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Don’t Let Go

“I went through a massive Oasis phase in 97-99. I bet Liam [Gallagher] rubbed off on me. He’s a very non-dynamic singer. Perhaps his influence wasn’t a good thing.”
—Rivers, ‘asschun correspondence,’ 2002
(http://www.members.shaw.ca/ridd2/correspondence/asschun.html)

Perhaps the best example of Oasis’ detrimental effect on our dear Rivers Cuomo is the original demo of “Island In The Sun,” wherein a very lithe, open-air sketch of the classic tune — lovely organ line and all — is all but ruined by a scratchy, deadpan vocal that sounds like that kid who broke his leg on purpose to get out of PE.

That concerted anti-dynamicism absolutely pervades The Green Album, however, and it’s apparent from track 1 — “Don’t Let Go.” The song floats along on a thick and creamy bed of chugging guitars and buried synths, a lil’ ole three-chord pop rock tune that is made minorly remarkable by the fact that its generic and predictable progression is played and layered by somewhere around seven or eight guitar tracks. And as if laying comfily upon the many six-stringed bed he has made for himself, Cuomo sounds just a bit too laid back to perform anything resembling a believable vocal. He hits the notes fine — especially when he doubles and triples his vocals in a winsome take on traditional doo-wop harmony — but there’s just no feeling or emotion behind his paint-by-numbers plea to a girl who’s thinking about walking out the door.

While we’re on the subject of Cuomo’s predictable lyrics assembly line of the era, it’s worth noting that the song’s repeated “Confrontation’s on my mind / Got me running out of time” bridge is pretty much the exact same melody and delivery as the all-too-similar opening couplet from Green b-side “O Lisa,” “Simple stages in my mind / Now I’m running out of time” (which itself sounds like a rehash of the chorus to Green album track “Simple Pages” — “simple pages on my mind”). Also, the “Don’t Let Go” lyric, “anything you desire I will set at your feet,” seems to have first appeared in a song we’ve as of yet only heard a brief rehearsal clip of, 2000’s dark and foreboding “No Way” — which sounds more interesting than just about any of the other songs referenced in this paragraph.

Slight tangents aside, “Don’t Let Go” simply wasn’t a respectable way to reintroduce the band whose last album-released thought was the beautiful and plaintive aubade, “Butterfly.” Half-hearted, phoned-in radio pop (that’s too boring even for radio — thank GOD Rivers wouldn’t let Geffen make it the first single!) of this kind should have never been the follow-up to two of the sharpest and most original pop rock records of the ’90s — and the bigger insult was that this was just the first three minutes of a record that, for the most part, rehashed this simple concept for the entirety of its all-too-brief 28-minute run. (Record reviewer Mark Prindle had a keen thought about this at the time: seeing how the band had taken five years to concoct less than half an hour of predictable pop rock on a record that was their *second* self-titled, he figured Weezer had been dipping into the heroin during their time off. Much less interesting than the true life story of psychosis and creative self-discipline that really got the band into this mess, but a funny insight regardless.)

Still though, there’s something mildly appealing about the way this modern ’50s-pop throwback is so careful not to offend, and that’s because at the heart of it, there’s the kernel of a good song here. Cuomo and company grappled with that concept for a long time: as early as summer 2001, guitarist Brian Bell and soon-to-be-jilted bassist Mikey Welsh were adding a couple new backing vocal melodies into the mix to fill out the song’s skeleton a bit, and there exists a bootleg of a truly bizarre performance from 5/19/02 in Fukuoka, Japan, where Bell injects some strangely-shaped guitar leads in the pre-chorus (some of the fuzz sounds rather out of tune and, albeit surely unintentionally, a bit Pinkertonesque!), new bassist Scott Shriner proffers some sour milk falsetto for the vocal fold, and Cuomo tears into a Mala-metal guitar solo that veers far from the unimaginative melody retread of the album version.

Still, it wasn’t until 2005 that the band really figured out how to do this one justice. Their AOL Sessions from that year document a new version of the track (half a step up) that benefits from some very-audible synth leads (played by Bell), backing guitar from touring tech man Bobby Schneck, a more nimble bassline as plucked by Shriner, and a Cuomo vocal performance that actually sounds like it gives a damn (Bell’s shouted harmony adds some muscle, too). Bell and Schneck indulge in a deuling guitar solo that breaks the monotony quite nicely, and Pat Wilson is even allowed to drum a fill here and there. Still, for my money the definitive version is the one we have from the band’s late-December ’05 dates in Japan, which you can see for yourself (in living color!) here:

“Don’t Let Go” — Live In Japan, 2005

Wilson hits the kit with dexterous conviction, Bell switches between the keys and the guitar with rock star poise, and Cuomo is in full-on popstar mode, running around the stage, grabbing the hands of Japanese fan girls, shimmying back and forth, and — most importantly — kicking the SHIT out of his vocals. The big crowd singalong during that doubled-up guitar solo is just the icing on the cake. When I add this song to the Grand Playlist, this is most certainly the version I’m thinking of.

Therein lies the problem, though: why’d it take Weezer more than four years to find the perfect way to play such a simple tune? One figures the boons of its current version would’ve been plainly obvious to the band while recording way back when…Though I suppose the demanding recording and touring schedules of the time simply took its toll on Cuomo’s better judgment (who gets the brunt of the blame for that particular era’s failures, as that was the height of his most brutally dictatorial period as frontman).

Interesting and worth noting: if you can find the “early leak” version of The Green Album (perhaps someone could post it to the comments?) and crank it on a system with a decent subwoofer, you might just be able to pick out the rather cool bass fills Welsh was playing in the studio (and were, even by this point, mastered and compressed to the point of near oblivion). Also, as we can see from the making of the Green Album footage on Weezer’s Video Capture Device DVD, a sort of gang vocal singalong for the chorus of this song was at one point recorded (featuring album producer/Cars frontman Ric Ocasek!), but if these recordings were ever used, they’re so far buried in the mix as to be nonexistent (like many Green tracks, Cuomo’s multi-tracked voice is the only one to be heard). Lastly, a live b-side version of this song was released (anyone remember on what single? my Googling can’t save me now), which captures a pretty unremarkable 2001 rework of the song (Bell sure is singing loudly…perhaps to make up for not being heard on the record!). Rather wittily, Cuomo offers up some post-song banter — “Or, let go…If you prefer” — which I feel was sadly the main inspiration behind releasing this particular performance on official disc. Ho-hum!

18 Comments

  1. OOS wrote:

    Did anyone actually speak up during the Green recordings? I mean, did Ric or Karl or Brian or ANYONE just stand up and say “Hey Rivers, these songs suck, stop selling out and use your good tracks like Rosemary and Hot Tub”. Obviously if they did, Rivers didn’t listen, but if they didn’t, then why not?

    Also, I forget, how many Green b-sides are there? Aren’t there like 7 or something?

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Permalink
  2. GuessWho wrote:

    Haha, was looking over Rivers’s old MySpace posts and found this:

    “Adam said it was weird to see me singing without a guitar. It sure is fun for me, though. Don’t Let Go has been a total blast. I can’t believe how much better that song has gotten.”

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  3. NoobcakesMcGee wrote:

    At least he realized how much better it was. Now let’s just do the “better” versions right away for A7, mmkay Rivers?

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  4. Soyrev wrote:

    Noobcakes, your comment is hilarious in light of what A7 actually became. Yes, the “better” versions of CSP, LITA, and IDWTLYG definitely made that one!

    Also, interesting bit on “Don’t Let Go” from a 2005 interview: “I just started strumming and started singing. One word came out after the other, and I have no idea what I was singing about, and then at the end it was a full song and I still don’t even know what it’s about.” Which is funny, because DLG is one of the clearer songs on Green as far as a narrative thread is concerned.

    Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 10:27 pm | Permalink
  5. danup wrote:

    I absolutely think the best version of “I Don’t Want to Let You Go” made Raditude, but the point stands…

    That said, I might as well take this opportunity to be at my most heretical, Weezer-wise, and say that I prefer the Green version of DLG to the AOL Session. The AOL Sessions version is nice, but what some people hear as conviction I hear as unnecessary noodling around the melody and another rendition of the draaawn-out-syllabllleeees Make Believe chorus. And I miss the endless guitar overdubbing.

    Full disclosure: I love the sound of Green, and always have. It could be less compressed, but stylistically it’s not damaged by that as much as, say, Make Believe was.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  6. Soyrev wrote:

    I love the Raditude version of “I Don’t Want To Let You Go,” but I do think the demo edges it out just a bit. The warmer vibe fits the genuine, heart-on-sleeve core of the song.

    And people generally do like the Green sound, as I do. But it was far from ideal for those songs, or any songs for that matter. I could definitely see how someone would like the album cut of DLG more than the AOL take…Personally I think Live in Japan 2005 is the best, but I think some kind of middle ground between the super-layered Green take and the more “alive” 2005 arrangement would’ve made for a really killer recording. I like both for what they are, though.

    And yes, the Green production/compression does retain some merit, while that of Make Believe sounds woefully unfitting for just about every song except maybe “The Other Way.”

    Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink
  7. OOS wrote:

    I actually like the production design of Green. All the layers of guitar, its very warm and… I dont know, melt-y. But the compression and emotionless performances kill it. If they had done Green production with Pinkerton vibrancy and dynamic mixing, it wouldve been great.

    As for DLG, 2005 is by far the best, one of my favourite Cuomo songs. Album cut is kinda meh, though incredibly catchy.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  8. ThomYorke wrote:

    Soy – you’ve got to check out this post on A6 about the M&C Fanclub with photos of all the older goodies.

    http://www.allthingsweezer.com/forum/index.php?topic=19980.0

    It’s a nice window in the “old fans” minds. Read through all of the materials, and it may become more clear why the older fanbase sees Weezer in a different light, even beyond the musical differences of yesterday and today.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  9. thegreatestscorch wrote:

    How would one go about getting invited to join all things weezer?

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 4:17 am | Permalink
  10. Soyrev wrote:

    Thanks for the pointer, Thom. Karl wrote in 1994, “I wouldn’t be helping Weezer if I didn’t believe in them”…I wonder how he feels in that regard now.

    Rivers on Blue: “None of these songs are perfect, but I think you can hear that we’re trying hard to be honest and real.” :'(

    Anyone wanna help TheGreatestScorch? I don’t exactly know.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 9:33 pm | Permalink
  11. danup wrote:

    As of a few months ago, when I did it, it was just a matter of sending an e-mail to the address on the registration page and saying “I want to join A6 because it is the best place on the internet for talking about weezer and emptyquoting people.”

    Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  12. thegreatestscorch wrote:

    i heard you had to get invited or something, but thank you im gonna try that

    Friday, March 12, 2010 at 4:06 am | Permalink
  13. AF wrote:

    Scorch, try this as your invite key and it should be cool:

    cd6a4114bd929a7550703231e1644e734ec17a83

    If you turn out to be evil I will have to pretend it wasn’t me.

    Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink
  14. Nate wrote:

    I’ve been wanting to post on A6 for a while too, but I’ve been too busy/lazy lately.

    Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  15. thegreatestscorch wrote:

    Oho thank you greatly. And no need to worry i will not do anything embarress myself, this site, or you

    Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  16. Poprocks wrote:

    Weezer. In an arena. Playing this song at full volume. Fans singing along to the catchy melodies so loud that you can’t even hear the band (and did I mention they’re at full volume?).

    *That* is what Weezer is all about. This song is pop perfection.

    Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 1:52 am | Permalink
  17. Soyrev wrote:

    Have you seen the 2005 Weezer in Japan video of this song, Poprocks? I think you’d like it.

    Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink
  18. Poprocks wrote:

    @Soyrev: Yes, and I think that’s where I got that image in my head from.

    Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

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