Friday, May 27, 2016
SUMMER LOVE, SUMMER LOSS : "WEEZER" WEEZER
BRIAN BELL: Guitars, Vocals
RIVERS CUOMO: Vocals, Guitars
SCOTT SHRINER: Bass Guitar, Piano, Vocals
PAT WILSON: Drums, Vocals
All music and lyrics by Rivers Cuomo
"California Kids" music and lyrics by Rivers Cuomo and Dan Wilson
"Wind In Our Sail" music and lyrics by Rivers Cuomo, Kenneth Scott Chesak and Ryan Spraker
"Thank God For Girls" music and lyrics by Rivers Cuomo, Alex Goose, Michael Balzer, Alex Balzer and Bill Petti
"King Of The World" music and lyrics by Rivers Cuomo and Jarrad Kritzstein
"LA Girlz" music and lyrics by Rivers Cuomo, Brian Bell and Luther Russell
"Jacked Up" music and lyrics by Rivers Cuomo, Jonathan Coffer and Hugh Pescod
"Endless Bummer" Rivers Cuomo, Brian Bell and Luther Russell
Produced by Jake Sinclair
Released April 1, 2016
I do realize that with the title of this latest posting that I am jumping ahead nearly two seasons but trust me, it is more than apropos and you'll see what I mean soon enough.
In the earliest days of this blogsite, I may have mentioned to you that for some reasons truly unbeknownst to me, while I have not ever really considered myself to be a full blown fan of the band Weezer, I have however acquired most of their discography in my music collection. From their self-titled debut (released May 10, 1994), I found myself thoroughly enjoying now classic songs like "Buddy Holly" and "Say It Ain't So," yet it was years before I actually ever purchased an album. Maybe it was because I had this unconfirmed sense that Weezer was possibly some sort of joke band or one steeped in self-congratulatory quirkiness or hipster irony. Or maybe it was just the name of the band itself as it sounded so close to the word "weasel" that I couldn't take it seriously...or at least as seriously as one can take anything in the realm of rock and roll.
Regardless, and even though I cannot even remember the first Weezer album I purchased, I found myself gathering one after another as they would consistently win me over and then sort of lose me for a spell only to win me over triumphantly all over again. The last up and down wave I had with the band was the period that produced their third and red color coded self titled album (released June 3, 2008), an album that found the infamously singular songwriting vision of bandleader Rivers Cuomo finding itself graciously opening its doors to his three bandmates as songwriters and even lead singers, a greater collaboration that found the band operating at higher peaks to my ears. This was the album that confirmed to me that Weezer was indeed the real deal. With the pure open-hearted earnestness of the songwriting on tracks like the anthemic "The Angel And The One," the short punchy power pop "Pork And Beans," the deliriously inventive and hilarious "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations On A Shaker Hymn)" and especially terrific bonus material like "Miss Sweeney" and "King" (very well sung by Bassist Scott Shriner), Weezer not only made me excited about them as a musical force but they also made me excitedly curious and anxious to see where they would and could possibly head next.
And then, they made "Ratitude" (released November 3, 2009) and "Hurley" (released September 14, 2010).
Now, don't get me wrong. I am no Weezer purist who feels that the first two albums, especially the originally panned but now almost universally praised "Pinkerton" (released September 24, 1996), represented the best the band could possibly offer. In fact, I still think that "Pinkerton," despite some terrific songs and its fearless honesty (including the unquestionable bodyslammer "Getchoo"), is an album I find a bit over-rated. Additionally, I am of the firm belief that if the members of Weezer desired to change it up, play around with different sounds, techniques, recording approaches and even collaborating with a wide variety of musicians and songwriters regardless of genre, then so be it. Who am I to inform the band over what they should and should not create? Trust me, if Weezer did indeed just make the exact same album over and again, they would have been written off long ago. All of that being said, those albums plus "Make Believe" (released May 10, 2005) just did not reach me and they also made me feel that the experimentation never really fit quite as comfortably as perhaps the band may have wished.
And then, the band rejoined with Ric Ocasek as Producer for the third time and created "Everything Will Be Alright In The End" (released October 7, 2014).
This was the album that completely won me back as the band actually sounded hungry, that they had something to prove and if it were to be their last stand, they would go down swinging. The blend of power pop with some forays into metal, prog rock and even funk served Weezer beautifully well as the album was a top to bottom winner, possibly the best album that I have heard from the band to date...that is, until now.
Continuing with the self-titled/color coded album titles, Weezer returns with what is being referred to as "The White Album," a gusty move to be sure considering that other White Album. But it seems that after the success of their previous album, Weezer is emboldened and the foursome are ready to swagger. Fully running on all cylinders, the band has raised their game even further as they have delivered a tight, compact, and fully complete concept album about California and the beach, all surrounding a tale of young love, loss and heartbreak that flows seamlessly over the course of 10 tracks in a mere 34 minutes. It is an album that has essentially been played in repeat mode since I have purchased it and the amalgamation of sweeping melodies, hard rock power punches and a surprisingly emotional wallop have soared Weezer's latest to being one of my favorite album releases of 2016.
"Weezer" a.k.a. "The White Album" opens as if we are listening to a vintage Beach Boys single with the sounds of the ocean peppered with a single glockenspiel and lone guitar signifying the innocence that arrives with the dawning of a new day. The double shot album openers "California Kids" and the stunning, soaring "Wind In Our Sail" serve as a glorious overture of sorts as Rivers Cuomo sets the scene, complete with Brian Wilson-esque "O-WE-O" harmony backing vocals fueled by the classic Weezer guitar attack.
"When you wake up
Cobwebs on your eyelids
Stuck in rigor mortis
Just get going
'Til you hit the ocean
And you turn Californian"
With proclamations that having life's answers at the ready are not necessary and how "The California Kids will throw you a lifeline" should you find yourself falling off of the world, California is not only (and again) being presented as a mythical oasis, it also serves the album's cyclical nature for its narrative and the emotional fate of our young narrator, whom we have yet to meet.
With "Wind In Our Sail," the romance and the philosophical collide majestically as we are given the tale of "A boy and girl/Albatross around their necks" who are some how able to do "so many great things together, together." With references to Darwin, Mendel, and Sisyphus, all of which augment a theme of survival at sea, the song provides us with a swirling metaphor to the highs and lows, ebbs and flows of falling in love, how we all can clearly see the dangerous emotional terrains ahead and we still take the plunge regardless over and again.
The romanticism explodes on the album's third track "Thank God For Girls," itself a clear echo of all things Beatles/Beach Boys (think "California Girls") as the chord progression certainly sounds like an accelerated version of the classic Beatles "White Album" selection "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with more Wilson-esque harmony vocals flowing freely. To me, the song sounds like the arrival of our album's romantic hero just at the point where he has discovered the majesty of the opposite sex, or at least the pedestal sitting object of his desire. Cuomo breathlessly delivers the almost stream of consciousness lyrics, which involve references to pastry shop girls, hiking trips with lifelong friends, the pleasure of cannolis, masturbatory fantasies fueled by Sears catalog underwear pages, and the clash of spiritual and sexual metaphors, including an "Indian Fakir tryna' meditate on a bed of nails with my pants pulled down," all of which are in the service of spinning the tale of the album's hero longing for the girl who isn't his, fearing the image he has conjured up of her in his mind would shatter upon meeting the real person, and all the way to wining her over after singing her a song down upon one bended knee. And in the moment of romantic reciprocation, our hero's spirit blasts open in epiphany:
"God took a rib from Adam, ground it up in a centrifuge machine
Mixed it with cardamom and cloves, microwaved it on the popcorn setting
While Adam was like
'That really hurts!"
Going off into the tundra, so pissed at God
And he started lighting minor forest fires, stealing osprey eggs
Messing with the bees, who were trying to pollinate the echinacea
Until God said, 'I'ma smite you with loneliness and break your heart in two!'
And Adam wept and wailed
Tearing out his hair
Falling on his knees
Looked to the sky and said,
Imagining himself and his new lady love as "a couple Hare Krishnas/Dancing, twirling, playing on the tambourine," the track "(Girl We Got A) Good Thing" presents the album's love story at its most deliriously romantic peak. With Queen-styled guitar skyrockets flying high and a beautiful Beach Boys bounce in its step, our hero wishes to only "face the great unknown" with his true love in this relationship which he proclaims he just does not see ending. But with terrific foreshadowing, he also reveals, "you know where this is heading."
And then, things turn dark.
"Do You Wanna Get High?" marks the album's midpoint, where we begin to see just how this love story takes its turn, illustrating that the girl is clearly a bit older and definitely a lot faster than our innocent, naive hero. The song's title is the musical question she asks of our boy, explaining that "I took a road trip to Mexico/And scored a hundred count/Do you wanna get high?/It's like we're falling in love/We can listen to Bacharach/And stop at any point."
Yet, after crushing up the blue, inhaling their their noses and scraping every quark "from the wood in the floor," and completely against his better judgement, he partakes only to experience aching bones, cramps, falling to the floor "with our face in a knot." And still, so lost in love, he cannot turn himself away from her even though she is clearly within another league. "Keep on doing what you do," he sings. "'Cuz I'll never get tired of you."
Pangs to waves of self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy surface in the hard charging "King Of The World," where our hero, perhaps slowly beginning to realize that his wished for match made in Heaven just might not be all that he wished for, stages a desperate romantic plea. Hoping to convince her (or maybe himself) that they are meant to be ("We are the small fish/we swim together"), he arrives with sweepingly earnest "me and you against the world" declarations of affection ("We'll face tsunamis together") in the attempts to prove that he is her chosen one.
By the spectacular "Summer Elaine And Drunk Dori," the album's heartbreak hits achingly and thrillingly as the track is one of the album's highest efforts with melodic twists and turns abound mirroring the emotional terrain of our now dumped narrator. Yes, at this point in the story, she has departed ("Oh, she swam away/And flexed her mermaid tail') and our hero sadly reviews the stages of his relationship, cursing himself for not being advanced enough to keep her interested or in love with him...if she ever was ("I wish I hadn't played the prude/She touched my ankle/Paranoid Android/I felt it in my molecules").
Additionally, I wondered if the song, with its two characters within the song's title possibly referenced the narrator's possible questioning of himself regarding precisely who he was in love with: a real person or the perception that he created of her or both or was he entirely wrong on every count. And ultimately, what does it matter, when she's gone, it hurts so deeply for he was in love with her and all of her personalities and personas, whether real or imagined. "Slender and tall/They whisked my worries away," he remembers as if in a dream. "But when I finally wake/Both girls are gone."
The album then segues into the propulsively yearning "L.A. Girlz" where our hero repeatedly questions, "Does anybody love anybody as much as I love you, baby?" Despite the swaggering power chords and blues-like sway, this track is most reminiscent of The Beach Boys' "Caroline No," itself an ode of longing and lost youth for a girl who has outgrown and forgotten her suitor of long ago. Disillusioned and dejected, our album's hero painfully wonders (and via more stream of consciousness lyrics which reference both Dante and Jabberwocky) if the girls of the song's title have long surpassed him, in attitude, sophistication and overall experience, that the chances of his affections being returned are severely diminished, therefore leaving him lonely and alone.
"L.A. girlz, please act your age," he pleads. "You treat me like I have the plague/It's the Gyre and Gimble in the wabe/L.A. girlz, please act your age/Sweeten up your lemonade/And meet me down a tower twenty eight."
A request that remains forever unanswered.
With a contradictory jaunty piano leading the way, the track "Jacked Up" finds our hero in existential despair, consumed with feeling of failure and the fears of being forever unloved. "Oh, why, why, why do my flowers always die?" he asks. "I'm all jacked up/Over you."
The album concludes with "Endless Bummer," an obvious play off of The Beach Boys' classic compilation album "Endless Summer" (released June 24, 1974) but instead of eternal sunshine, blue skies and sand between the toes, Weezer provides us with an exquisitely composed ballad, like a song by The Everly Brothers, that feels like a deeply perceptive and lived in short story and the effect actually placed a lump in my throat as all of the emotional nerve endings are tenderly exposed. Our hero, now in full acceptance of his romantic loss and the realization that "She was too fast for me" and that "Not all 19 year olds are cool," is the perfectly fragile picture of adolescent loneliness as he just wishes for the summer to finally, mercifully be over and done with.
"I'm all alone at night
Dreamin' about my life
She was too fast for me
I count my steps because I'm OCD...
...My heart is so landlocked
Nothing but tourist shops
It's just like a curse, you see
This bummed out feeling that she's over me
She's over me
I put my jacket over my head
I'm trying not to stare at her chest
I can't even dance in the dark
'Cause my headphones are still on the seat of her car
Kumbiya makes me get violent
I just want this summer to end"
All is not lost, however. As Weezer phases from plaintive acoustic misery into the full rise of their wall of sound filled with rock guitar and bashing drums, we emotionally return to the album's beginnings as our lonely hero, now on his personal sinking ship, will wake up to the dawn of a new day, head to the beach and find himself surrounded by the California Kids, all ready and waiting to throw him a lifeline as life goes on and he will undoubtedly fall in love again.
Dear readers and listeners, I was uniformly impressed and wholly disarmed by Weezer's latest album. a complete triumph of melodicism, harmony, storytelling, and full on rock and roll power that congeals into a narrative that is so emotionally palpable and honest. Please do not allow the list of additional songwriters discourage you from trying out and even purchasing this album, as all of the songs are written to their sharpest points, flow beautifully from one selection to the next, creating a singular vision instead of a committee driven hodge-podge. And most importantly, the band sounds like no one other than themselves.
Frankly, Weezer sounds tighter, more focused and even hungrier than they did on "Everything Will Be Alright In The End," as it feels as if they want to hang onto whatever momentum they have received from the high response to that album. As a band, they have fully defied the laws of age and sound as if they have discovered the fountain of youth as they, especially Rivers Cuomo, sound virtually unchanged from their debut over 20 years ago. I must also make special note of Pat Wilson, as he again proves that he is one of his generation's most underrated rock drummers as his playing throughout is sensational. As a story, certainly there is nothing new under the sun narratively, but it is through the commitment and the universality of the tale combined with the band's sense of merged nostalgia and wisdom that makes everything feel fresh and as instantly recognizable as the first time we all fell in love and had our hearts broken.
Trust me, as I would never intentionally steer you down the wrong path. Weezer's "White Album" is a wonderful, addictive cure to the pop music blues with a collection of songs that stick like glue to your brain all serving a story that flies straight to the center of your heart.