It's getting harder and harder to call myself a Weezer fan. I still count the band's 1994 self-titled debut (most often called the Blue Album) and it's 1996 follow-up, Pinkerton, as two of my favorite all-time discs, and not for nostalgia's sake but because they are legitimately solid, timeless records. I'll even stand behind 2001’s self-titled full-length (known as the Green Album): Sure, it’s cheesy and glossy, but it's a polished gem of a pop-rock record, all hooks and straightforward, sugary melodies. I even gave them the benefit of the doubt on 2005's Make Believe, a relatively terrible album with a few redeeming songs.
But enough's enough. Their sixth album -- and the third one that's self-titled (informally called the Red Album) -- is forcing me, and many Weezer fans, I'm sure, to draw the line. It's clear now not only that Weezer's gone downhill but also that there's probably no chance they'll return. Yes, all that's important here is the current crop of songs. But how can any listener, even one only casually familiar with their first two albums, not listen to the Red Album and wonder, simply: What is this?
Coming up with a catchy melody has never been an issue, so the problem, then, lies in the lyrics. Rivers Cuomo has shown he's no poet, but phrases like, "So turn off the TV/ 'Cause that's what others see/ And movies are as bad/ As eating chocolate ice cream" (from "Troublemaker”) is not just lazy, ineffective writing, it's downright humiliating. Lyrics like those make me feel cheated, and those aren't close to the worst lines in that song, or on the album.
True, the latter half of Weezer's career has found them relying more on arena-friendly, instant, and endlessly repeatable hooks like on Green's "Crab" or "Hash Pipe" or Maladroit's "Keep Fishin'." But "Troublemaker," and new songs like "Everybody Get Dangerous" and "Automatic" don't even have that sonic saving grace. Their lyrics are fit for instant mockery. Their crunchy guitar riffs are fit for inclusion in an X-Games highlight reel.
If Red Album’s songs were formulaic, shiny, and easily digestible like everything on Green or Maladroit, the vacuity of the new songs wouldn't be as big a problem. But "Heart Songs," "Thought I Knew” -- these are just plain bad. A song like "Cold Dark World" -- with vocals passed to bassist Scott Shriner, whose lyrics are even worse than Cuomo's -- this is just plain awful.
Like their past two mediocre albums, Weezer has managed to include a few songs to stem the bleeding. "Pork and Beans" has the same immediate impact of Make Believe's "Beverly Hills"; it's quirky, catchy, and perfect for car rides and modern-rock radio. They use simplicity in their favor on "Dreamin,'" which includes a choral bridge reminiscent of the Blue Album’s "Surf Wax America."
“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)," with its bombastic stylistic shifts, grandiose intentions, and glorious final thirty seconds, actually restores a bit of faith that Weezer still has some depth and courage. And on "Miss Sweeney" (included on the Bonus version of the album), Cuomo's vulnerability and tempered aggression are couched in a soaring, sing-song chorus, resonating as strongly as their superb b-side, "Suzanne."
But too little too late.
Here comes another self-titled, color-coded album from Weezer. It finds Rivers Cuomo continuing to follow the whimsical muse he always has. One minute Cuomo is nicking the traditional American gospel song "Simple Gifts" on "The Greatest Man that Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)," the next minute he's name-dropping Timbaland on first single "Pork and Beans." That's not the only hip-hop reference on the album; "Cold Dark World" is Cuomo's rejoinder to "Let Me Hold You" by Omarion and Bow Wow. But it's not all the Rivers Cuomo show here--the three other members of Weezer take turns singing lead on songs on The Red Album. Production help on the album was provided by Rick Rubin and Jacknife Lee.