Trying to make it back to “The Good Life

Peter Boyle

(Ian Wallace)

Weezer dropped its major label. Fans may find this a reason to rejoice; they may even excuse the band’s lackluster releases of late.
Both 2008’s overproduced shtickfest, “Weezer,” and the star-studded and uninspired “Raditude” left the fanbase with little confidence, but a new release on the classic punk label Epitaph was enough to generate whispers of a return to the “Blue Album” and “Pinkerton” sound.
The band has not been as self-effacingly nerdy or candidly emotional since those first two records, opting instead to experiment with the classic pop song structure on the “Green Album,” throwback guitar wizardry on “Maladroit,” and simply being bad on “Make Believe.”
These, along with those most recent records, showed a group sorely needing a change of pace. A new label with a reputation for zealous skate-punk music made sense for the aging band.
I fully anticipated, not without relish, titling this article with a “Wheezing and Hurling” joke. The story of the conception of “Hurley” – a record borne of a rumored corporate collaboration with the Hurley skate company, featuring Jorge Garcia, who played Hurley on the TV show “Lost,” on the cover – prepared me for nothing less than the worst record imaginable.
The first single, “Memories,” combines a “Maladroit” chug-a-lug verse riff with a chorus that sounds as if it was ripped directly from The Killers’ first record.
Though it only furthered my suspicion of the album being naught but a shiny new Weezer-branded drink coaster, the single at least shows a return to serious sentiment as Rivers Cuomo sings about seeking a return to the good times of Weezer’s ’90s heyday.
“Memories” is not exactly indicative of the album’s style, but it does accurately represent the spirit of the record: Cuomo and company branch out and keep their hearts on their sleeves. There’s plenty of pop-punk eighth-note rhythm guitar and just enough polish on the vocal parts, which probably stems from the Epitaph association.
“Ruling Me,” for instance, could easily be a Motion City Soundtrack song. The word “emo” is volatile, but “Pinkerton” is often hailed as a classic of the venerable ’90s genre, and it’s interesting to see the band slide easily into the contemporary emo sound.
Classic Weezer sounds also make brief cameos throughout the record. On “Memories,” the glockenspiel part hearkens back to the days of “Pink Triangle.”
A poignant acoustic guitar appears on “Unspoken,” and with a sprightlier track on “Time Flies.” “Run Away” is a Wilco-stained number in the vein of “Island in the Sun” from the “Green Album.”
The record doesn’t tread terribly experimental territory, but the band dips their toes in. “Brave New World” is disjointed and angular enough to approach the post-punk aesthetic.
Introspection, or at least empathic lyricism, are most notable on the tracks with more of Weezer’s classic sound, which may allow the die-hards a little more leeway on claims of a return to the “Blue Album.”
The blend of old Weezer and new punk-pop tricks is a nice departure from the more recent catalogue, but it can’t exactly erase the past seven years of missteps.
Cuomo still, for some reason, feels a compulsion to appeal to the Perez Hilton crowd in “Trainwrecks,” and on “Where Is My Sex?” includes ridiculous lyrics about locating his sex as if it were his house key. “Smart Girls” is only the second worst “___ Girls” song this year, edging out Katy Perry and bowing down to James Murphy.
“All My Best Friends are Insects” is the only track that really successfully works out the dichotomy of goofiness and sincerity. If anything, “Hurley” shows that, given free reign and relieved label pressure, Weezer will still manage to muddy their legacy in some way.
Though a welcome relief from overproduction and utter ridiculousness, the record can’t quite be considered a fresh start. The long playing time and numerous pretentious song introductions make the overall experience slightly annoying beyond the quality of the songs.
He’s not quite back to the good life, but Mr. Cuomo is certainly making a step in the right direction.

(Ian Wallace)

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