Weezer (Red Album)
Rating: Four out of five stars
Welcome back Weezer. No, you haven’t returned to the unforgettable, screaming cathartic geek bliss of your classic first two albums, but so what – you never will, and that’s OK. We all peak sometime. With the Red Album, you’ve at least cut a record that I can comfortably listen to in my spare time without feeling like I’m on the verge of experiencing paralyzing cluster headaches. And in the wake of the unspeakably bad tweeny-bopper oh-my-god-make-it-stop train wreck Make Believe, that’s a pretty serious accomplishment. Hats off!
This latest album is easily Weezer’s most adventurous effort, with songs covering great stretches on a spectrum that ranges from classical to hip hop. It’s no masterpiece, but its experiments give it creative energy and spine – attributes that Rivers Cuomo, one of the generation’s finest songwriters, has been unable to inject in his band’s music for a painfully long time.
The most noteworthy track on the record comes in the two-slot. Too erratic to be just a curveball, “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” is an absolute knuckleball – dipping, dancing and diving in nearly a dozen musical directions in just under six minutes. A gentle piano intro carries over into a raunchy police siren-stained rap section, sounding like a fantastic home mash-up. The piano figure, based on Joseph Brackett’s “Simple Gifts,” is the song’s main melodic theme, appearing in one form or another through raw guitar rock, spoken word breaks and even baroque choral movements that rival the colorful classicism of uber-hip Animal Collective. It’s not only the most novel track here, but perhaps Weezer’s most novel cut ever, worthy of more words than this entire review. It’s also the best song here by a mile – a pocket symphony that in time should earn its due as a latter-day classic from a washed-up band.
Elsewhere, “Dreamin'” is a passable electric guitar ballad immeasurably better than its gross club counterpart “This Is The Way” from Cuomo’s solo Alone, and “Everybody Get Dangerous” is a fun, if slightly embarrassing, hard-rock stomp. “Heart Songs,” meanwhile, where Cuomo recounts his favorite songs from his formative years, is a little too cute.
Cuomo’s supremacy remains unchallenged by the other member’s offerings. Rhythm guitarist Brian Bell’s pop-rocker “Thought I Knew” is marginally the best, while bassist Scott Shriner’s “Cold Dark World” is easily the worst. Drummer Pat Wilson chips in the slightly proggy alt-rocker “Automatic” and is a bit more successful.
Weezer is lucky to have remained commercially viable, because its past musical indiscretions have made it nearly unworthy of coverage. Melody goes an awfully long way in pop music, and on Weezer, Cuomo wisely heeds this concept. It isn’t a return to form in the truest sense, but with respect to the disastrous Make Believe, the Red Album is a decisive triumph. When our musical heroes hit rock bottom, we must cut them a little slack as they try to claw their way back to respectability. From that standpoint, this album is a welcome return.