Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I'll take some angst with that pork and beans

Rivers Cuomo is the owner of a lonely heart. For a guy who is adored by millions, he seems to think that there is no one else that could possibly understand him. In a sense, it's understandable, too. The Weezer frontman has been pushed and pulled, loved and hated by fans and critics alike since the inception of his band. Weezer came out in the 90s during the grunge era when bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam were making millions off of their Generation X angst towards girls, rules, society, morals, etc. Weezer and Nirvana actually have very similar lyrics. Both lead singers write about their incapable dads, their broken hearts, and their anger towards intolerant people. I feel like one of the only differences then is that no one really takes Weezer, or Rivers specifically, seriously. Through the progression of his career, Rivers has turned from skinny white kid to emo uber geek to, well, I guess he's stayed the same, but his clothes have just gotten weirder (see: Rivers' suit phase during the Green Album, his cowboy and moustache outfit for the Red Album). Of course people take Kurt Cobain seriously--he loved his heroin and killed himself. Now, please don't think I'm being insensitive. His death is one of rock music's--and pop culture's--saddest, greatest, and most important tragedies.

So why does Rivers get no respect? Some would say that he's just a whiny little bitch. But isn't that why we loved him in the first place? The Blue Album showed a subtle, personal side to songwriting. At times, he'd be making radio friendly hits like "Buddy Holly," but then he had those dark moments, namely "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here" and especially "Say It Ain't So" where he rages about isolation and addiction, respectively. From what I remember, fans and critics loved this notion, of encapsulating your heart on CD. So when Pinkerton came out, Rivers put it all on the line--he wrote about his long distant love in Asia, he wrote about his sexual inadequacies, he sung about the ones he fucked over, and lost for good. He wrote about his regrets. And we spurned him. We shunned him. Critics and fans railed this soul-bearing album, and Rivers retreated into isolation. No one understood the guy.

Years later, Pinkerton would be hailed as one of the major pioneers of the emo movement, which can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. Rivers went to Harvard, and the rest of the band did their own thing (side projects such as The Good Life, Space Twins, etc.). The diehard fans, though, wanted them some Weezer. The demand was undeniable. I personally didn't start listening to Weezer until they decided to make a comeback at the 1998 KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas. I remember reading the playlist and thinking "Weezer, what the fuck is that?" Needless to say, when I heard that first drumbeat for "Undone (The Sweater Song)," not only did I know they were familiar, but I knew I had found an amazing band. Needless to say, when I first heard the opening distortion to "Tired of Sex" from Pinkerton, I knew I had found a band that I could relate to. Rivers may feel lonely himself, but he makes his fans feel like part of a community. He may think that the world has turned and left him, but for the fans, all we thought was "Wow, there's someone who thinks the way I think, feels the way I feel. Maybe I'm not the only one going through these things." Needless to say, they are still my favorite band.

The Green Album showcased Weezer's return to glory--lovesick lyrics with heavy metal/pop influences. The stark contrast between the new Weezer and old Weezer, though, was in the lyrics and meticulous songwriting. The lyrics were general and impersonal; the songwriting was too formulaic. It still sounded fuckin' great, but something was off. Because of its commercial success, Weezer tried to turn towards a more mainstream sound: Maladroit showcased typical Weezer but with more of an 80s power pop/rock sound, which, don't get me wrong, was okay, but it was too dissonant from previous Weezer material to garner attention.

Don't even get me started on Make Believe, Weezer's 5th outing. I'll just come right out and say it--I am not a fan of this album. It's got some real keepers ("This Is Such A Pity," "Freak Me Out," and "Haunt You Every Day"--which could be one of their most powerful album closers ever, perhaps behind "Only In Dreams"), but sweet geezus, songs like "Beverly Hills" and especially "My Best Friend" have no soul to them. In a sense, Rivers and Weezer sold out. Through lyrics such as "Your'e my best friend/ and I love you," it felt like Rivers was too fuckin' scared to show real emotion. To me, it seems like this album was for the record label, to get them off their backs. Take a look at "We Are All On Drugs." Rivers made it big on "Hash Pipe" when he talked about the fun and awkwardness of smoking bowls--it was a fun song that wouldn't be taken seriously. But "We Are All On Drugs," well, that song could definitely complement an anti-drug commercial. It's The Man saying "Don't do drugs, kids." It's not Rivers or the rest of the band.

So where am I going with this long rant? Because the real Weezer has come back to us. And you know what? They've matured, too, as heard in their new single "Pork and Beans." The song begins with a great guitar line, catchy and quirky. He then sings about getting older and losing his appeal with younger generations. He even takes a jab at the current music trend, singling out Timbaland. "Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts / Maybe if I work with him I can perfect the art." I don't think he's bashing on Timbaland, but just on the state of the industry in which there's no personal touch to music anymore. And with this song, he's finally learned a true lesson: not caring about what others think. The Red Album, I'm hoping shows another reinvention of Weezer (hence the new color), where they play music, not to please people, but just for the sake of playing it, because they love it. "Pork and Beans" is pure Weezer: catchy guitar hooks, epic rock chorus, goofy yet personal lyrics. But there's something new: Rivers has finally gained his confidence. He sings:

"Imma do the things that I wanna do /
I ain't got a thing to prove to you /
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans /
Excuse my manners if I make a scene /
I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like /
I'm fine and dandy with the me inside /
One look in the mirror and I'm tickled pink /
I don't give a hoot about what you think"

This time, Rivers doesn't care if he's the owner of a lonely heart. He's happy the way he is. Even if this album doesn't make big money or isn't critically raved, what the fuck ever. I'm gonna go out and buy this album and love this album. And I don't give a hoot about what you think.

The Best of Weezer Playlist (in no particular order):
1. Hash Pipe
2. Island in the Sun
3. O Girlfriend
4. This is such a Pity
5. Freak Me Out
6. Haunt You Every Day
7. My Name Is Jonas
8. No One Else (live and acoustic)
9. Undone (The Sweater Song)
10. Buddy Holly
11. Say It Ain't So
12. Only in Dreams
13. Surf Wax America
14. Across The Sea
15. The Good Life
16. El Scorcho
17. Butterfly
18. Take Control
19. Death and Destruction
20. Slob
21. Slave
22. Hit Me Baby One More Time (cover)


Clint said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PJ said...

I can't say that I've had as in depth a relationship as you have with Weezer, but they certainly are one of my favorites. It'll be nice to buy the Red Album when it's out, I love the new tracks! Great post!

bru-bru said...

i couldnt have said it better myself kage, and i can relate on almost all levels. Weezer is mos def my favorite band of all time. Blue album forever...."only in dreamss" -bruce

Kage said...