Weezer's fourth album -- and second in less than a year -- Maladroit begins with a minor-key heavy metal riff, distorted to hell and messy as a sloppy joe. It's as appropriate a lead-in to the album as could be expected, distilling Maladroit's differences from other Weezer albums in a few tossed-off chords. Like the jarring open to Weezer's last self-produced record Pinkerton, it lets us know that this album won't be as smooth a ride as the last.
But is that a bad thing? Heelll no. We've come to love Weezer for everything they are. For the fact that no two albums of theirs sound the same, but all sound compatible. For Rivers Cuomo's mood swings. For the fact that, while the band sound almost infallible, they clearly don't think that's the case themselves. So while so many fans -- mainly the ones who placed Pinkerton higher on the shelf than the Blue Album -- felt that the Green Album was too bland and superficial and that the band had "sold out", they'll find here that it was just another evolutionary step. It shouldn't be any other way.
So what is Maladroit to the Weezer catalog? Many things. For one, it completes two "pairs" of releases for them, as Maladroit is to the Green Album what Pinkerton was to the Blue Album. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm as sick of the Maladroit/Pinkerton comparisons as Cuomo probably is, but there are at least a few connections. The "color" albums, which were composed of mostly bouncy guitar pop with crisp production courtesy Ric Ocasek, have each now been followed by a more difficult self-produced follow-up. But while Pinkerton was a jarringly beautiful listen, Maladroit is more of a punchy, messy pop record. It is, in many ways, the immediate response to the Green Album's slickness and superficiality.
It could rather easily be argued that every Weezer album has been the direct answer to its predecessor. On the Green Album, the slick, easily listenable surface and shameless pop hooks were an almost defiant answer to the poor reception of the more difficult Pinkerton. The best example is that album's "Photograph", a song that piled on the "woo hoos" and certainly sounded great on your car stereo, but was so superficial that it didn't leave that much on impression. It was really, in many ways, Cuomo's statement that "If you didn't like us trying something new, we'll just give you easy-to-digest pop music". Of course that was where most of the Green Album mined its brilliance and it's flaws. And Pinkerton's deep ruminations on life and love were Cuomo's way of saying "Hey, kids, I don't just sing happy songs about Buddy Holly and surfing. I'm a real person." And of course, a good deal of the pop-music consumers who loved the early Weezer-maybe people who wanted them to be a silly pop band and nothing else-didn't understand Pinkerton and didn't truly understand Cuomo's personality.
Moreover, Maladroit further exposes some of Cuomo's human flaws. Ever vulnerable to what the fans think, he condemned the Green Album not long after it came out, partially responding to the Pinkerton fans who thought it was too much of a step backward. He seemed blind to all the praise he received for that same record, but that adds in many ways to his own imperfections. Weezer albums have become as much a character study of Cuomo (not to ignore the rest of the band, of course, though the songs do belong to Cuomo) as anything, each time letting us into the complicated mind of an often brilliant rock star. But the reason we care is that we all know someone like Cuomo. His thick-rimmed glasses, small frame, and awkward demeanor all remind us of someone we know or have known. You may have gone to high school or college with someone like him, someone who tosses cutely cryptic phrases about "busting rhymes real slow" or how he misses "gothic flavor" into conversation -- even though he or she is probably the only person who understands what the hell they're talking about. It's that wounded geek, someone who is "cool" only to the people who realize they're at ease in their own skin or to those who recognize their complex personality, that Cuomo manages to capture on record in ways almost no others have. And if you're young enough, that lovable geek that you knew probably had a flying "W" -- Weezer's logo-painted in white -- out on his backpack.
And furthermore, anyone who knows the aforementioned self-styled "geek" knows that while said person probably possesses a great deal of emotional depth, they sometimes need to rock out old-school metal-style, even though the mysogynistic, homophobic, and all-around obnoxious lyricisms of Guns 'N Roses or AC/DC make them blush as red as the season's fresh crop of strawberries. Maladroit, then, is for them: it's Weezer's "rock out" album-one that doesn't ignore their old sound, but is a bounce-off-the-walls party record, tossing in the occasional AC/DC riff (generally on track intros) but standing by the band's pop base. But in place of ridiculous metal lyrics, Cuomo pens a set of lyrics that has as much depth as Pinkerton. "Slob", for example, finds a woman leaving messages on his machine telling him "I don't like how you're living my life / Get yourself a wife / Get yourself a job / You're living a dream / Don't you be a slob". And on "Keep Fishin'" (one of the finest songs here), sets broken-hearted lyrics like "It's just the thought of you in love with someone else / It breaks my heart to see you hangin' from your shelf" to a bouncy, distorted guitar riff and call-and-answer background vocals. All over Maladroit, Cuomo airs that he's the owner of a lonely heart, much like he did two releases ago on Pinkerton. And it's encouraging that he feels he can do that again, after reportedly taking it so hard when the public didn't immediately warm to that album. The fact that we even care is what's remarkable. He makes us want to.
That isn't to say that Maladroit is Weezer's masterpiece, either, but any of its flaws are minor and irrelevant (apart, maybe, from the lack of a radio single on par with "Hash Pipe" or "Island in the Sun", even though "Dope Nose" is one of their catchiest songs). The reality is that if you feel one Weezer record is worth owning, then you should own all four. Each brings something to the table, and each is only a part of the whole picture. But that Weezer were able to craft such a damn fine follow-up to the Green Album, one that remedies its blandness-its one fatal flaw, in merely a year is nothing short of remarkable. Maladroit keeps it short, keeps it simple, keeps it honest, but also importantly, they keep it coming. Thank Weezer for that, and let's hope we see them again in another year.