I’m going to give this album the benefit of the doubt.
You see, as I was listening to Weezer’s latest self-titled effort the other day (the third of six to bear the band’s name in leiu of other words, once again forcing humanity to abide by unnecessary color coding), it dawned on me that everything this group has ever done has initially seemed like a bad joke. I remember the first time I heard “Undone (The Sweater Song)” clear as day in the year of our Lord 1994.
“This seems like a bad joke,” I thought.
I’m not trying to be glib or funny — that’s literally what I thought. “If you want to destroy my sweater?” The video with the drummer thrusting his pelvis and all those dogs? It couldn’t be real. Then, I heard the album. After four or five listens, it started to make sense.
Flash forward a couple of years. “El Scorcho” comes on the radio one stormy afternoon. Gargling noises, a herky jerky rhythm, Green Day references, Rivers Cuomo’s pained falsetto… it sounded like an old practice tape from my fledgling high school rock group the Commodes (only with much higher production values). Again, it took a few gos, but eventually the jarring Pinkerton single worked its way into normalcy.
So it was with every future move Weezer made, from “Hash Pipe” to the addition of heavy metal flunkie bassist Scott Shriner to that video they made with the Muppets. I suppose you could say they’re slightly ahead of the curve, co-opting whatever stupid they can find and rebirthing it as cool (that’s certainly what they did with “Happy Days” in the video for “Buddy Holly”). Maybe Weezer’s just lucky the music world is often so pompous and serious that their shenanigans are usually accepted as a breath of fresh air.
Whatever the case, as I continued listening to Red this week, staring at what looks like a reunion of “To Catch a Predator” suspects on the front cover, I started to like it more and more. The strange, Beck-esque lyrics of “Troublemaker” (“Marryin’ a b’yotch / Havin’ seven k’yods”); the pretentious Queen stab “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)”; the asinine pile of acoustic goo called “Heart Songs” — all dubious, but all boasting enough of that patented Weezer introverted grunge pop sound to ingratiate themselves to the listener.
Heck, even rhthym guitarist Brian Bell’s gruff late ’90s beach jam throwback “Thought I Knew” is weaseling its way into my sick blood-pumper (although I can see why they kept him away from the mic for so long; this tune is about as close to Weezer as “Cop Killer” is to Donnie Osmond).
There is one moment on The Red Album that is unquestionably vintage Weez. I speak of “Pork and Beans”, the song that’s been burning up the YouTube for weeks now with its cutesy, “Hey, these are all people from the Internet, LOL” video. Rivers and Co. dust off the old tried-and-true quiet verse/loud chorus formatting chestnut for this one, lacing it with irresistable hooks and empowering lyrics (“I’ma do the things that I wanna do / I ain’t got a thing to prove to you”). The result is the best geek anthem this side of whatever MC Chris’ last hit was.
The rest of the album may try men’s souls, but if you ask me the verdict’s still out. It certainly has a high replayability factor (Cuomo’s rap about stardom near the end of “Greatest Man” must be heard several times before it is believed). It certainly will be one of the most talked about records of the year. Kudos must at least be given for not turning in an album of 12 “Dope Noses” or “Beverly Hillses”. That would have been too easy, and I’m starting to realize easy is not what Weezer’s all about.