Weezer: River's Edge
Originally published in Guitar World, January 2011
As alt-rock’s most prolific songwriter, Rivers Cuomo keeps Weezer moving full steam ahead with two new albums—Hurley and Death to False Metal—and deluxe reissues of the Nineties classics "Blue Album" and Pinkerton.
Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo is quite a character.
He’s eccentric, enigmatic, frequently exasperating, yet disarmingly engaging, particularly when he’s writing or singing one of those tuneful, pop-savvy, doofy-yet-clever Weezer songs that have embedded themselves deeply in pop culture’s memory circuits in the years since Weezer’s self-titled 1994 debut disc, a.k.a. the “Blue Album.” The man who gave the world “Undone—The Sweater Song,” “Buddy Holly” and “Hash Pipe” moves in mysterious ways. Earlier this year, Weezer released their eighth album, Hurley, which was also the band’s first release on its new label, the celebrated indie/punk imprint Epitaph. Hurley is an unassailably solid album, brimming with the killer hooks, tight song structures and rousing choruses that have always been Weezer’s strong suit.
But now Cuomo and the band seem to be doing everything in their power to undermine sales of the disc. Weeks after Hurley’s release came deluxe reissues of the “Blue Album” and Weezer’s much-loved 1996 disc, Pinkerton, complete with the usual slew of previously unreleased bonus tracks. Sure, it was a rearguard action by Weezer’s former label, Geffen, to generate one last round of sales from its departing act. But Weezer themselves seem intent on helping their former label trip up their new label. They began performing the “Blue Album” and/or Pinkerton in their entirety, from start to finish, in concert, with an air of reverence heretofore reserved for albums like Sgt. Pepper’s or The Wall.
Now comes yet another Geffen Weezer release, Death to False Metal, a collection of previously unreleased and formerly unfinished tracks from prior album sessions that Cuomo has finished up with bandmates Brian Bell, Pat Wilson and Scott Shriner, along with Weezer’s most recent producer, Shawn Everett. There are some great tunes on the album, but it’s all a bit overwhelming for the average consumer, who’s left to wonder which disc to buy, which is the real new Weezer release, and which album represents the band’s definitive statement for the year 2010?
“Well, I guess now we get criticized for putting out too much music,” says Cuomo with the put-upon air he often assumes, “and for not having big hit records that last a long time. But that’s kind of the old model of working for us. This is just a very low-key release of songs that we’ve accumulated over the years. We really love them, and I think people who are really super-interested in Weezer—the core fans—are gonna be real interested to hear them. It’s obviously not the next Pinkerton, or whatever, that people are most looking forward to hear from us again. But we think it’s really cool anyway. I think it’s fun to share this stuff.”
Yeah, but isn’t the timing a little bit screwy? Why bring the thing out now? Cuomo is a slippery interview subject, often dodging the real issue at hand to serve up vague, feel-good “it’s all for the fans” generalizations that satisfy bloggers and fan web sites but frustrate the hell out of professional journalists. He’s especially cagey about his use of co-writers, such as industry tunesmiths Desmond Child, Linda Perry, Tony Kanal, Ryan Adams and country music singer-songwriter Mac Davis, all of whom contributed to Hurley. Journalists at the time were cautioned not to ask Cuomo about his co-writers or any of the album’s frequently fascinating bonus tracks. Gee, thanks.
But if Cuomo is crazy, he’s crazy like a fox. He’s got a keen understanding of Weezer’s dedicated fan base, which is heavily internet-based and almost religiously devoted. For this audience, there’s no such thing as putting out too much music. As Cuomo himself points out, big album releases, hit records and definitive statements from major rock bands are “the old model.” The new model is an endless sea of digital “content,” with little or no mechanism for discriminating the old from the new, the good from the mediocre. These days, everyone—from the biggest rock star to the kid with GarageBand and a $100 guitar—is just another mook putting up tunes on his or her Facebook page. Cuomo is okay with this. Only he’s got way more “friends” than most. Death to False Metal ’s lead track, “Turn Up the Radio” was written collaboratively with fans as part of a YouTube project called “Let’s Write a Sawng.”
“It turned out to be a lot of work for me,” Cuomo says, “which is strange, because I was really delegating most of the songwriting to YouTube. I was just kind of facilitating and saying, ‘Okay, now we’ll go and write a melody over the chord progression.’ But it was a lot of work listening to all the suggestions, picking my favorite one and figuring out what should happen next. Even though I ended up with only a small cut of the song, I had to do a ton of work. It was also interesting that, even though there were so many people contributing to one song, and only one of them was me, it still ended up sounding like a Weezer song.”