Weezer’s ninth studio album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End, is out this week, and reviews are encouraged but ultimately disappointed. The selling point for this one is Rivers Cuomo—one of rock’s most enigmatic and disengaged front men—coming back to the acutely personal, plucky, rambling stuff his name was built on. But we’ve heard that one before.
Weezer has spent the last nine years satisfying its ironic whims—wearing fedoras, hanging out in the Playboy Mansion, rapping, writing a song called “She Got Hot.” The band has released seven records this century (eight if you count the Tupperware leftovers stuffed into 2010’s Death to False Metal). From 2005’s Make Believe through 2010’s Hurley, Cuomo seemed to actively despise his industry. He recalled Peter from Office Space when he checked out and spent the workweek playing computer games in sandals. But he continued to get promoted, and so he kept taking everyone’s money.
I read Cuomo as a highly intelligent guy with defined tastes (he loves metal, moved to Los Angeles at 19 to rock, dreamed of being an arena god). Now that he’s an unhinged, established musician with a presumably cavernous estate, Cuomo sees pop culture as an opportunity for absurdist performance art. Because he’s a square 44-year-old who feels no responsibility toward his audience, he writes songs that half his band maybe thinks are funny. “Troublemaker” from 2008’s eponymous Red album contains the lyric, “movies are as bad as eating chocolate ice cream.” The cover art for 2009’s ghastly Raditude (actor Rainn Wilson suggested the title and Cuomo was sufficiently amused), was originally published in National Geographic and is a dog in a living room.
The work has been equal parts ironic and incoherently sugary with respect to studio polish. But we half-pay attention because Cuomo found his voice on 1994’s eponymous Blue album and everyone loves it; because he was an openly creepy, damaging fetishist on ‘96’s sprawling, confessional, generationally influential emo masterpiece, Pinkerton. The mainstream didn’t bite on Pinkerton, you’ll remember, and Cuomo’s band was an afterthought until 2001. That summer, the band returned to the pop charts with its eponymous “Green” album—it was an emotionally detached pocketful of sunshine. Cuomo said that writing it was “a purely musical experience.”
Problem is, what makes Cuomo matter is the personal stuff. His third record, then, is the poisonous blueprint for latter-day Weezer. Make Believe was a more muscular, glossier project with the same missing emotional core of the Green album. And so on.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve listened to all of the 21st century Weezer corpus with the hope of finding value. For most of the journey, I felt like those star-crossed fools that don GoPro cameras and search for Bigfoot. But ultimately, some of it is downright terrific. 2002’s Maladroit was whole-milk hearty: “Keep Fishin’” is the best (and only) Weezer single I’ve included; “Burndt Jam” is dignified.
“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” is sincere and ambitious: Think the final dance scene from Napoleon Dynamite. It is six minutes of declarative pomp, time changes, and bravely pointless sirens. “I’m the baddest of the bad,” Cuomo snarls behind arena clap drums, seconds before oscillating to acoustic “oohs.” Then there’s a military choir for about 20 seconds. Then Cuomo sings in falsetto. Then there’s a moment of “Surf Wax America”-esque pogo rock. Then there are synthesizers.
Cuomo writes so many throwaways that some were bound to stick—16, to be exact.