The “Weezer-rock” label once conveyed a promising, even if overstated, forecast of quality and aesthetic. The method of Rivers Cuomo wasn’t difficult to mimic, but no act ever truly approached the pop gold of Blue and Pink. Only with the The Green Album’s much lamentable release did the “Weezer-esque” tag become realistically apt in many cases – apt in that it meant hyper-catchy, hook-laden, but ultimately banal, pop-rock. A debate hardly exists anymore on the merits of Weezer’s reunion. It shouldn’t have happened. Maladroit is their best post-Pink album and it’s decidedly okay, properly viewed as a sturdy rebound from the saddening wreckage of Green. Like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it’s a nostalgia-fueled case of “what could have been”.
L.A.-based Rooney occupies firm ground on the post-Green Album terrain. This sunny power-pop quartet can reproduce the surface sparkle of 21st century Weezer without ever manifesting the heavily human and messy hearts of The Blue Album and Pinkerton. No surprise, but on the evidence of their output, Rooney isn’t even attempting a distinctive sound. Their ’03 self-titled debut was mildly pleasing – a little pop go-getter that earned inflated goodwill from a few slick entries (“I’m Shakin”, “Daisy Duke”). Now it plays like an erstwhile summer fad – read: The Green Album.
Calling the World, the follow-up, is as instantly recognizable as the debut and more quickly forgettable. The schematic holds – power chords, clean rhythms, and tritely boisterous sentiments, filtered through a rushed verse-to-chorus-and-back “progression”. Leadman Robert Carmine, younger sibling of Jason Schwartzman and, thus, a relation to Hollywood royalty (Nicolas Cage, Francis Ford Coppola, etc.) puts on a simple and fragile front. He is desperate for affection in an overly earnest, consequence-free sort of manner. The title of “Love Me or Leave Me” indicates all you need to know about World’s shades of gray. In bright colors, over swooning melodies, Carmine croons with Brady Bunch-like sincerity. It’s all very sweet and likeable, too much in fact. The shtick is so cloying that its sentiments melt on contact. This is the fundamental flaw of Rooney’s work on Calling the World—the effect of their craft, delivery, and emotion disappears as soon as it arrives.
It appears that Rooney’s five members need a reality awakening in Pinkerton‘s school of hard knocks. Carmine’s world is one of cartoonish simplicity. On “I Should’ve Been After You”, he confesses his weightiest transgression – kissing the girl-friends of his desired squeeze. The patter rarely rises above such nameless pleas and heartaches. “Tell Me Soon” witnesses the ultra neediness typical of Carmine, when he blankly demands, “Tell me you love me”. This brand of lyricism is straightforward, sweetly irony-free, but so well-worn as to render love passé.
The songcraft aspires little higher. The Weezer influence dominates, flanked by throwback nods to the Cars, E.L.O., and Cheap Trick. Fifteen seconds into the lead-off title track though, World has essentially revealed its hand. Nothing will deter Rooney’s streamlined, uber-pop approach. This doesn’t translate into perfectly smooth-sailing mechanics, though. From the classic rock strut of “Don’t Come Around Again” to the semi-urgent “Paralyzed”, Rooney overzealously seeks out the choruses while treating solos as fly-by activities. Too often (i.e. any more than once), the guitar picking matches Carmine’s vocal note-by-note, which is simply lazy. The sleek surface of Rooney’s work masks this inattention to detail, but it’s present in spades. With the exception of the closer, “Help Me Find My Way”, each song postures like a potential single, excessively structured and steeped in formula.
The better moments of Calling the World don’t wildly shirk this formula. Little switch-ups, like a shift in the song pace or a varied instrumentation, enliven what could have been more blandness. The slashing single “When Did Your Heart Go Missing” comes packaged with an ultra-cool retro glaze. Such a minimal dosage of moxie goes a long way for Rooney. They even work in some snaky progression on “Are You Afraid”, a twilight-tinted, stylistic paean to the 80s. These aren’t profound deviations, though. That only comes with the delicate finale “Help Me Find My Way”. Its primary weapon – a dramatic and garden-lush arrangement of strings that seems to guide Carmine and co through a belated maturation process. What a release, even in its coyness.
Maturity, and the unwillingness to express it, can be a clichéd issue for critics to gripe about. It can also be directly on target. The decline of Weezer now seems rooted in their (or River’s) flee from maturity as artists. How else can you rationalize the puzzling arc of their discography? From the introspective outbursts of “Tired of Sex” and all of Pinkerton to what? “Don’t Let Go”, “Love Explosion”, and “We’re All on Drugs”? This is a painful decline, plunging from the authentic to the wooden. Only on their second release and certainly less talented, Rooney may not ever become “Weezer-esque” in this regard. Their limited aspirations will likely never land them on such heights from which to tumble. But Calling the World does witness a band in the dicey throes of a holding pattern, the results of which sound little better than proper regression.
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// Notes from the Road
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