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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.

13 Comments

  1. Soyrev wrote:

    This song is either a high Grant Playlist or low Very Best, and I wound up erring conservative. Needs a little more time.

    Friday, November 6, 2015 at 12:06 am | Permalink
  2. Adroit wrote:

    I think it’s also worth noting that it’s refreshing to hear Brian underplay his vocals for a change. A little more subtlety from him would have done wonders for, in particular, a few Red tracks and, frankly, his entirely solo output.

    Friday, November 6, 2015 at 3:19 am | Permalink
  3. Shade wrote:

    So, paraphrasing here, but what about your claim that the band couldn’t really afford to sound like Pinkerton anymore? Considering they’re doing this on their own money, without a label or album deal even being involved, I’m inclined to think they could’ve sounded like this any time they wanted.

    Friday, November 6, 2015 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  4. HeyHeySpaceman wrote:

    Yay songblog!

    This song feels like what Maladroit promises in theory (heavier! cool guitar parts! drug lyrics!) but fails to deliver, all with SFTBH-esque synths and Pinkerton-aping screams to boot! I agree, soy, it’s right on the edge of Grand Playlist/Very Best.

    I would love to hear Cuomo’s thought process behind writing/recording this. He packs so many Pinkerton signifiers in, surely completely intentionally. Would love to know if those were entirely absent in the 2000/2001 version.

    Saturday, November 7, 2015 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  5. Soyrev wrote:

    @Shade Who knows who’s backing what, or whether they’ve decided to up their personal investment. In any event, I think this song sounds stylistically like Pinkerton, but with cheaper production values. (Step up from ewbaite, though.)

    @N’cakes: I didn’t think to mention that maybe the old arrangement was totally different, but that’s a real possibility.

    Sunday, November 8, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  6. Nick wrote:

    To me, it sounds like them trying to get a Pinkerton sound with less money and a less talented engineer. No disrespect intended—it’s really hard to sound that good.

    Monday, November 9, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  7. Nick wrote:

    A couple more thoughts:

    I think the mix is a bit off. The synth and background vocals should be either turned up or EQ’d in such a way that they could cut through without a volume boost. As it is, they’re low enough to be slightly annoying to my ears.

    Lead vocals, I think, are a bit too loud. Part of the classic Pinkerton sound (that they seem to be going for) is that the band sounds loud. The vocals being so much on top of everything else has the side effect of making the band sound quieter and more constrained.

    Aside from the bridge, the whole song reminds me of a Summer 2000 song more than anything else. Just imagine it without the synth and replace the bridge with a guitar solo that follows the vocal melody. I don’t know how much of that is the provenance, how much is the (we assume) live recording, and how much is just me, but it’s there.

    Monday, November 9, 2015 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  8. Novemberton wrote:

    There’s a couple of live performances of this song up on YouTube that really bring out the counter melodies and the outro vocals that Brian sings. It was just good to see that this (and TGFG) are coming across well in live settings and gives me hope for whatever Rivers has in store for us. It’s also interesting to note that there were no Pinkerton songs on the set list from the almost acoustic Christmas show and I can’t help but wonder if Rivers means anything by that.

    Thursday, December 17, 2015 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  9. Wildabeast wrote:

    This is the song that brought us back, soy. I hadn’t been active in the weezer online community since 2005 and you had obviously taken your own hiatus. For me, ewbaite opened the door, so to speak, for me to return to fandom. It got my attention and held it for an album. It was definitely a great album.

    But it wasn’t until thank god for girls and do you wanna get high dropped that prompted me to re engage with the community. Ewbaite talked the talk and these two songs (and a handful from that album) are walking the walk.

    It’s good to be back. And our home is most definitely not a shack. More like a garage

    Monday, December 21, 2015 at 12:29 am | Permalink
  10. Novemberton wrote:

    White Album! King of the World! Excitement! Thought I would comment here because this is tracked right before king of the world and after listening to them in order, I get really weird (but good) vibes. It’s jarring in a similar (but opposite) way that the transition between falling for you and butterfly is.

    For all of the angst and darkness in DYWGH, KoTW counters with equal amounts of hope and light. But the lyrics! They’re darker than you would expect, and the OID flavors really highlight that. I’m not sure if I’m crazy, but the bridge/breakdown reminds me of paperface as well. All this being said, I’m fairly optimistic for April 1st

    Sunday, January 17, 2016 at 9:40 pm | Permalink
  11. panicathediscosucks wrote:

    The producer of this song claimed that this song was entirely written in 2015.

    “RC and i worked very closely on the writing for TWA starting around March or so. we had decided to keep 1 of the 235 demos (that was a fun weekend of listening), there were a few delightful nuggets from the green era in there, but this wasn’t one of them. usually at that stage i’ll co-write with the artist, but like you guys, i prefer it when rivers writes entirely by himself and by far the majority of this album is that (although i think you’ll be fairly pleased with a co-writer that appears on 2 of the tracks). do you wanna get high started as a demo that he made in late march/april or so… it had the “do you wanna get hiiiiigh” part first, a lyric about romeo and juliet, then a demo/mumbling version of what is now the verse. i thought it would be cool to flip the two parts, make dywgh the chorus, even though the melody was lower. it’s possible that he recycled the title, but i’m almost positive that the “d’ya wanna get high” thing is a coincidence (via his method for coming up with titles/concepts at that stage).

    i was over at his house a couple of days after he sent over the demo. he said he wanted to find a different title, didn’t want to have another pro-drugs song or something that could be perceived as such. i had just broken my hand in a motorcycle accident, had surgery, was in a cast, had just gotten off of the meds. we had had a few conversations about prescription drugs, about his past with them. he had also given me a copy of Pinkerton Diaries, so i was asking a lot of questions about that time period of his life. i advised him to write the song about himself, his own experiences, a narrative, and to keep the “do you want to get high” lyric/title. a day or two later, he sent over a new demo with the lyrics as they are (except for the 2nd verse, which i had him re-work – light up the pipe / If there’s no neighbors / we don’t want them to see /cuz they’ll narc on our ass… as seen on rap genius). the bridge came from an entirely different song which i believe was called, at the time, “i’ll never get tired of you”. one thing we were very conscious of at the time was to not have “lazy” bridges, one of my favorite things about pinkerton are the adventurous bridges. again, i thought the lyrics worked out nearly perfectly as is. it was as if the narrator was now singing to the drugs themselves. he made a few adjustments lyrically to the bridge, to make it fit. i was pumped!”

    I personally think this song originates from 2000/2001. Cuomo tried rewriting the lyrics, then changed them back after consulting with his producer. Do you know when he presented this to focus groups?

    Monday, January 25, 2016 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  12. Soyrev wrote:

    As I note in the post, someone said (on A6) they heard a different version of this one during the focus groups for ewbaite. That was long ago enough for me to reference that detail in this post, so it was a remark made long before this producer spoke up. I’m not a member anymore, though, so I can’t try to dig up the exact quote myself.

    Thursday, January 28, 2016 at 6:20 am | Permalink
  13. bitterandalone wrote:

    By the way, I loved White! Even though it’s not as good as EWBAITE, but it’s a great album! Two good albums in a row! I’m really glad that I lived to see Weezer releasing two great albums in a row again!

    Monday, April 4, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

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