Imagine my surprise when, in researching the previous post, I found out that Rivers Cuomo called “Beverly Hills” and “Falling For You” – two diametrically opposed pop songs – his two proudest musical achievements. Then imagine my surprise when, after “Beverly Hills,” the very next song to come up in the TVS randomizer was…”Falling For You.”
Cuomo specifically cited the solo, bridge, and last chorus — in other words, the entire second half of the song — as one of his two proudest moments, and it’s refreshing to hear him say something like that in 2007. Because he’s right: the last minute and 38 seconds of “Falling For You” is Weezer’s pinnacle, a dizzying high the band could never hope to reach again, and it’s surprising to consider that Cuomo can even remember it after his long descent into simple-minded pop (Green), numbskull “metal” (Maladroit), and Shrek-tier mainstream (Make Believe). True, Cuomo copped out of the question by concluding that “it’s impossible to decide,” but “Falling For You” and “Hills” were the only two songs he mentioned during his consideration.
“Falling For You” is the ninth in a 10-song suite called Pinkerton. I was tempted to say it’s the crux of the entire storyline Pinkerton tells, but then my mind drifted to “Butterfly,” the ultimate track, which this one penultimately sets up. Then I thought to call it the “emotional center” of the record, but had to check that against “Across the Sea.” Convenient superlatives won’t serve us well when discussing “Falling For You:” its greatness is too elusive for that.
The song begins with a cyclical bit of guitar noodling, sounding dazed above a brief clip of a Korean advertisement — purportedly a stray radio frequency the band picked up one day in the studio, perhaps from K-Town — in which a voice asks, “What company makes this product?” It’s not the meaning of these words that matters, for they bear no clear relation to the song or the album in general, but rather the serendipitous way in which it was stumbled upon. (It’s possibly some clue to the ethnicity of the girl for whom Cuomo is falling, though, considering how Pinkerton is such a candid document of Cuomo’s preferences.)
The riff that envelopes this half-buried found sound actually began playing during the faded conclusion of “Pink Triangle,” wherein Cuomo found himself hopelessly in love with a girl who, so the story goes, wound up being a lesbian. Now Cuomo seems to have finally found the answer to his long and painful loneliness, a girl he’s known for quite some time but never pursued. Two more guitars enter and build gracefully towards the coarser distortion of the verse, which deliberately masks the eloquent brilliance of the chord progression (in a genre usually defined by three- and four-chord riffs, “Falling For You” crafts a poetic chain of more than twenty – covering, in fact, every one on the chromatic scale). The lyric begins: “Holy cow, I think I got one here / Now just what am I supposed to do?” He’s finally found an anchor, but feels more lost than ever. The next couplet, emotionally underscored by bassist Matt Sharp’s vulnerable falsetto — “I’ve got a number of irrational fears / That I’d like to share with you” — sets the tone for all the ambivalence that follows. That split between the first two lines and the next two – the excitement, the uncertainty, and then the honest admission — really is an arresting little summary of falling in love. The sentiment is repeated with greater clarity during the chorus, to great effect: “I’d do ’bout anything to get the hell out alive / Or maybe I would rather settle down / With you.”
Unlike most of even the best-written Weezer songs, there’s actually enough nuance and allusion in this song’s lyric sheet to sustain a term paper. At the beginning of the second verse, Cuomo briefly rues having to turn in his “rock star card” so soon (a reference to the album’s opener, “Tired of Sex” – and a beautifully efficient way of reminding the listener how long ago that was, how quick Cuomo is to forget all the desperate loneliness he’s felt between then and now, and how unhappy he felt even when he was pulling that rock star card every night of the week; this moment also foreshadows “Butterfly,” the record’s final acceptance of that unhappiness and Cuomo’s tendency to choose it), “just as [he] was bustin’ loose” (a reference to “The Good Life”). But as the first verse ends with that perfectly parenthetical admission, “But I do like you,” it returns in the second one, no longer some kind of aside but stated plain as day: “And I do like you.” Even then, the conflicting feelings remain: Cuomo tells her she’s “the lucky one,” the one to finally win his heart, but then he doubles back on himself: “No, I’m the lucky one.”
The music itself, meanwhile, is maybe the single best summation of the Pinkerton aesthetic, arguably one of the most idiosyncratically performed and produced records in rock history. (There are those superlatives we were looking for.,..) The way that, two lines into every verse, that second guitar timidly rouses itself from silence, feeding back slightly as it gathers its courage, then tears into effusive allegro shredding like fireworks, great big arcs of feeling and color trailing down from the night sky. (This is maybe the very best example of Cuomo’s onetime signature, the pairing of classical beauty with metal aggression.) The rest of the band’s contributions aren’t to be overlooked, either: Pat Wilson’s drumming here is a deft blend of passion and precision, all big tom rolls and exacting cymbalwork; Sharp’s falsetto is as purposeful and crucial as it was on “Say It Ain’t So” two years prior; and Brian Bell’s guitar work is unhinged and instinctual, descriptive – like everything here – of the song’s complicated emotional core.
And then there’s the solo. The way it starts out mumbled and messy, burdened by the mire of Wilson’s heavy beat and Sharp’s leaden bass, before rising up and out, two lead guitars beginning to converse like awkward crushes before gradually closing the distance between them, ending intertwined in a sublime triumph of Romantic harmony. Their twinning makes for the seamless segue into the bridge and one of the single smoothest key changes in rock history, whereupon a plaintively double-tracked Cuomo intones: “Holy sweet goddamn, you left your cello in the basement / I admired the glowing stars, and tried to play a tune.” In an instant, it recalls – like the beginning of the duelling solo – the simpler times of that awkward but exhilarating crush in”El Scorcho” (where Cuomo, backed by the famous Sharp falsetto, doted above Wilson’s stilted, eye contact-avoidant beat: “Oh, the redhead said you shred the cello / And I’m jello, baby…”), now having quite literally modulated into something strange and confused and beautiful, like the wandering guitar lead that continues to wail beneath these words. They’ve become so close now that she’s left that same cello – the very one the mere thought of her playing used to make Cuomo melt, just two songs ago – in his house. (The “glowing stars” are a reference to the cheap children’s stickers this girl had put on her hugely expensive instrument – she sounds pretty cool indeed – though the more literal image of her boyfriend taking the cello up from his basement to the yard and trying to find a way to play the thing while she’s not around is of course intentional, and wonderful.)
From there, Cuomo does the self-deprecation thing better than he probably ever has (“I can’t believe how bad I suck, it’s true / What could you possibly see in lil’ ole three-chord me?” – an especially clever bit in a song that’s got roughly four times as many), before concluding: “I’m ready, let’s do it baby.” But in circumventing the traditional rock patterns to which he so readily ascribes himself, and by being so self-contradictory throughout the lyrics, it seems clear that this love is one that’s not quite right, desperate and troubled as it seems. The foreboding in these many mixed emotions seems to be confirmed with the song’s amelodic conclusion — a screaming swell of feedback that abruptly cuts out after ten tortured seconds — which sets us up for the next song, and the album’s gutting conclusion.