyway, I liked the World Cup.  I enjoy those few weeks.  This song is what it is.  Really, this is the perfect bonus track, as it's not remotely essential.

So where does Hurley stand when it's all said and done?  I'm not entirely sure yet.  A good album, I think, with glimpses of potential for a more focused sound from Weezer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go put together my Green Believe and Red Raditude playlists.

Album Review: Weezer, "The Red Album"

Note: In an effort to make this blog more of a hub for all of my writing (as should be clear by the sudden increase in posts, if nothing else), I'm going to copy some of the things I've written elsewhere over here.


Ideally, I'd like this to go beyond music reviews (or comic book reviews,which is the next step) and encompass snippets of my short stories and books, but I'll start small.  Onward!

Is this Weezer's best album? No. It is their worst? No. Is it their strangest? Definitely. It would seem to me, though, that people are either so enamored with the band or so enamored with the past they've lost a critical ear. But let's take it song by song:

1. Troublemaker -- Fairly standard Weezer fare, really, although a bit more pop than perhaps their earlier stuff. Enjoyable, but not really memorable.

2. The Greatest Man That Ever Lived -- Yes, it's strange and rarely repeats -- save for the main chorus -- but each section is pretty catchy on it's own. They lyrics are pretty hilarious.

3. Pork and Beans -- Again, fairly standard Weezer fare, backed by a great video. It's pretty catchy, but not really that interesting.

4. Heart Songs -- Yes, it sounds a bit cheesy when it starts, but it's a great song, backed by an experience we all share: those songs that never leave you, that will always be important no matter how much time passes. It builds really nicely, too.

5. Everybody Get Dangerous -- For what it's worth, I liked "We Are All On Drugs," which probably informs my opinion of this song. I enjoy the heck out of it. The chord changes are great and the lyrics are hilarious -- a great job of taking me back to my youth and a legitimate question: what do we do when our kids act like we did?

6. Dreamin' -- An obvious single, made less obvious by the outro, which is really cool. A good song and classic Weezer.

7. Thought I Knew -- Yes, Brian sings lead on this. And, yes, it doesn't sound like a Weezer song at all, even on a album that's redefining what a "Weezer" song is. On it's own merits, this might be a great song, but it's simply too jarring to hear on the album.

8. Cold Dark World -- Scott sings lead on this one and it's much less jarring to me. I actually like this song. It's fairly driving and Scott delivers his vocals a lot like Rivers (who sings on the choruses).

9. Automatic -- I think this might be Pat on vocals here. Again, a twist from Weezer, but not completely different. It's an okay song. I think a big problem people might have with this album is the fact that these three songs come in a row.

10. The Angel and The One -- This is a great song. This is classic, heartfelt Weezer. I read a review where someone said this album didn't have the emotional appeal that previous Weezer albums have had, and while that might be true on a whole, this song (and Heart Songs) just really hit home.

BONUS TRACKS

11. Miss Sweeney -- I agree with a previous reviewer -- this song makes the bonus album a required purchase. It's just a great song and Rivers' vocal delivery is just so great. It's songs like this that make you realize just how creative Weezer can be.

12. Pig -- Another good one, kind of folksy, kind of earthy, but still quirky in that Weezer way.

13. The Spider -- Yeah, it's a little bizarre and kind of sounds like one of Rivers' home recordings. It might grow on me in time, but now it's just kind of there.

14. King -- Man, I don't know if Scott writes the vocal lines and lyrics or if Rivers handles that and just has Scott sing it, but I have to say that he's pretty freaking great. This is probably better than "Cold Dark World."

Overall, I think it's a good album. I'd have given it 3 and a half stars initially, but I'm sure it will earn the extra half a star going forward.

Pop Essay #1: Weezer

The summer of '94 was pretty great. I'd just graduated from high school and was getting ready to go college that fall. It seemed as if my parents had either become completely lax in their enforcement of my curfew or just no longer cared, as such a thing would soon be out of their hands, anyway. The only drama I had involved leaving behind an ex-girlfriend who never became completely ex, at least at that point, but it was the type of drama dependent upon someone liking you, which meant that, at its core, it was almost good to have. I was eighteen and I had my friends and I was done with high school and freedom was in the air.

And this is when I first fell for Weezer. Heck, I believe I even gave said ex-girlfriend a mix tape with "The World Has Turned" on it, because I loved the song and because I felt it related to our relationship, and what more could you ask for from a band, from a song?

I'm not sure why I latched on to Weezer as quickly as I did. Part of it, I'm sure, was their image, as I was something of a dork myself. I'd also grown quite fond of driving around in the summer time and singing along with my car stereo, and Weezer was great for that.

Because I was eighteen and filled with all the bitterness a Midwestern teen can muster, I viewed people in two groups when it came to Weezer: the "Undone" fans and the "Buddy Holly" fans. I was the former, of course, and at one point my pretentiousness actually drove me away from the almighty Weez because of those "Buddy Holly" fans. The rift didn't last too long.

But let's start right from the top, shall we?

The Blue Album

Weezer played in Cleveland before anyone had really heard of them. I didn't go to that show (it would be years later before I ever saw them live), but they did a radio interview for a local station the day of the show. It had to have been the middle of the afternoon and I can't imagine too many people heard it. I don't even think the DJ really knew who they were, but he was at least good enough to intersperse a few of the band's songs throughout the interview. It might not have been the first time I heard "Undone," but it's the time I remember the most. I also remember that there were a group of six or seven, hardcore Weezer fans standing outside the radio station with signs proclaiming their love for the band.

I love the Blue Album for a lot of reasons. Yes, it's awesome. There's only one song on it that I could live without ("Holiday"). But, of course, it holds sentimental value. For me, it's probably my favorite album of theirs, basically because of context.

Pinkerton

I was in college when Weezer finally released their second album and I will admit, to this day I don't understand what all the fuss was about -- and I mean that on both sides of the fuss aisle. There's no question that Pinkerton's a great album and a worthy successor to the Blue Album. I am genuinely baffled, however, but the positive and negative claims about it being dark and/or abrasive. Compared to the Blue Album, it's definitely darker, but on it's own? No, I just don't think so. Hell, I spent most of the winter of 1996 listening to this album, and winters in Ohio are about the most depressing thing in the world, and I still didn't see what was so incredibly dark about this record. Is it as pop friendly as the Blue Album? Of course not. But it's still power chords and vocal harmonies. Hell, at times it's filled with borderline silly lyrics.

More intense than the Blue Album? Definitely. And I think that's ultimately what scared so many people away. But I also think that it became the record that Weezer fans used to define themselves and, sadly, the band. It turned into "if you liked Pinkerton, you must be a real fan," and that was unfortunate. Even worse, a certain segment of their fan base took that belief even further, now believing that anything that doesn't sound like Pinkerton is a failure for Weezer.

I love Pinkerton. It's a very specific record from a very specific time. But I would hate for Weezer to try and recreate it, and I'm glad they haven't.

Green Album

I'll admit it: I was thrilled when I heard Weezer was releasing a new album. Since I was still pretty new to the whole "obsessing over a band online" thing, I was completely in the dark as to the circumstances that led to the release of the Green Album, or the fact that there appeared to be hundreds of unreleased Weezer songs. When I first heard "Hash Pipe," I got even more excited; it was everything I wanted from a Weezer song, big guitar sound, catchy vocals, weird lyrics -- clearly, I thought, this new album was going to pick up where they left off.

Well, it did, I guess, if picking up where they left off meant putting out a bland and, dare I say it, trite record. Don't get me wrong, I still love "Hash Pipe," and there are one or two other songs on the Green Album that I enjoy, but overall this was...well, this was weak. I had no choice but to chock it up as Weezer's version of spring training, and that they had to get this album out of their system before putting out a real Weezer record.

Maladroit

And that's exactly what they did. Sure, I love the Blue Album and Pinkerton, but Maladroit, to me, was the future of Weezer (I was wrong about that one, it turned out). It is filled with giant guitar sounds, big riffage, and catchy vocals. It was an album that said that Weezer couldn't really be that dorky band everyone knew and loved years ago, but that they could rock better than pretty much anyone else. If their first two albums were "alternative" and their third album was "pop," this album was rock and I freaking loved the hell out of it.

Just listen to "Take Control" and tell me it doesn't sound like something Guns N' Roses could have come up with.

Anyway, I've just read that this was Weezer's least successful album to date, which I suppose is only appropriate. I like big rock records and that's what Weezer gave me, so I'm grateful, even if they dropped this sound completely going forward.

Make Believe

As soon as I heard "Beverly Hills," I knew this was not going to end well.

I don't loathe Make Believe the way that many Weezer fans do. But coming on the heels of Maladroit, it just felt like a huge step backward, and some reviews went so far as to suggest that's exactly what Weezer was trying to do. There seemed to be a belief among some music reviewers that this was Weezer's attempt (and probably producer Rick Rubin's as well) at putting together another Pinkerton. If I need more validation on my belief that they should never try such a thing, this supports me pretty nicely.

What's really strange to me about Make Believe is just how tame it is, something made all the more obvious given the album it followed. And that's not to say that I don't enjoy some of the songs; I actually like "Perfect Situation" and "We Are All On Drugs," and I think "The Other Way" is really catchy. But by and large it's just, well, a wussy record that feels nearly as by the numbers as the Green Album.

Clearly, Weezer weren't going to use Maladroit as the basis for their future. It seemed like they weren't really sure what kind of band they were going to be.

Red Album

If I need confirmation that Weezer was going through an identity crisis, I got it with their sixth album. If there's a singles song on the Red Album the epitomizes the entire record, it's "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived," as I think it actually covers every style Weezer has ever tried in a single song...which is actually why I like it, because it's just insane.

The experiment of letting other members of the band write and/or sing songs didn't go over so well, either. Those songs stick out like sore thumbs and break up any momentum the album had, although that's giving it a lot of credit. This was also the first Weezer album released in two versions, one with bonus tracks. As would become a trend, some of the bonus tracks ended up being better than some of the regular tracks, which calls into question the song selection. In fact, it would be be possible to put together a 10 track version of the Red Album that's far superior than the one that was released, just by replacing a few songs with the bonus tracks.

As unstable as this record seemed, there was a seed in it that seemed to be the future of the band. The accompanying tour, where fans were encouraged to bring instruments along and play along with the band, was another clue as to what the future held for Weezer. It was going to be different, for sure, but not entirely without precedence in their catalog.

They were going to embrace this new style whole heartedly on the next record.

Raditude

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the new Weezer: a sublimely ridiculous rock band, full of spectacle and hooks. This is not the Weezer you knew when you were a teen. There is no angst here, but tongue in cheek bravado and a desire to have a slightly warped good time.

Personally, I love the hell out of it.

I'll admit there are a few clunkers on this album, although, again, that could have been fixed had they dropped those songs and replaced them with some of the higher quality bonus tracks ("Get Me Some," "Run Over By A Truck," and "Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World" should all be on this album). But the size of it, the overblown style and the pure, unadulterated joy of music practically oozes from every song.

This is also the first record in some time where Rivers' incredibly awkward sincerity comes through. He's completely earnest on every track, even when he's singing about things that are completely foreign to him. But he's so painfully honest that it still works, even when he's singing about his "homies" or his "posse," or telling a girl that she's his "baby, and I'm your daddy." It's so wrong, yet oh, so right.

I'll be interested to see where Weezer goes from here. I would expect another record like this one, although I can't see how they'll be able to maintain this much beyond that. Then again, these albums always seem to reflect where Rivers' is at in his life, so who knows what he'll be doing years from now.

So, yes, Weezer, I still love you, probably more than I did way back in that summer of 1994, not in spite of all the changes and missteps, but because of them. And I'm looking forward t the future.