In order to understand what it was like for me to first listen to this song, you’ll first have to get to know me as a Weezer fan a little bit. Thankfully, the opinionated narcissist in me has made this pretty easy, as in addition to the traditional “album tags” for the blog, I’ve also set it so that I can distinguish what I consider to be the best and worst Weezer tracks — divided into categories called The Very Best and The Very Worst. Bear with me here while I do some statistics, and run you through a (very small) bit of personal history.
A quick survey of those two tags reveal a lot: of the 11 songs I’ve already labeled as Weezer’s finest, only four of them — “Lover In The Snow,” “Velouria,” “O Girl” and “Island In The Sun” — were recorded after what is arguably the band’s zenith, Pinkerton; the first two of those hardly count, as one is a 1997 home demo Rivers Cuomo recorded and didn’t release for a decade, and the other is a cover. Of the other two, one was only demoed and played live by the band for a few months of touring before it was left for dead. It’s not hard to tell that, for the most part, I consider the vast majority of Weezer’s finest work to be from the 1990s, and even when I find a new millennium tune I adore, it’s often one that the band aborted or forgot. To be fair, I have given post-2000 album tracks considerable love here (to wit: “Hash Pipe,” “Burndt Jamb,” and even the much-maligned “Peace” and “Knock-Down Drag-Out“), but it’s no coincidence that of the 8 tracks I’ve so far singled out as Weezer’s worst detritus, all of them were recorded between 2002 and 2007.
In short, I guess I’m one of those fans that Rivers would have called a “little bitch” back in 2002. In any case, most folks with discerning taste and a mature sense of aesthetics will agree that Weezer’s best days seem to be behind them. Most die-hards today are content to accept this as fact, and simply enjoy the band’s merits when and where they can still be found.
I was one of the folks who had hoped — like Weezer fans always do, before that next big album release — that The Red Album could change that. The band talked a big game this time around, and like most fans without self-control, I downloaded the incomplete 8-track leak of the record as soon as it appeared. I was, of course, disappointed; it didn’t help that two of the better songs on the record were not a part of that leak, but for the most part, the album felt like Weezer stealing second — exciting in a lot of ways, but it happened at a time when the band, more than ever, needed a grand slam. I let the record sit with me a little bit longer and resigned myself to waiting for the “Deluxe” version of the album to be released roughly a month later. No matter what, I’ll always be interested in hearing new studio tracks from Weezer.
“Miss Sweeney” is the first song on the Deluxe sequence, and, after finally hearing the last two tracks of Red standard (the commendable “Automatic,” and the downright brilliant “The Angel and The One”), it was the first song I heard from the small clutch of “bonus” tracks from the album sessions.
The intro alone had me intrigued: dissonant and strange, the oscillating drone of the opening synth felt more daring and off-color than anything the band had recorded this decade. The disembodied, static voice of an intercom cuts in and out briefly before a sudden cymbal crash grounds the track in the physical world of instruments and music proper. But as the acoustic guitars swing like pendulums, punctuated only by the dry crack of stick against snare, something still feels off, almost nauseating in its sway and tumble. The feedback from the earlier intercom cuts in a couple more times, before Cuomo steps forth with a shy, nervous anacrusis:
Scott Shriner’s bass lurches forth uncomfortably, stumbling into the first verse — where we find what is probably the bravest vocal performance in the entirety of Cuomo’s massive repertoire. In an operatic singspeak, he carries forth an uneasy conversation with an unresponding woman he refers to as Ms. Sweeney, his words moving at a strange and irregular clip. “Hello, Miss Sweeney / Could you please come in my office for a second? / I’m heading home for the day and I thought it’d be good for you and me to check in.” So much for the easy rhymes of “job/slob,” “stop/pop,” “else/shelf!”
What’s so damn SATISFYING about this moment is that, for once, you have NO idea where the band’s going to go next. Broken minor second guitar flourishes percolate to the surface of the murky deep, unknown and threatening; Cuomo’s seems not only to be stepping out of the shoes of his “heartbroken guy” caricature for once, but is in fact singing to his secretary about placing an order for white slab cabinets; Wilson’s austere drumming stays on that same beat, spare and mesmerizing. You are confused, you are intrigued, you are engaged — you want to know more, and just at that moment, Wilson’s hands get a little heavier, the hi-hat hissing against some real pressure now, and Cuomo’s voice grows yet more frantic: “That’s all I’ve got to say to you at this time, Miss Sweeney / Actually, there’s one other thing on my mind…”
Suddenly, euphoria! Those dirty and worn acoustic guitars bloom into brilliant, electric technicolor, thick distortion kissed by a graceful countermelody, Wilson’s cymbals bursting with emotion and purpose, Cuomo finally singing with fluid confidence as he lets all his feelings out, admitting an all-consuming love for his colleague. And taking a line like, “You make the rainclouds disappear / The sun always shines when you’re near,” and making it work so damn well is one of Cuomo’s long-forgotten strongsuits: taking a cliched line and singing it with so much beautiful feeling and melody that the listener can’t help but sing along.
The chorus takes a nosedive back into the sad verse, where Cuomo, awkward and stilted once more, tries to explain: “I’m so sorry, Miss Sweeney, I don’t know where that came from / I think I was overcome by a spontaneous emotion” (now that’s a fucking couplet!). He tries to change the subject and get back to business talk, before finally giving up — “Ah, forget it!” — and leading us back into that glorious refrain.
Just then, as if I thought my jaw couldn’t drop any lower, the guitar lets out a squall of feedback — real, artful feedback, just like Pinkerton used to make — and the song reaches its emotional apex. “I gotta admit the truth,” Cuomo shouts, and at the exact perfect moment, Brian Bell chimes in too, as if to emphasize the point: “I am to-tally head-over-heels in love with you!” It’s just so Classic Weezer and yet so fresh and innovative at the same time — I could hardly believe my ears. The clever, conversational, *human* wordplay (a la “holy sweet goddamn” and “screw this crap, I’ve had it!”); the inspired vocal arrangement; the adventurous concept, and its raucous, dynamic execution; the marriage of classical, operatic composition techniques and perfect pop songwriting; the fact that Cuomo’s writing about an experience that’s SO specific (who here among us is a CEO with a hot secretary?), but with an emotion at its core — that longing, that romantic hopelessness — that remains so utterly universal, relatable, singable…
In 4 minutes flat, I had been delivered. From having the “Beverly Hills” riff hummed to me every time I mentioned Weezer to casual friends; from enduring the insults and flakey beard dandruff of Mala-Rivers; from listening to the intentionally undeveloped Green Album, knowing how much more those songs could have been with another week or two of work; from a cold, dark world that had hurt me for too long. THIS was it. This was everything I had been missing for all these years — the sound of my favorite band coming home. This is the bitter post-adolescent of Pinkerton, all grown up, mature and refined (but still with that teenage fire). This is what the band means when, time and again, they ask us to “grow” with them in interviews (honestly, the only kind of growth “My Best Friend” is would be the kind you put Neosporin on). This is it, ladies and gentlemen, and don’t you forget it.
So Weezer, please, if you’re out there: THIS is the answer. And “Pig,” and “The Spider,” and “The Angel and The One,” and hell, it may not be perfect but “Dreamin’” has its head in the right space, too. Please, when you explore more of the new Red sound in the studio, look to these songs as your launchpad. Please, don’t feel pressured to try writing cross-platform radio hits just ’cause Geffen aches for money. Please, put these kinds of songs on the album-album next time, not just this Deluxe “bonus track” business, where those cynical critics can’t even hear them (they’d love this kinda thing, you know). Please, be PROUD of a masterpiece like this one.
And please, Weezer, please: PLAY THIS SONG LIVE!
Addenda: As much as I would like to end this post with that dramatic plea, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that this is one rare instance of a co-written Weezer song. The “Sweeney” BMI entry lists both Cuomo and one Sarah Kim as songwriter; the official Weezer.Com staff bios reveal that Kim is an assistant to Cuomo. Questions of why Cuomo has begun collaborating with personal assistants can be answered by an even more interesting hint on the same webpage: one Sheeny Bang is Cuomo’s head personal assistant. “Sheeny,” Sweeney — coincidence? Probably not. It then seems most tenable that Cuomo started the song, showed a draft of it to Kim (“Hey check it out, it’s about Sheeny”), and Kim chimed in and helped add some words to the lyrics (much like John Lennon’s manager Allen Klein contributed to the lyrics of the McCartney-bashing “How Do You Sleep?”). The only question that remains: are the lyrics a joke, or has Cuomo really been a-pinin’ for his left-hand girl? “Possibly the biggest troublemaker of all, but hides it under a veil of shadows and fog,” says her official Weezer.Com bio. Very mysterious, indeed…