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California Kids

On paper, “California Kids” holds one of the stranger positions in Weezer’s discography. It’s both the opener and weakest song of 2016’s remarkable return to form, The White Album. It’s the one song I’d maybe want to replace, and yet it’s the lynchpin of the album’s central conceit – a beach-combing, day-and-night exploration of present day Los Angeles. In fact, demoing “California Kids” at producer Jake Sinclair’s home studio is how he and Rivers Cuomo warmed to the idea of making an album-length update of the young Brian Wilson’s iconic West Coast sound (apparently new management Crush Music’s suggestion)…but it was originally released as a single by the Japanese-language side project Scott & Rivers in 2014. Weezer’s eventual White Album arrangement would redact most of the Japanese take’s harmonies (sung by the song’s co-writer, Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson), which, if retained, would have been made for the most Beach Boys-esque moment on Weezer’s most consciously Beach Boys-inspired album.

Musically, it’s a bit less interesting. Like “Do You Wanna Get High?,” one issue is the on-the-nose fan service elements that strain to remind the listener of brighter times, like the “Pink Triangle” glockenspiel that opens the song and the later reference to old friends “back in Boston…never forgot[ten]” (a plausible nod to Pinkerton‘s conception). But like “Do You Wanna Get High?,” these self-conscious moments are still pretty effective from a songwriting perspective. Arguably worse, then, is the way the chugging, almost mall-punk chorus cloys – “The California kids will throw you a lifeline… / The California kids will show you the sunshine” – but it’s served up with just enough goodwill and gusto to get over. It also helps to know that, as Cuomo explained in a recent interview, the lyric originally came from his realization that despite his own typical East Coast upbringing, his two children are very much West Coasters in fact and personality. One might recall here how the chorus of Raditudes rancid “I’m Your Daddy” came from similar origins (Cuomo holding and reassuring his infant daughter during a trying time), and the rest of that song’s lyrics came from the same desire to broaden its accessibility for a general audience. So maybe it’s no coincidence that while “California Kids” would stand out for its relative merits on dog days albums like Rad and Hurley, it would fit much better on those records than on any other (whereas most of White seems to belong to a different world altogether).

In another sense, “California Kids” is most comparable to The Green Album‘s “Don’t Let Go,” as a statement of purpose that both introduces and undersells a great record. And like “Don’t Let Go,” I never want to hear “California Kids,” but in the context of its album I’m always a little surprised by how decent it actually is. That doesn’t quite excuse “Kids” from being the only White song that’s a bit undercooked, and it’s not hard to imagine it how much it could have improved with a little extra time and a lucky idea or two.

O Girlfriend

Even Green‘s most personal song – written about the same flame who inspired other top-shelf songs of the era, “O Girl” and “Do You Wanna Get High?” – is a product of the album’s commercial calculus and strophic simplicity.

In discussing the penultimate song on the record, “Glorious Day,” I praised this formulaic monomania for the trance-like state it can induce – probably unintentionally – over the course of a full album listen. (The reuse throughout of key lyrics and musical motifs is a crucial component of this effect, as with the faint déjà vu that accompanies the identical reappearance of the “Photograph” ohh ba-by in “Simple Pages.”) But “O Girlfriend,” as both the album’s conclusion and sole reach for some catharsis, is one place the spell maybe should have been broken.

For proof, we need only revisit the version performed in Toronto on July 14, 2002, a little over a year after the record’s release. Freed of Green’s tight production yoke, the guitars, bass, and drums expand into the ample breathing room of the Molson Amphitheatre, Cuomo’s voice and its melody sounding far less self-conscious. The album’s readymade guitar solos – note-for-note recitations of the verse melodies, as inspired by “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – often work surprisingly well even when considered separately from their pleasantly hypnotic qualities. “O Girlfriend” is an exception: as the emotional climax of Green’s climactic song, a rote repeat of the verse’s melody – especially stretched to 16 bars, whereas most on the record are twice as economical – can’t help but ring hollow. But in Toronto, those extra bars give Cuomo plenty of room to improvise one of the prettiest, most expressive solos of his career. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the band felt no apparent need to ever play the song again.

Still, even in its studio iteration, “O Girlfriend” is moving. As with most of Green, the verse melody is as strong and graceful as any of his prior work – albeit truncated, simply reiterating one or two excellent ideas where Blue or Pinkerton songs would develop them. The autobiographical reference to “taking pills and mellowing out” together nicely balances the rest of the lyrics’ broad-stroke cliches (“Though we’d fight I loved you so much / Now I can’t feel your touch”) to paint a picture that is both personal and relatable – something that once came naturally to Cuomo, and after this song would prove a much bigger challenge for him. In the outro, there is plaintive humming where a younger Cuomo might have placed harmonica, but forgoing an intermediary feels like the right decision here. In sum, it’s very nearly one of the group’s brightest moments, but without that final live performance, it’d be much harder to tell how close they came.

Glorious Day

Last time, with “Photograph,” I mentioned the hypnotic properties of The Green Album formula. I’ve been floating in that ooze a lot lately. Living in a busybody city like Seoul, I sometimes want to disengage from my aural environment, be it the talkshow drone of cab radio or the auditory hell of your average ramen bar. Green is the perfect fix: even if it didn’t have such a bricked master, its wall of sound frequency range could drown out pretty much any situational noise, with barely any compositional dynamics to distract me from my notebook or whatever other task might be at hand. There’s a utility to Green‘s frictionless surfaces that all but ensure it will remain my most played Weezer record.

By track nine, “Glorious Day,” I’m pretty much gone. Some details poke through, vaguely – weird, maybe-funny lines about “glorious children;” the hard rock guitar-and-cymbal fill that happens every eight bars in the verse; the poignant guitar intro that once made everyone so disappointed a prettier song didn’t ensue – but for the most part, it’s a whole lot of nothing. I keep coming back for more.


Following the failure of Pinkerton, Rivers Cuomo spent half a decade smothering one of the brightest pop songwriting muses of our time. After some early indicators, the first real product of this process was 2001’s Green Album, a 28-minute-thin slice of early Beatles songcraft sieved through the compression filter of safe, formulaic late ’90s radio rock.

“Photograph” is the most instructive example of what effect this devil’s bargain had on Cuomo’s creative voice: while most other Green songs feature more ambiguous traces of his original sensibilities, “Photograph” sounds like what 1994’s “Buddy Holly” might’ve sounded like were it written by 2001 Cuomo. The ’50s pop “ooh-ee-ooh” that is “Holly’s” surest hook is reprised to play the same role here, and in both cases the song is its respective record’s most poptimistic, handclapping, major-key statement of (commercial) purpose. To wit, they are each Weezer‘s concisest song: “Buddy Holly” is the only tune on Blue (well) below the three-minute mark, while “Photograph” is just 1:55 when discounting its non-musical intro and outro. Given their many similarities, and the analytical pop success mania that informed all of Green‘s artistic decisions, it’d take little stretch of the imagination to hazard that “Photograph” was Cuomo’s conscious attempt to rewrite his most popular song to date.

Of course, the comparison might tempt one to consider all the ways a younger Cuomo could have improved “Photograph.” As “Holly” illustrates, he probably would have made more interesting instrumentation choices (as with the good-humored synthesizers for which “Photograph’s” introductory guitar noodles make some kind of undersold substitute), and though Green‘s standard issue verse-melody-as-guitar-break formula works relatively well in this context, it would be silly to suggest ’90s Cuomo wouldn’t have left a more suitable solo in its place. Even a later (sloppy) live version, released on the flipside of a couple different iterations of the “Keep Fishin'” single, manages to outline some simple backing vocal parts that could’ve filled things out nicely.

But “Photograph” demonstrates Green‘s distinct achievements just as well. It manages to pack almost as much pop thrill into a song nearly a minute shorter than Blue‘s shortest; introduces a third-person, broadly inspirational lyric to Cuomo’s lexicon (including quirky, memorable lines like, “If you need it / You should show it / ‘Cause you might play so monastic that you blow it,” and, “If you blew it / Don’t reject it / Just keep drawing up the plans and re-erect it”);  the performance, especially for one of an era ridiculed for its impersonality, boils over with audible joy, even goodwill; and despite the equally valid criticism of the song’s repetitiveness, its circular, symmetrical structure has an almost hypnotic effect – especially when taken with the rest of the album, which sustains the same spell – that places “Photograph,” and Green as a whole, among Weezer’s most compulsively replayable material.

Interestingly, an early leak of the Green Album had the song listed as ” If You Want It,” and ran almost a full minute longer. The extra time is wasted, with repeated sections and a variation on the chorus that only serves to muddle the message of the song (“Photograph” succeeds in blending a love song vibe with more generally aspirational themes, whereas the added chorus lyrics of “If You Want It” – about commitment to a relationship – make it a more polarized split). In the apparently last-minute decision to trim the fat, we get no small insight into Cuomo’s artistic considerations of the time, which underscore how the focus and concision of Blue and Pinkerton hadn’t left him so much as they were being redirected towards vastly different goals.

A Glorious Moment

We’ve already discussed the infamous leg operation that contributed to all the pain in misery of Pinkerton – an X-ray is featured in the single art for “The Good Life” – but this little tape-recorder snippet takes Rivers Cuomo’s documentarian instincts a step further. Recorded the afternoon following the surgery, Cuomo reports he is “eating Saltines, drinking juice” after having just peed on his own “for the first time” (since yesterday, one presumes). “It was a glorious moment,” he says feebly. Publishing this clip is a funny and candid way to cap off Alone III: The Pinkerton Years, especially considering that disc was a companion to Cuomo’s journals dossier of the same time period. As with a similar track on the first Alone, though, it also underscores the ample wasted space on a CD that could have included legendary, still uncirculated demos like the solo piano recording of “Devotion.”

Do You Wanna Get High?

“Cue the feedback?” “Cue the feedback.”

So goes the dialogue that begins “Do You Wanna Get High?” It’s a detail that’s so far eluded discussions of Weezer’s latest single, but it might be the entire point. The cliched squall of amplifier feedback that follows this studio banter serves as a familiar preface for what is by far the single most Pinkerton thing the band has released since Pinkerton. Deliberately so: unlike most ever Weezer release from Green onwards, “High” was not assembled piecemeal by multitracking each instrument, but played live in the room as a band (less vocal overdubs and some minor arrangement details). The music itself rides the “Pink Triangle” breakdown groove, rehashes synth lines reminiscent of Pinkerton b-sides and Black Hole sketches, and reprises the iconic “Tired of Sex” wails in the outro, while the  opening feedback in question sounds like a pointed simulation of that which introduces “No Other One.” There’s even the kind of falsetto backing Matt Sharp used to sing.

Granted, there are differences: the melodies, while reminiscent of classic Cuomo, are quite a bit simpler; while Brian Bell and Scott Shriner make appearances in the vocal fore, the profusion of double-tracked Cuomo is more Green than ‘90s; and the conclusive references to Mother Theresa and the Vedas call to mind Weezer’s other 2015 singles “Thank God For Girls” and ” Everybody Needs Salvation.” But “High” is still very much in the wheelhouse of the diehard fans who made Weezer’s career comeback possible in 2001 (and many recruited since), and whose straightforward desires Rivers Cuomo has denied virtually every step thereafter. Out of 255 respondents to a recent poll conducted on Weezer’s most devout fan forum, a mere four voters were less than thrilled about this song. The consensus reaction “High” has enjoyed is unprecedented for the Weezer of Summer Songs 2000 and beyond. More divisive singles like “Beverly Hills” and “Hash Pipe” would have a much bigger impact on culture and sell many more copies, but in terms of Weezer’s core constituents, Cuomo’s never gotten a better reaction.

Because it’s exactly what all of them want. And that’s what makes the self-parodic stage gag at the start – “cue the feedback!” – particularly curious. It’s theater. Cuomo vowed in 1997 to never make and promote this kind of music again, and now that he finally is, he’s making sure we know he knows precisely what he’s doing. If he’s going to give in and preach to his choir, he’s going to do it with a wink and nod – perhaps even a pinch of contempt – off the top. This is what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it?

But while most Weezer fans want him to sing this kind of thing with purist nerd criteria like “total honesty” and “raw emotion,” Cuomo instead does it with an acknowledgment of the artifice behind both the new song and the old spirit it channels. Weezer at last capitulating to the demands of its angry mob might in some ways seem pathetic were it not for this clever little joke, and the question of whose expense at which it is being made.

Granted, the broader question remains: how are we to feel about 2015 Weezer so blatantly rehashing 1996 Weezer (and getting nothing but love for it, versus the violent bile that typically greets more challenging, arguably superior songs like “The Spider,” “Run Over By A Truck,” and – yes – “Thank God For Girls”)? It’s a tougher nut to crack when you consider Cuomo’s Genius annotations for the lyrics, in which he explains “High” is about his experiences with the same flame who inspired the excellent “O Girl” and “O Girlfriend.” Those songs are from 2000 and 2001, respectively – like, as Cuomo’s comments indicate, the relationship itself – and fans have noted that an unreleased Weezer song called “D’Ya Wanna Get High?” was written in October 2001. Considering how Cuomo has been regularly rewriting old discarded songs for new material since 2008’s The Red Album (and how another recent version of “High” was on the listening menu at some of the focus group sessions for fans recruited after Weezer shows over the past five years, featuring 10-point scale ratings and verbal feedback, in advance of last year’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End), it seems very likely that this is in fact a 2015 recording of a 2001 song born of the same blood as a 1996 album.

It would help “High” if it were truly Pinkerton-grade, but it’s not quite there: the melodies aren’t on the same level (one worthier of this mantle can be found in the verse of “Can’t Stop Partying,” of all places), the  structure isn’t nearly as dynamic, the transitions don’t flow with the remarkable ease of an “Across the Sea” or “Falling For You,” and the whole thing ends with an abruptness that rings awkward even after repeat listens. But it’s still a very good song, well written and performed, with a purposeful key change that is probably the most convincing throwback element here. And while the lyrics’ standard issue drug portrait (capturing both the dark draw and its deeper tragedy – especially in the bridge, where the “you” to whom Cuomo pledges his undying love shifts from his supplier to the supply) and Burt Bacharach references could seem like more self-conscious fan service, they are indeed effective from a songwriting perspective. The 2001 provenance is a strength, too, as it appears then that “High” was in fact a deeply personal song that just didn’t jive with Cuomo’s mission for Weezer at the time (suggesting, perhaps apocryphally, that there are indeed other coarse confessions of this ilk that he’s been hiding over the years). It might not be fresh, and it might not be the rare gem that foregoes Weezer’s old sound while managing to best it. And though it might not have cut Pinkerton muster back in the day, were it a newly unearthed outtake from those sessions it would make perfect sense as something that almost did. Even in 2015, that’s a clear win.

What Is This I Find?

The sad realization weighing down each line in this song – especially the opening, titular lyric – is something like how it felt to revisit this blog for the first time in five years. A lot has happened in my life since the last entry, and my interest in Weezer – both as music and as a subject of “analysis” – bottomed out long ago. Maybe shoving and shouting along to every word of The Blue Album and Pinkerton at their 2010 classic album performances in New York was the last thing I really needed from them. Maybe my tastes finally expanded to a point where four guys (roughly) making a rock band ruckus and plenty of mistakes no longer seemed compelling. It may sound odd coming from the guy who moved to South Korea to reckon with K-pop, but there are infinitely more culturally important, anthropologically meaningful, and musically substantive things to afford one’s time and attention – though I’ll prove my point soon enough. (Meanwhile…)

But for reasons best kept close to the vest, I’ve had sudden occasion to reckon with this little sliver of my past, too. So what was it I found, peering into a locker that – despite bearing my name all the while – I’ve been afraid to open for so long? More or less just what I feared: almost uniformly dreadful writing, and tens of thousands of words of it, all dedicated to an ultimately unimportant, frequently confounding, often rewarding and occasionally pathetic guitar band. Written with undeniable zeal and passion, no less, an incriminating record of juvenilia owed partially to those forgivable teenage years, but plenty of which spilled into the more damningly adult days that are one’s early twenties.

My overwhelming impulse was to burn everything and hope could keep a secret. But I found something else here, too: more than a handful of comments pending approval, from people for whom this silly endeavor seemed to mean some small, wistful something. One keen reader even pleaded, apropos of nothing, that this site never be deleted. It doesn’t take much for me to catch a feeling. It doesn’t take me much to rationalize past mistakes, or try to anticipate new ones: all this bad writing was certainly work, and maybe it’d be even worse to discard what must add up to entire days – lord willing, not weeks – of my young life. Here was something, in my modest and own pathetic way, I had in common with Cuomo: a piece of my own back catalog that now seemed deeply embarrassing, even regrettable, but had brought some measure of personal value to those who once enjoyed it, and those fewer who may still. The difference being his regret was a masterpiece that had a massive impact on individual lives and collective culture, whereas mine was a dumb website that only others changed by Cuomo’s work could deign to appreciate. But it felt interesting to know how this misguided project inspired by him brought me a little closer to understanding how some of his own work once famously made him feel.

The idea of returning, in some way, with this new meta-level meaning added to the whole thing – of someone no longer so moved by his youth’s fascination forcing himself to engage with that deeper personal truth, while trying to finish the task at hand – is perhaps the very justification I needed. Or perhaps it’s just my OCD talking, the same that now motivates me to swallow Korean music and history whole, or file every song I ever hear into massive, thousands-deep playlists for future reference. Perhaps it doesn’t hurt that just as I’ve been mulling this decision, Weezer’s begun releasing their first remarkable music in years.

So we’ll see how this thing goes. I aim to get a new tune up every once in a blue moon, slowly and surely. Maybe my new conceit is thinner than I think, and I’ll delete the whole sucker after all. The fact that I’m already back to the overlong, melodramatic musings of old might not bode so hot. But for now I see neither harm nor foul – I could listen to Bacharach and stop at any point.


Of course, the “What” Cuomo’s found in this tune isn’t a shitty blog, or that which he’d come to regret – the date on the tin precludes either possibility. A home demo recorded in early 1995, in Hamburg, Germany, this somber, acoustic fragment belongs to the unfinished Songs From the Black Hole rock opera that stayed under lock and key until the 2011 compilation release of Alone III: The Pinkerton Years. This is a part of the last act (the second draft tracklist had it as the improbable closer), in which Cuomo’s character Jonas discovers an “extra huge,” used (yuck) condom beneath the “behind” of his interstellar crewmate Maria. His former admirer (also sung by Cuomo in this early sketch) responds to his inquiry with the admission that she “waited for him” until she couldn’t take it, ultimately going for Jonas’ well-endowed, hard-partying frenemy Dondo (a role written to be played, of course, by Matt Sharp). Maria’s section features a lovely bit of counterpoint from Jonas, in the style of an operatic aria, which seems to confirm his characteristic selfishness, thinking/talking past her as she opens her heart to him, like usual. It’s a short idea, a bit ridiculous even by the standards of what was destined to be a pretty ridiculous album – but it’s musically effective, a 74-second testament to the young Cuomo’s technical skill and tuneful instincts.

Drummer Pat Wilson allegedly tried to convince Cuomo to complete the Black Hole project circa 2004, a time of great possibility – it was around then, too, that Sharp and Cuomo reunited for one legendary performance of songs new and old at a California State cafe. But things fizzled fast, and soon enough, there was Make Believe. Maybe some dumb young dreams are worth another go.


For my money, “Buttefly” might very well be the best thing Rivers Cuomo’s ever done. I usually vacillate between this one and “Only in Dreams” as Weezer’s definitive moment (and sometimes the defiantly great Red era outtake “Pig,” even), and at 8 minutes, “Dreams” has a bit of an inherent advantage — it is conspicuously epic, resoundingly conclusive, and masterfully beautiful. But “Butterfly” lacks only the first of those three descriptors, and might actually be better for it. As it sheds the the coarse, distorted cocoon of Pinkerton‘s first 9 tracks to make its gentle skyward escape, “Butterfly” is a song that achieves everything its shouted, amplified, cathartically immature predecessors do with just one guy playing one guitar and singing one voice. At a bit under 3 minutes in length, “Butterfly” is approximately as long as the overwhelming finale of “Dreams,” and — just like “Dreams” — it can send waves of chills through my body the whole way through, if I’m in the mood to let it.

“Butterfly” is the perfect quiet-after-the-storm for one of the most raucous albums in rock history, the inversely spare denouement to the album’s aesthetic and literal centerpiece, “Across the Sea.” It’s inevitably disappointing to imagine Pinkerton ending in any other way, and it’s interesting to think that for a time Cuomo did (with the grand, though much lesser, “Longtime Sunshine“) — though I doubt he could’ve called the record Pinkerton if he did. Though scholars are still searching for evidence of the Puccini-quoted melodies that Cuomo has claimed are scattered throughout his own song suite, “Butterfly” is the one place where Madama Butterfly‘s presence is most clearly felt. Butterfly, Puccini’s 1904 opera, ends with naval lieutenant Pinkerton forever leaving behind his secret love in Japan, Cio-Cio San, as he makes his final return to his American life and family. Pinkerton ends with our own Pinkerton (Cuomo himself, on page and in life) making the same reluctant betrayal of the love he’s finally found after so much pained searching (the miserable morning-after regret that follows a starlit night of love and confusion called “Falling For You“). In a lot of ways, it’s a progression from the adolescent angst that makes all previous Weezer songs so vital: “Across the Sea” is fantasizing about a girl too young to have without hurting, “Only in Dreams” is a prom night too perfect to exist, “In the Garage” is being too lonely to even find someone with whom to play Dungeons & Dragons. “Butterfly” cuts down on the self-pity but none of the self-loathing, lucidly aware that the pain he is about to inflict on her and himself is entirely his own doing; it is painfully honest and confessional, so much so that recording engineer David Fridmann felt compelled to ask Cuomo if he really wanted to say it on record. But even then, it’s not one bit more mature than those other songs — you can tell as much in the second verse, when he sings pettily, “If I’m a dog then you’re a bitch,” but even more plainly so in those gorgeously awful last three lines, when it is quietly revealed that Cuomo is singing this song to himself, not to the poor girl. “I did what my body told me to / I didn’t mean to do you harm” isn’t an insincere apology, it’s not an apology — the bastard is just rationalizing his mistake for his own conscience’s sake. The real apology comes later, at the very end, and that’s one for not having the guts to apologize. You can tell he means that one.

This song has been performed a number of ways by Cuomo and company, and improbably enough, they’re all brilliant. In the early ’00s, Weezer had a remarkable knack for misinterpreting their own classics (the godawful extended intro for “Buddy Holly” was just the most common; the worst was probably newbie Scott Shriner’s effects-pedal smothering and improvisational dance-upon-corpsing of “Only in Dreams” and its bass spine). But somehow, the full-band jam take on “Butterfly” actually came off: I’ve heard many slight variations across a number of bootlegs, and some worked better than others, but they all worked, and that’s something of a great achievement, considering their common features include rather active drumming, free-range bass roaming (ably introduced by Mikey Welsh, not Shriner, interestingly enough), echoic electric guitars, and twice as many “I’m sorrys” as the recorded version. Probably the best take is the one that wound up officially released on the b-side of “Beverly Hills” in 2005. This strange pairing of songs continued with the placement of “Butterfly” in what was otherwise probably the Raditude era’s pivotal nadir, the 2009 AOL sessions, this gorgeously simple and understated epic following the likes of Chamillionaire ruining the one redeeming moment of “Can’t Stop Partying,” and Kenny fucking G flute-shitting all over a song about banging teenage girls in the Palermo’s men’s room. Here “Butterfly” had harp instead of guitar, and Cuomo stood in place and sang instead of shouting around like a rhesus ape, and it was lovely.

My absolute favorite performance, though, was probably the one that took place this past weekend in New York City. The band was just finishing up the local leg of its Memories tour, in which they play a greatest hits setlist and then one of their first two albums on succesive evenings. Blue was fantastic but Pinkerton was uniformly superior (just like the records), and after years of air-guitaring and -drumming and bad-singing along with friends in the car, finally getting to shout and jump and do it all with thousands of perfect strangers felt like something of a lifetime accomplishment. But it was “Butterfly” (with that minimal tom-tom beat played by Karl Koch, just like on the record) that gave us the chance to calm down and really soak it all in — an opportunity to think not what these songs have meant for us, but what they’ve meant for Cuomo. Back in the late ’90s, when it seemed the man had all but disappeared, fans interpreted the last three lines of “Butterfly” as a goodbye to music. Now, in the late ’00s, it could just as tenably be read as an apology from Cuomo, having returned but not once having really seemed like himself, for the music he has made since. But all those several thousands of us could now stand in place and sing and really try to hit all the notes, not for ourselves as we did loud and free on “The Good Life” and “El Scorcho,” but for Cuomo. As he finished amidst great applause, warmth in his eyes and a small smile as he stood holding his acoustic high in triumph before a sea of hand-symbols representing the band he’s fronted mostly just in name for so long, you could really sense that he gets it, he got it in ’96, and he never honestly forgot it. Cuomo’s just always wanted to be loved, and when Pinkerton didn’t go over so well he simply tried to find what he needed from a different audience; meanwhile, we who love Pinkerton and have wanted to love him for it have grown as an audience, and for a night we could each give each other exactly what had been missing from this record’s history for so long. I waited nearly a decade for that one moment, and I’m not sorry.

Blowin’ My Stack

Tonight, on Teenage Victory Songs, we will be going over some of the reasons why “Blowin’ My Stack” is a modern Weezer classic. You are invited to download it and listen first, or read along as you go.

1. Starting a song about blowing out your amp with a riff played through…well, a blown-out amp. Nice little way to get a song started, and it combines with the acoustic guitar to make for a really nice texture during the verses.
2. “Woe is me” — with a sense of humor, for once! Can’t remember the last time a Weezer song charmed me so well with an opening line.
3. The just-below-a-shout vocal harmonies: “A mighty long time!” “But you don’t know why!” Reminds me of the early ’90s classic “Chess.” And, speaking of which…
4. This song reminds me of “Chess” in a lot of ways, actually. There’s the lyrics about mundane day-to-day life, and the struggle to transcend it (in “Chess,” Cuomo offers the second person “you” a paint brush; here, he leads by example in turning up the volume on his amp). There’s a similarity I hear in the confidently strummed acoustic, too.
5. The extended verses. Too often nowadays Rivers is content to simply bide his time during the verse before the big chorus ear candy (“Tripping Down the Freeway,” “Pork and Beans”), but here he really gets in the groove, opening up some breathing room for himself to actually say something, and the band to actually do something interesting (I like the little syncopated fills Pat Wilson adds).
6. Speaking of big chorus ear candy: holy shit! The layered guitars and cathartic shouts really have an air of pop euphoria to them. It sounds happy, it is happy, it is infectiously so. It makes me feel good.
7. Second verse: “You’re so scared! (So scared!) / So scared! (So scared!) / …And I’m scared too!” Adorable (relatable!) sentiment, amplified in effect by a great melody and a harmony to match. Can’t help but smile.
8. When was the last time you heard a Cuomo song that actually added something noticeable to the chorus? The little background vocal addition in the second chorus is such a great touch.
9. First half of the solo is some fire. Cuomo’s shredding in a way I done never heard him shred before (is this the kind of ass-kicking he was hoping to achieve on Maladroit?), and the band’s grooving hard behind him. Meanwhile, I air guitar enthusiastically from a distance…
10. But that’s just the first half! Wilson lets fly a drum roll, and now we’re in halftime breakdown territory — but Cuomo’s still going! First time I heard this part, especially when that second guitar (Brian Bell?) kicks in for a moment, I could scarcely believe it. Taken as a whole, this has to be my favorite Weezer solo since…I don’t know, that 2002 Toronto boot of “O Girlfriend?”
11. That bass-heavy bridge, suddenly all melancholy and introspective. “I’m too tired to fight” — nice emotional depth added to the song, and a nice little expansion on the message of the song too (Cuomo hates the daily grind but, like everyone else, is too worn down to fight it — thank God he’s got the guitar, right?).|
12. At this point in the song, the rhythm section is awarded a gold medal. Wilson’s given free rein to indulge in some subtlety for once (I love the tantalizing way he refrains from any cymbal crashes for such a lengthy stretch), and Scott Shriner’s nimble fretwork gives him an equally rare opportunity to flex his chops a bit (to great benefit of the listener, no less). Bell’s little atmospheric guitar touches here are award-worthy, as well.
13. Speaking of Cuomo classics (or near-classics), this whole bridge moment reminds me of 1992’s “Lemonade” — the way in which what sounds like such a simple and happy pop song breaks down into something a little more forlorn, for a time. And frankly, I think “Stack” does it even better.
14. Then everthing builds back up — dare I invoke the spirit of “The Good Life,” here? Dare I do: it’s the only Weezer song I can think of that has such an ass-kicking solo that suddenly breaks down into such an extended beautiful one, and then a build back into the song’s main structure. Granted, of course, “The Good Life” is a much superior song — but only because it reaches further (for example: any song that attempts slide guitar glory, and achieves it, is a winner). “Stack” delivers, albeit with slightly less ambitious intent.
15. At the end of the buildup, a well-placed and entirely justified pickscrape! A rarity in any song by anyone.
16. Final chorus fakeout: new riff drops, Cuomo screams like hell, screams like hell again, and then we are delivered back into pop chorus heaven.
17. Cool device in and of itself, but seriously, that scream is one of the best Cuomo’s ever laid to tape. Damn!
18. Final chorus! Once again, a bit different from the first two. My only gripe here (and with the entire song) is that I wish the “blowin’ my stack” gang vocals in the background were a little higher in the mix, but what a small gripe that is indeed.
19. Cuomo’s last “stack” shout. Yes.
20. The little drum roll and guitar hit at the end. Indeed, this sounds like a BAND playing, not a song being constructed piece-by-piece. A really good band, too!

Really, I can’t imagine the last time a Cuomo POP song made me feel this happy just to sing and dance along. Perhaps “Photograph” — but even “Photograph” doesn’t have anything like the solo, breakdown, or build that “Stack” does.

My impression is that this is the sound of a 2000s Cuomo tune penned with the sensibilities of the ’90s Cuomo we all know and love. It’s got that same pop flair that “Tripping Down the Freeway” and “The Other Way” do, but it’s just executed with so much more creativity, life, and attention to detail in the mix. It’s made all the more impressive by knowing that — aside from some small recent additions (that scream, for example; who knew Cuomo could pull that off past 40?) — this song was one of some dozen or so almost-finished leftovers from 2005’s notoriously hollow Make Believe, along with other winsome tunes like “I’m A Robot” and the surprisingly good new(er) version of “I Don’t Want Your Loving.” What else we missin’ out on from these sessions, fellas?


I hesitate to call any one lost Weezer song “the one that got away,” because there are so many: Green era demos like “No Way” and “Burning Sun,” the Make Believe version of “Love is the Answer” (later desecrated by Raditude trendchasing and Sugar Ray’s Sugar Rayness) and other tantalizing outtakes of ’05 like “Last Chance” and “You’re the One,” pretty much the entirety of Rivers Cuomo’s Homie project and various ’97/’98 compositions, and on. All of these have been heard in some fragmentary form or another, and yet the promising full picture to which they allude remains unreleased, uncirculated, just out of reach. One of the biggest reasons so many die-hard Weezer fans remain is because the band’s vault of lost gems looms so large.

“Superfriend” has long been such an artifact, and in some ways it’s one that’s simply unrecoverable. It was first mentioned to fans as a part of the incompleted rock opera Songs from the Black Hole, Cuomo’s original vision for Weezer’s second album and something of a very rough first draft for what became Pinkerton. Though the details of the song lean heavily on contextual detail from that scrapped project’s storyline, it was essentially written as a duet between two of the main characters, Jonas (Cuomo) and Laurel (to be voiced by Rachel Haden of the band called “that dog.”). Jonas is in something of a sexual relationship with Laurel, but he denies her love as she is little more to him than a “superfriend” — or”friend with benefits,” in high school parlance.

Die-hards began pining for “Superfriend” as soon as its origins were revealed, on the basis of it being a key piece of what some fans irrationally believed was a young Cuomo’s answer to Brian Wilson’s unfinished SMiLE opus (the main difference being that Wilson had almost completed recording SMiLE by the time he abandoned it in 1967, whereas Cuomo hadn’t even passed the writing/demoing phase when he ditched Black Hole). Audible details of the song first surfaced in 2004 on Weezer’s Video Capture Device DVD, which included spotty and patchy footage of the band recording a rough take during Pinkerton studio sessions — as well as a brief clip of Cuomo playing a classical arrangement of the vocal melody on an acoustic guitar.

The inconclusive footage gave glimpse enough for fans to conclude that “Superfriend” was indeed a lost classic worthy of its vaunted era, but it wasn’t until the 2007 release of Rivers’ Alone home demos compilation that fans could get a closer look. The juvenile charm of this embryonic version is indeed something of a treasure, but it still left most wanting more: Cuomo’s drumming is particularly sloppy, his falsetto background vocals (meant to represent the female lead vocal) sound like sour milk, and it lacked the dramatic key change climax heard in the VCD clip. It was clear that this take was a dashed-off demo that the Cuomo of ’95 would’ve never imagined being officially released, and did little to sate fans’ desire for the full band picture.

With the deluxe edition re-release of Pinkerton less than a month away, it’s now clear that such a thing no longer exists — if it ever did. In gleaning the archives for outtakes, band historian Karl Koch discovered that the ’96 full band recording seems to have been erased long ago. And even if it were to be uncovered in some unlikely place, it’s a very rough and incomplete rehearsal run-through, far from the glory of a finished and fully produced Cuomo-Haden duet.

That leaves us with the unfortunately shambolic demo — which, despite the shortcomings, gives a plenty fine sense of what the song was meant to be. It’s a disarmingly personal and juvenile song, perhaps even uncomfortably so (opening lines: “What the hell am I doing, thinking with my willy? / Knowing I don’t love her / I tell her no / Then kiss her toes…”), something that the Black Hole opera’s character construct couldn’t hide even if it were in place. The melody’s absolutely wonderful, though, and the chorus’ teen angst appropriation of the “rain, rain go away” nursery rhyme (“pain, pain go away” — of course) actually works, against all odds. The counterpoint in the second verse is absolutely botched by Cuomo’s lazy falsetto attempt, but it hints at what might’ve been a very nice touch.

If anything, that’s the way “Superfriend” might well be “the one that got away.” While songs like “You’re the One” or “Rosemary” were completed in some form and will likely surface someday, the best that can be said for “Superfriend” is that it’s a good sketch of what was to be a great song.