In the 11 years since cult favorite Pinkerton was released, Weezer has done just about everything possible to alienate all but its most deranged and shallow fans. Wrapping up a downward spiral that began with 2001’s self-titled effort, 2005’s Make Believe seemed to be the nail in the coffin. With sterile production, embarrassing pop-by-numbers (“Beverly Hills”) and lyrics worthy of that poem you wrote for 8th grade health class (“We are all on drugs yeah / Give me some of that stuff”), Rivers Cuomo succeeded in guiding his band in their graceful jumping of the shark.
Despite these debacles, Weezer has remained commercially viable, so a change of course hasn’t exactly been mandated. Nonetheless, Cuomo has taken a sidestep with Alone, inviting the old faithful to share once more in his halcyon days with a gift disc of (mostly) gems. Call it submissive, defeatist or a telltale sign of a washed-up artist, but the decision to officially release old demos was a good one. The material is a hell of a lot better than anything seen by Weezer in the past decade.
Alone finds Cuomo playing music with legitimate emotion, a hallmark of the angst-ridden, geek-rock that was subsequently replaced in favor of pale imitation (see: Green Album’s “Hash Pipe” and Maladroit’s “Dope Nose”). On the brooding, suicidal dirge “The World We Love So Much” – a Gregg Alexander cover – Cuomo turns in a hair-raising acoustic performance that rivals “Tired of Sex” and “Say It Ain’t So” in sheer intensity.
The same goes for the two other covers found here. “Little Diane” (Dion) is perhaps the only Cuomo performance of the 21st century with any significant pulse, and certainly the presence of Canadian alt-rockers Sloan on this 2003 recording helped coax it out of him. More surprising is Cuomo’s take on Ice Cube’s “The Bomb,” which alternates hyper-speed white-boy rap with screaming atonal guitar riffs.
The real appeal of the album for most fans, however, will be the inclusion of five songs from unreleased space-rock opera Songs From the Black Hole, a legendary set of ambitious Cuomo recordings scrapped in favor of Pinkerton. The highlight of these is unquestionably “Blast Off!,” an explosive rocker featuring loud-quiet and stop-start dynamics, and a perfectly placed vocoder verse. It’s catchy and crunchy, on par with Weezer’s all-time best work. At only two minutes, it’s unfortunately too brief.
The churning “Superfriend” and the reflective, piano-driven “Longtime Sunshine” are also decisive, albeit minor, pop-rock triumphs of the lost album. And though the Black Hole numbers are excellent – unless the best still remain in the vault – Pinkerton is the stronger album and correct choice for release.
Of the rest of the set, the only track with any staying power is “Crazy One,” a Green Album outtake that, while better than anything from the record, is little more than a mid-tempo guilty pleasure.
The only real failure is “This Is The Way,” an unthinkable boyband-meets-R&B drum beat disaster in the manner of The Backstreet Boys’ “The Call,” but lamer. Worse, it’s supposedly an outtake from Weezer’s upcoming album. So while Alone is an enjoyable detour to the past, it points to a bleak future – reaffirming that it’s more rewarding to look back than forward.
Rating: 3 and a half out of 5 stars
Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo