“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.