Monday, August 30, 2010

Opinion: Rivers Cuomo and Weezer – My Growing Concern

Isn’t it distressing when a band you once loved starts behaving strangely?  As a long-term fan, you find yourself helplessly watching.  It’s like witnessing a car-wreck in slow motion while the driver thinks everything is under control.  This is how I feel currently when I think about Weezer. 

Sure, it all started out fine. Their first two albums were classics.  The problem was, the second one wasn’t seen as such until years after the fact. It was actually routinely and unfairly bashed and maligned. In fact, said album, “Pinkerton” showcased leader, Rivers Cuomo’s most personal and frank work to date.  The fact that it wasn’t initially well-received, I believe did irreparable damage to him and his future work.  He disbanded the group for five years.   During that time he studied at Harvard where he eventually earned a degree in English.  In spite of his degree, his lyrics got simpler over the years, perhaps in attempt to avoid vulnerability.  "Pinkerton" took somewhat of a savage beating and no doubt so did Cuomo’s confidence. 

In 2001, when the band returned with their second self-titled (green) effort, it was a lean cut-to-the-core, twenty-eight minute set.  Luckily, thanks to the singles, “Hash Pipe” and “Island In The Sun,” the record was well received.  So, the following year they followed it up with the equal if not better disc, “Maladroit.”

It was in 2005 when things started to go awry.  Their album, “Make Believe,” while spawning their biggest hit, (“Beverly Hills”) seemed like an overt grab at the pop audience.  The songs just weren’t as good and increasingly, the band was turning off many of the longtime fans of their music.  It didn’t help that the single, “We Are All On Drugs,” on top of being lyrically appallingly stupid, sounded very much like the diarrhea song. 

Fast forward to 2008 and their third self titled (red) album.  That album worked because they switched up their formula.  Cuomo allowed the other members to sing lead on various tracks and thus fully opened up their scope of musical exploration.  His lyrics were still like something out of a ten-year-old’s journal, using some of the simplest rhyme-schemes in the history of the modern word.  It was hardly what you’d expect from a Harvard-educated English major!

Last year, the band issued “Raditude.”  What can I say about “Raditude?”  Hmmmm…  “Raditude” was a pretty terrible record.  Approaching forty, Cuomo seemed to be in full-on mid-life crisis mode and that made his songs all the more juvenile.  He seemed to be courting the pop crowd more aggressively than ever, singing songs that came off as excessively youth-driven.  Making matters worse, as time has gone on, Cuomo has seemingly come out of his shell.  As someone who used to have a stand-offish presence, he now seems occasionally a little too animated.  Like one of his heroes, Brian Wilson, who went through a similar metamorphosis, Cuomo now comes off like a bit of a man-child onstage, which is somewhat distressing.   He stopped playing guitar as often. This was somewhat surprising considering he used to take every opportunity to solo. Now it seems like his main goal is to really drive the pop aspect of the band’s music home.  He recruited Lil Wayne to appear on the track, “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Elsewhere on the record, tracks had groan-inducing titles like “The Girl Got Hot” and “I’m Your Daddy.”  Only the song, “Put Me Back Together” had a hint of Cuomo’s old mastery. 

The new Rivers Cuomo is still a tad awkward in his delivery.  If you take a look at a live AOL appearance where the band turned their single “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” into a duet with Sara Bareilles, it’s a little hard to watch.  Bareilles is looking at Cuomo with a loving gaze, like she is standing beside a revered idol.  Cuomo, still a shy nerd at heart, looks a little uncomfortable like he wishes he were looking at his feet. 

Now, I am really concerned.  In a couple of weeks Weezer will release yet another record.  It’s called, “Hurley,” and on the cover is an image of Jorge Garcia who played the character Hurley on “Lost.”  The album’s first single, “Memories,” is a jarringly repetitive, disappointing track.  I might be proven wrong when I hear the whole record, but I am concerned that things could very well be getting worse.   I really don’t want to see and hear this once great band implode!!! 

They just aren’t the band they used to be.  If you compare live performances from 2002 and 2009, they seem like a completely different band.  In 2002, touring to support “Maladroit,” they were still in classic form and early staples like “Tired Of Sex” still rocked.  If you can find a recording of a 2009 concert, they sound like a confused, dumbed-down pop mess.  I have heard one recording of them willfully ruining “Say It Ain’t So” by making it a duet with Paramore’s Hayley Williams.  At the end of the song, Cuomo awkwardly shouts into the mic, “HAYLEY WILLIAMS… WHHHHOOOOO!!!” He is seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that he’s just done damage to one of his classics.

I think I see this bad train rolling into the station.  If Weezer and Rivers Cuomo don’t get the right guidance, they could essentially ruin their legacy in the name of fleeting pop success. 

It’s scary to think that this might have all been avoided if “Pinkerton” had gotten the reception it initially deserved.  I really hope I’m proven wrong.  As a longtime Weezer fan and supporter, this is painful to watch.  


At 8:09 PM , Anonymous Erik said...

I couldn't agree more. I feel Cuomo is more concerned with reception than expression, which is unfortunate for those of us who loved Blue and Pinkerton. It's like he doesn't trust his expressive instinct. Maybe he just wants to fit in - which can ruin good art. Thanks for the rundown.

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