Olympic Hopefuls: The Fuses Refuse to Burn

[2 August 2003]

By Stefan Braidwood

Revenge of the Surf Wax Nerds

Weezer: a band, a phenomenon, a sound, a slacker-nerd approach to life. Thickly-rimmed shades, nostalgia, loneliness and anger being vented through garage rock rawness, paired with sweet multi-part vocal harmonies for the inner sentimentalist. Doomed to endlessly recycle their first two cult records in a hopeless quest to recapture that initial, unhyped freshness and bite; to prove to the world that having grown up (or perhaps, being unwilling or unable to do so completely) and become successful has not dimmed the talent or hunger any.

Long-time Minneapolis mainstays Erik Appelwick and Darren Jackson had already tried (and failed with) other bands and sounds before finally surrendering to their inner Rivers and switching to loner indie pop. Playing as Camaro, the duo went through several line-ups before settling on the current five-piece band and changing their name to Olympic Hopefuls to release their debut, thereby doubtlessly pre-empting the wrath of major automobile gods.

Given the already-invoked W word, you don’t really need me to outline what form the music takes; the drumming bracingly bright, underlining raw guitar chords and the twisting lines of solos; the singing wistful, energetic and heartfelt without ever going for cinematics, easing back in the choruses as the serenading lushness of the backing vocals drifts by. It’s supplemented by some nice lighter touches of electronics and, on “Shy”, what might be treated kettle drums; all adding glimmering silvery wakes to the onward surge of the rhythm section and strictly adhered-to verse/chorus structure. Whilst everything here can easily be traced back to “Buddy Holly” and the rest of the “blue album” exploding into the American musical consciousness, Appelwick and Jackson have deconstructed, polished and built the core back up again in a subtler, more polyvalent yet hazier form.

The Fuses Refuse to Burn opens with “Imaginary”, a slightly worrying ode to ignoring reality in favour of the (non-existent) woman of your dreams, “Holiday”, whence comes to the album’s title, and the aforementioned “Shy”, whose lament to lacking confidence (“it happens nearly every day / I sit and waste my chances away”) fits in perfectly with the persona Cuomo defines and became idolised by. These make a plenty fine trio, their relatively uninspired subject matter more than made up for by the accomplished enjoyment evident in the lightness of the conventional playing, as well as some great unexpected touches, like “Holidays”’ spacey bridge. But we’re not going to talk about them for very long (or the fact that “Imaginary” is too long and not nearly involving as it thinks it is, thereby making it a bad opener), because songs four and five are stellar and quite frankly blow a smoking hole in the rest of the LP.

“Drain the Sea” has apparently been with the band quite a while, and you can see why: the irresistibly ‘60s aura, the innocence and affection, the mega-tons of charm and plentiful moments of pop perfection. What a damnably lovely tune, what a way to pledge attempting “the beautiful thing, somehow”. There’s the strolling bass and the hand claps, there’s the xylophones, there’s those brilliantly cheesy backing vocals, there’s the singer evoking the start of the affair with “I remember when I first saw you / Shipwrecked and lost at sea / Abandoned on the island / Of sadness and ennui”, and there’s the bit from which the song gets its name, which I frankly refuse to spoil for you. It’s all so bare-facedly, adorably winsome and catchy that you can’t help but grin. One of the tunes of the year, without a doubt.

Up next is the deliciously nostalgic new wave of “Motobike”, which strips everything back nicely without letting things sound any less lush, the refrain of “It breaks my girl’s heart / Every time I crash my motobike” being met with the fade-out “but I’ll never slow down…” It’s never made clear just what the “motorbike” stands for (his dreams?) but quite frankly, when you have “hair just like James Dean” and “pretty girls wearing baby Ts”, why does it matter as long as you’ve got one?

The rest of the album rocks on in affecting form without becoming effervescent, often hampered by the Hopefuls’ tendency to continue adding musical layers past redundancy. Claiming that this album is really worth getting only for “Drain the Sea” and “Motobike” is to do them a disservice, yet the fact remains that the former, especially, is just so much better than its brethren that the latter pale in comparison. If Appelwick and Jackson let their gift for oddball, retro whimsy carry them away from Weezer-terica, their next album could ascend formidable heights indeed. To make sure they get that chance, buy this album and listen to “Drain the Sea” on loop. You will thank me.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/olympichopefuls-fuses/