[7 November 2010]
Weezer’s new new album Death to False Metal arrives less than two months after their last new album, Hurley. Why the pile-up? Well, Hurley was the band’s debut for Epitaph Records, while Death to False Metal finishes out their contract with DGC. For those keeping track, this is the band’s fourth new album in the past three years. The difference here is that all of the songs on False Metal are outtakes and rarities the band had lying around that never made it onto their other albums. But all of the tracks are newly recorded by the band, technically making it a new album and an odds and ends collection.
Of course, none of these songs date from the band’s first era in the mid-‘90s. With the deluxe edition of Pinkerton hitting stores and the internet at the same time as this album, the band’s early days have been pretty well plundered for material. Death to False Metal collects 10 songs from roughly the past decade of Weezer’s career. It’s become old hat at this point to reset the band’s history in these reviews, so I’ll spare you from having to read through it again. But it’s at least worth mentioning that as Weezer has grown increasingly prolific, the songs from the band’s much-maligned second era (the Green album and Maladroit, at least. Make Believe is still awful.) have started to sound better and better. Sure, those third and fourth albums didn’t measure up to their first two, but they weren’t this aggressively stupid, were they?
Sigh. Here’s the point. Regardless of when the songs on False Metal were originally written, they sound pretty much the same as the songs from Raditude and Hurley. It’s clear that Rivers Cuomo still has an ear for catchy power-pop songwriting, but it’s all started to blur together into an endless string of crunchy guitars and banal lyrics. Sure, “crunchy guitars and banal lyrics” sort of describes the whole power-pop genre in a nutshell, but the way Weezer is churning out albums these days certainly makes it seem like there isn’t much care being put into the content of those albums. And these previously unrecorded tracks don’t do the band any favors.
Album opener “Turning Up the Radio” works pretty well for what it is. The end result of Cuomo’s YouTube collaboration with fans in 2008, it’s catchy and fun and a solid opener. The stupidity doesn’t really get going until third track “Blowin’ my Stack”, which features lazy lines like “I need cash to pay my bills / And buy some groceries to eat my fill” and the repetitive refrain “I’m blowing my stack / Blowing my stack / It makes me feel good” at least a dozen times. “Losing My Mind” is a power ballad that finds the band in self-pitying mode, as Cuomo sings about wandering around town drunk and looking for sex, and how he “Could be killed / Could be arrested / But I don’t care.”
The album finally comes to life a bit with “I’m a Robot”, which replaces the band’s standard guitar crunch with an upbeat piano-based shuffle. In that regard, it bears a bit of resemblance to Raditude single “If You’re Wondering if I Want You To (I Want You To).” The lyrics don’t do the song any favors, including such winners as “I have to earn money / To pay my bills” (yes, again with the paying of bills), “I have a wife / And a child waiting at home / Occasionally I give my dog a bone”, and “If I am feeling wacky / I might drink a quart of vodka / Spend a night down in the gutter.” Fortunately, there’s enough energy to the music that one can almost forgive the lyrics. No such musical favors are there to help out “Odd Couple”, a track that puts Cuomo’s lyrical shoddiness on full display with a series of uninspired comparisons. “I got a PC / You got a Mac”, “I read books and you watch tv”, and “Sometimes I want to strangle your neck / Or write you a check to get going” all pop up in the song.
The vocoder-assisted “Autopilot” is full of synths and is sufficiently different-sounding enough to make it the album’s other qualified success, and for a moment it looks like Death to False Metal will actually finish with a soft landing. But Weezer have one final track, and it’s a doozy. If you’ve ever heard Toni Braxton’s ubiquitous mid-‘90s R&B hit “Un-break My Heart” and thought, “I would like to hear a crunchy rock version of that song with an average singer on vocals”, then you might enjoy the Weezer version. If not, you’ll probably agree that the album ends on a sour note. But at least enjoy the Weezer version set to Toni Braxton’s original video below.
The sad thing is that Death to False Metal is pretty much par for the course for Weezer these days. Sometimes you’ll get a handful of songs that are good, and sometimes it’s just one or two. Even at their worst, it seems like Cuomo will come up with a couple of winners, even if it’s almost by accident. And yes, the worst songs are still catchy enough to get stuck in your head, even if you don’t want them in there. This album is a step down from Hurley and a bigger step down from the Red album, but it’s pretty much on par with Raditude. Old-school Weezer fans, if you’ve still got your fingers crossed that the band will make an album that recalls those halcyon ‘90s days, it’s time to accept reality. They aren’t ever going to be that band again, even if they occasionally tease you with a song that almost reaches those heights.