Evaluating a Weezer album these days is quite a task.
For one, to appreciate (or disregard) the band’s music accurately requires the listener to have a certain knowledge of the context of each of their albums.
That is, if you listened to the band’s breakthrough “Blue Album” from 1994 and then 2009’s Raditude, without knowing the background of both albums or where Rivers Cuomo & Company were mentally when they wrote the songs, the likely result would be confusion and, potentially, an upset stomach.
Hell, that’s the reaction that even die-hard Weezer fans have been giving the band’s post-Pinkerton output for the last fourteen years, disappointed time and time again.
No, Rivers won’t ever re-create the angsty self-doubt and sexually-charged insecurity of Pinkerton as efficiently as he did in 1996, but with the band’s Epitaph debut Hurley (released next Tuesday but streamed on Myspace this week), he may have come as close as possible to (at least partially) satisfying the ever-irate blogosphere and legions of demanding superfans spread out across the globe.
That was a run-on sentence, but at the heart of its mumbling is the key to this review: Hurley, Weezer’s eighth studio album, is the best thing the band has put out since Maladroit (2002). Sure, it’s hokey and a couple tracks are throwaways, but the majority of the album is the kind of stuff that made all of us middle-class brats become so obsessed with Weezer in the first place.
That’s a lot for me to say, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to like this album so much. First of all, I’m not a fan of LOST, so having Hurley’s goofy face as the ENTIRE ALBUM COVER kind of pissed me off. I don’t care if the band likes the show, that’s an obnoxious choice for album art. Also, the title of the album, which supposedly may or may not reflect the band’s love for (and recent deal with) the clothing company Hurley, also seemed a bit shameless. Despite those hiccups, the quality of the tunes more than make up for the artistic misfires.
Lead single Memories, while not as instantly infectious as some of Weezer’s most notable singles, kicks off the album in energetic fashion. The din of an orchestra swell gives way to a steady rhythm and propulsive guitars, with Rivers reminiscing about the times “When Audioslave was still Rage” and recounting various events that may or may not have been part of his life. The AP review of the album said that the song “sounds like Andrew WK covering the Killers”, and I have to agree about the AWK part. The relentless, pounding rhythm of the song never lets up until it fades out.
Ruling Me finds Rivers doing what he does best lyrically, pining about the intricacies of girls and dating and women and how he’s often on the sidelines wanting something he can’t get. Cries of Everybody wants somebody they can dream of all night long in the chorus, set to thick vocal harmonies bring to mind the long-underappreciated Fountains of Wayne.
For that matter, the album as a whole sounds like Weezer tried to channel the kind of self-aware-yet-brilliant music that Adam Schlesinger’s genius power-pop band has churned out for years.
Ruling Me is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and sounds like it could have been written by the band 10 or so years ago. It’s shimmery, it’s fun, and it’s not filled with silly pop culture references. It’s a standard Weezer gem.
Trainwrecks is less of a romp, but it’s memorable in its own way. A flurry of instruments accentuates the steady guitars and drumbeat, provided by Pat Wilson. The pre-chorus, soaked in synth, sounds somewhat Sugar Ray-ish (cringe if you must), and Rivers talks of one day “cutting our critics down to size” and “crashing a Diddy party in disguise”, but the song itself isn’t as offensive as those two lines.
The next track, Unspoken, is hands-down my favorite from the disc, and has the kind of old-school Weezer sound to it that the fankids have whined about for years. It starts out with a much younger-sounding Rivers singing to an acoustic guitar played by Brian Bell, before some flutes join the party, spicing things up a bit. Rivers here is again singing about relationships, with the refrain of And if you take this away from me/I’ll never forgive you, can’t you see/Our life will be broken/Our hate will be unspoken repeating over and over, because it’s so damn good. Two minutes in, the acousticness gives way to an oncoming electric explosion (including some bass power from Scott Shriner), and a thunderous guitar riff gives the last minute some serious “bob-along-in-your-car-as-if-no-one-can-see-you” qualities. The refrain mentioned above is one of the most quotable Weezer hooks I can remember in quite a while, and in my opinion Unspoken could and should become one of the band’s “classic” songs. It’s that good.
After it fades out, though, Where’s My Sex comes in puts a damper on things. Musically, the chugging riff reminds me of a weird hybrid of Green Day’s Brain Stew and Good Charlotte’s I Just Wanna Live (yeah, I know). Lyrically, Rivers is singing a song about socks, but somehow the word he uses is “sex”. If that’s supposed to be witty, I don’t get it. It also has a strange off-key bridge toward the end, making the whole thing sound a bit rushed.
Run Away is a decent mid-tempo number with more Fountains-eque “ooh” vocal hooks all over the place, but the folk-y Hang On, the next track, put me back in a good mood again. Featuring quirkster Michael Cera on background vocals and playing a ‘hurdy-gurdy’ (yes, really), the song manages to sound like an homage to John Mellencamp (the main riff sounds like Small Town), Queen’s Under Pressure (Rivers’ vocals in the verse) and Pete Townshend’s Let My Love Open the Door. Despite these distractions, the song is one of the album’s strongest moments, with a really rich melody and irresistible singalong quality, both key factors for any great Weezer tune.
Smart Girls finds Rivers again obsessing over the fairer sex, while a drum machine pounds out another relentless beat married with more group chorus vocals. The song features the album’s only guitar solo, and it’s short but sweet. The song as a whole has a 1980s feel to it, and it works well.
Brave New World is a more hard-driving song with a leading riff and some vocals in the chorus that sound like the band Lit, circa A Place in the Sun. That is to say, it’s another exercise in power-pop-rock precision.
The album concludes with Time Flies, a stomping acoustic song where Rivers really captures what people have liked about his songs over the years with the line some sad day they’ll be taking me away/But I won’t be dead/‘cause even when I’m gone this stupid damn song/will be in your head. He’s right, you know. Rivers is self-aware (sometimes heavy-handedly so), but this time he’s dead-on.
That’s a fitting way for Weezer’s best album in nearly a decade to end.
Frankly, if this album isn’t able to finally shut up the whiners and babies demanding Pinkerton 2.0, then it’s just impossible to satisfy them. With Hurley, the band has truly created the best music they possibly could at this stage in their career.
Weezer fans have grown to dread each impending album release, being conditioned to expect the worst (considering the albums between Maladroit and this one). Hurley, though, finds the band recapturing a bit of the youthful qualities and melodic chops that made everyone like them in the first place.
Rivers doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone anymore, but he basically did so anyway with Hurley.
I’d say it’s safe to bust out your =W=eezer shirts again without feeling that sense of wistful nostalgia that used to make you miss the band’s ‘golden age’.
The real Weezer is back!!