Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weezer: Red (Part II)

Where were we? Oh yes, "Dreamin'." Like "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived," it is another experiment with epic (over five minute) song length. It's a little reminiscent of '60s bands like the Beach Boys or The Lovin' Spoonful. While Cuomo's vocals keep the sound in the Weezer realm, it's also the first song on the album that has a slick, too-smooth, heavily produced style. It hits a natural endpoint halfway through, then gets increasingly produced even as the song structure gets more meandering and experimental.

The next three songs, "Thought I Knew," "Cold Dark World," and "Automatic," are especially baffling. Each has its strengths, but none sound like Weezer. Which makes sense, since these are the tracks on which the band members switched instruments. They are not written or sung by Cuomo, and all of them have a slick, un-Weezery production quality. It's surprising, although perhaps it shouldn't be, that the same band can sound completely different when you change who writes and plays and sings the songs. The problem is that while each of the three songs is not bad, they lack a distinctive sound to take the place of the missing Weezer sound. They also seem to abandon the themes that are so prevalent in the album's first half (except "Automatic," about familial love). Given time, I warmed up to them, but they still feel like okay filler on some other, less interesting band's album. I found myself wondering if I was only growing to like them the way that I would convince myself to like the awful songs by no-name bands back in my soundtrack-listening days.

Cuomo doesn't exactly have the most amazing singing voice, but it is a significant part of the Weezer signature. Thankfully, it returns for the last track, "The Angel and the One," a slow number that ends the album with dignity. I wasn't keen on it at first, but the last time I listened, it suddenly clicked and I found myself quite enjoying it.

The Deluxe version of the album offers four bonus tracks, or 40% more music. It's a pretty significant addition, potentially changing the experience of the album as a whole. But despite the weird turn in the middle, the first ten tracks feel like a complete album... or at least two cohesive EPs. The bonus tracks are clearly outside the flow. "Miss Sweeney" is the most old-school Weezer-y of the lot. It's charming and funny and more than a little similar in its chorus to "Suzanne." The rest of the bonus tracks return to the band's weird new slick sound. "Pig" is okay, "The Spider" is an insufferably terrible, maudlin track with the unbearably annoying central metaphor about a spider in a drain (the only song on the album I really, unequivocally hate), and King is pretty mediocre and forgettable. Sadly, the bonus tracks also tip the balance of the album toward the weird new sound. Switch in "Miss Sweeney" for, say, "Thought I Knew," and cap the album at ten tracks, and you'd have a far more solid effort in my opinion.

Like it or not, Weezer is experimenting, growing and changing. Whether the Red Album is good is debatable, but it is definitely not the sound of a band that is content to coast on what is comfortable. If anything, it is the sound of a band transforming. By the end of Red, Weezer sounds like a different band. I'm not sure that's good. But it is certainly interesting.



crystal said...

i only like the first two records but your interest made me wonder if you've read any of the stuff about how he wrote the whole last record to piss off their label and agrees that it's terrible. maladroit is something he's admitted to being terrible a bunch of times as well (to the point where he was supposedly asked to stop bashing it on their own myspace page by the record label).

that could also be his bad attitude. and also that he's cuckoo now.

Kenny said...

I haven't read that. By "last record" do you mean Make Believe or Red? In any case, I don't believe any artist would invest that much time and energy creating work that was intentionally terrible just to spite a record label. If he thinks it's bad now it may be a defense against criticism or he may hate his own past work for not measuring up to the standards he has set for himself, which is not uncommon for artists. Maybe he is as hard to please as his own hipster fans. But I don't think that means he set out to make shit and sucker everyone into buying it. If Cuomo thinks Maladroit is terrible, I have to disagree with him too. I only dislike Make Believe and I think Red is half good and half "interesting."