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Knock-Down Drag-Out

…And in the opposite corner, we have The Green Album. Whereas a gloriously on-edge, unhinged performance like “Getchoo” highlights exactly why Pinkerton is so satisfying even a dozen years on, by 2001 Rivers Cuomo had changed directions. In his mind, that approach now represented the sophomore slump, his biggest commercial failure; while many would be able to simply recognize that their product was too artful or off-beat for a mainstream audience, Cuomo later compared the incident to getting trashed, having a cathartic heart-to-heart with a crowd of strangers at a party, then waking up the next morning, hungover and horrified to remember last night’s revelations. And as it would turn out, that reassessment of his past works stretched back as far as the more personal moments on The Blue Album (recall his Correspondence Board ramblings about the “disneygay” “Only In Dreams”).

Then again, when your misunderstood masterpiece contains a candid portrait of yourself wondering how a Japanese schoolgirl touches herself, what else is there to do than stick your head beneath the sand for a few years and try to disassociate? Producer Ric Ocasek recalls that during the sessions for Green, Cuomo would ruthlessly “coach” bassist Mikey Welsh through scores and scores of takes (many of which Ocasek said were album-worthy to his ears, and virtually indistinguishable), until it was as perfect and bland as could be. Indeed, most of Green feels as though it could have been played by machines; whatever made “Getchoo” click, Cuomo wanted none of it. No flaws, no friction, no soul.

“Knock-Down Drag-Out” is perhaps the very best ambassador for Green‘s modus operandi. Clocking in at a mechanically concise 2 minutes (and eight seconds, for fadeout), the song charges out of the gates as inoffensively as possible, with a rush of Sweet’N Low guitars (my friend has long referred to Green‘s guitar sound as “vomit;” we’ll call it “saccharine vomit”), polished and spitshined to mediocre perfection. Rock crit veteran Mark Prindle concisely sums up the track’s appeal relative to the rest of the album as simply being “faster than the others, [with] great John/Paul harmonies,” which drive it through its catchy-as verses into a perfectly-transitioned chorus. It’s the tale of two lovers at temporary odds, and is typically straightforward in its design, though I do enjoy the imagery of, “Take no prisoners in this knock-down drag-out war.” ‘Knock-down drag-out’ — one of those neat little phrases Cuomo manages to conjure every now and then, like “broken-beaten down” in “The Good Life.” Simple, smart, sounds like what it means.

So yeah: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, abbreviated bridge (all of one line: “Say you love me now”), guitar-solo-as-verse, chorus, verse, and we’re out. But there’s something very appealing going on here. It’s not high art. Emotionally, it does next to nothing for me. But it’s a fast and furious blast of sonic confectionery, a poppy little stint of no-frills vanilla, a one-night stand between early ’60s Beatles and late ’90s post-grunge radio formula. And whether or not it’s saying much, you have to give credit where it’s due: The Green Album is one of the cleanest, cheapest thrills in rock history.

While there seems to be a fair degree of fan hatred for this song, the band apparently knew they were onto something: a survey of live shows from the era reveals that after Green‘s release, this was probably the most-played track from that album not about hash or islands. This much is evidenced by KDDO being issued as a live b-side to the second UK retail CD single for “Keep Fishin’,” a move that was redundant because, if this version is any indication, the band failed to translate its studio flawlessness to the stage. Brian’s added “ahh-ahh” backups on the chorus are a nice idea, however, and Cuomo’s improvised guitar solo handily bests its uninspired album counterpart (highlighting a key Green failing: the lack of development for its songs).

25 Comments

  1. Low wrote:

    i remember when i was getting into weezer in 2001, and my friend downloaded a bunch of their songs off kaaza or napster (haven’t got computer back then) and burned a cd for me. this song was one of them along the “susanne”, “o lisa”, “undone”, “surfwax america”, “island in the sun” and “buddy holly”. i loved it instantly, propably more than blue-era tracks. now i think it’s a little boring for a 2 minute song. the string tribute album version is great, though. underneath the whole big dumb rock thing going around the melodies are beatufil. too bad i still can’t get into the regular version again.

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  2. ...Our Name Is Jonas wrote:

    One of the most musically exciting songs from TGA. Great use of passing tones done in a way that only Rivers can do.

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  3. Soyrev wrote:

    Low: Which string tribute? The one by the ‘vitamen’ or whatever, or the thing that was “string music inspired by weezer” that came out around Green?

    ONIJ: Can you explain what “passing tones” are, perhaps in the context of KDDO? Sounds interesting.

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  4. Art Vandelay wrote:

    To further bag on the live B-side version: as a guitarist, I just can’t get past that awful sour note he plays on the end of the solo. If he’d bent it up a half step, it could have been artful, but… no.

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  5. Low wrote:

    this one:
    http://www.amazon.com/String-Quartet-Tribute-Weezer-Come/dp/B000089IYU

    it’s great overall. one of the best out there. and i’ve heard quite a few (radiohead one etc.).

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  6. ...Our Name Is Jonas wrote:

    Passing tones are something that weezer does ALOT. Let’s see if I can explain this well. It takes the main chords and it connects the two.

    In the context of KDDO, think of it in the “It’s all that I can do right now to make it up to you somehow” part of the song. The chords being E F G C/G# A. I think of the C/G# being a passing chord or tone. It’s in the songs key of The G# being the main passing tone. It’s not in the key of C, and it’s mainly used as a transition note to hit the 6th which is A, which starts the next phrase “And meet you on the other side of war”

    Hope that helps!

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
  7. Soyrev wrote:

    So uh, Low…any way you might jack me a copy of that thing? (It wouldn’t be too wrong; I bought a Nirvana tribute by these guys a few years back and haven’t listened since) KDDO sounds very re-imagined there, but holy crap do those clips of ATS and SIAS sound beautiful. Funny how much the post-2000 songs seem to need re-arranging, whereas the ’90s material has so many classical elements, it’s practically a natural fit.

    ONIJ: I’m a long way from understanding what the hell you’re talking about, but I look forward to getting there. 🙂

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  8. Art Vandelay wrote:

    I’ll try to clarify on ONIJ’s behalf, because he didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either, and “passing chord/note” definitely isn’t the term he’s thinking of:

    To be correct, the chords to that section of the song he’s referring to are actually E5 – F5 – G5 – E/G# – A5.

    The song is in the key of C (consisting of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B)…

    These are the chords in that progression I listed above, broken down into the individual notes they are comprised of:

    E5 = E and B
    F5 = F and C
    G5 = G and D
    E/G# = E, G# and B
    A5 = A and E

    So you can see, the E5, F5, G5, and A5 are all diatonic (meaning they exist within the 7 notes that make up the key of C; you could play them using the white levers on the piano)

    The E/G# obviously has a G# note in it, which isn’t found in the key of C, making it a non-diatonic chord. It’s actually what you’d call a ‘Secondary Dominant’, because any variant of the E major or E7 chord going to an A chord is a V -> I (five to one / dominant to tonic) progression. It’s a way of getting from one diatonic chord to another, but “passing chord” is the wrong term for it.

    BTW Secondary Dominants are pretty common in all forms of western music dating back to the Baroque period; it’s not something that makes Weezer unique in the slightest.

    Holy poop I must be bored. I don’t know if any of that made any more sense to you, but at least the music theory is correct.

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  9. Running Monk wrote:

    i really like KDDO. it’s fun through and through from beginning to end. it’s tons of fun to sing along with. the guitar solo thing is an obvious gripe, but outside of that i have no complaints about this song whatsoever.

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  10. s.o.s. wrote:

    I’m one of those “what green could have been” guys. I like the album. I like most of the songs. I just wish it was given proper treatment.

    Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 11:01 pm | Permalink
  11. Soyrev wrote:

    Of course I agree with you, SOS…but I can still appreciate it as one of the best vapid summer pop albums I know. It has a purpose, and achieves it, which is more than I can say of any other post-Pink Weezer releases.

    Monday, August 4, 2008 at 6:15 am | Permalink
  12. Sick Nick wrote:

    When green was released in 2001 aside from Hash Pipe, which I had heard back in 2000 and 3 times on the outloud tour this was my favorite song off the green album. although I was dissapointed by the huge step backwards the green album took I enjoyed this little pop ditty alot. Even before that when the track titles were leaked this song title grabbed me right away. I stands out on the album sound-wise aswell with its lumped together lyrics and odd breaks between lines, “take no pirisoners-here-in-this knock down-drag-out war”. Its still my 2nd favorite song on green and i feel like if this song had a little more time put into it lyrically and production it could have been a much more memorable song in the weezer fan community.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 7:26 am | Permalink
  13. zxcvb wrote:

    “Take no prisoners in this knock-down drag-out war.” ‘Knock-down drag-out’ — one of those neat little phrases Cuomo manages to conjure every now and then.”

    Er…he didn’t come up with that phrase. It’s been around since before Rivers was born. The phrase also appears in Green Day’s Worry Rock — which Weezer of course covered and where RC probably got it from.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  14. Soyrev wrote:

    Really? Wow. Had no idea — especially about the Green Day. Surprise to me…(slightly disappointing at that) Thankfully, my verb-choice (“conjure”) is vague enough to work either way…but I legitimately thought this one was one of Cuomo’s inventions. Oh well.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  15. Soyrev wrote:

    Also just found out this song once had the working title of “Slow Starlight.” Pretty strange…any relation to Green b-side “Starlight”?

    Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  16. Soyrev wrote:

    Best version of KDDO I’ve heard to date: 2/17/02 in Albany, NY. Get it get it!

    Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  17. NoobcakesMcGee wrote:

    Alright, soy, I’ll comment on a few of the ones I missed whilst waiting :).

    If you’re going to make an album that sonically sounds akin to vomit as you put it, at least the songs should be as upbeat and catchy as KDDO. I’ll never defend the deeper meanings or insights nor its complex musical stylings, but to me TGA is The Catchy Album.

    This is why I think Teenage Victory Songs, O Girl,and maybe even Brightening Day should have made it on the album. All these songs lodge themselves in my brain nearly instantly and loop there infinitely, as opposed to I-can-never-remember-what-it-sounds-like Smile.

    Monday, November 10, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  18. Soyrev wrote:

    Aside from simply being catchy and great songs in their own right, “Teenage Victory Song” (singular, not plural, though I’m glad to see my blog’s influence rubbing off!) and “O Girl” (possibly the greatest product of Cuomo’s two/three-year odyssey for the perfect simple pop song) should have been on TGA simply because they sound different and immediately distinguishable from the rest of the lot (whereas all of the 2nd half of TGA takes real determination — or several years of casual listening — to become more than just one big homogeneous blur). I once thought “I Do” should have been added to that list, but now I’m not so sure, after hearing “Leningrad”; and “Brightening Day” has maybe the best solo of the Green era, but otherwise is probably Rivers’ most annoying attempt at being Green Day (KDDO might be the best, although I much prefer when they just covered “Worry Rock” outright and were done with it).

    Monday, November 10, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  19. NoobcakesMcGee wrote:

    I think the phrase “one big homogeneous blur” is the perfect way to describe my feelings on TGA’s 2nd half after first listen.

    Monday, November 10, 2008 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  20. NoobcakesMcGee wrote:

    Where did you find the 2/17/02 Albany version of this song? I’d like to give it a listen.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  21. Soyrev wrote:

    I’m gonna go ahead and presume I got it off of Weezed.com’s great live archive. Go there, register, and donate if you can! Benji’s wallet is taking a real hit with that one, but if he gets enough donations he’ll add up pre-2002 tour boots…I really want to hear the SS2K and 2001 ones.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  22. OOS wrote:

    Listening to this song, I really think that the bridge could’ve been something great. The vocal part builds up nicely (say you love me NOW), and it should release into a really soaring, searing guitar solo. Unfortunately they just recycled the chorus melody, so it’s all rather bland. Heck, if they could’ve just repeated both the chorus AND verse melody it would’ve at least been interesting. Alas, this is just one of the many mistakes Rivers made during Green.

    In any case, this is still one of my favourites from Green. Great melody, and lyrics that actually mean something.

    Friday, March 6, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Permalink
  23. Charlie wrote:

    I loved the Blue album when it came out, and listened to my older brother’s copy constantly even after he deemed it uncool. I remember Pinkerton coming out, being in a record store (Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis) but being too afraid to have my parents buy it for me because it had “sex” in the first song title (I was 11 at the time). A few years later, 1998 maybe, I ordered it online and fell in love with it.

    I was obsessed with Weezer in middle school and had no one to share my obssession with. My brother was way too cool for =w= at the time and no one at school liked them very much. We had just got the internet but I didn’t found the RWA until right when the Green album was being finished.

    I preordered the CD (and got a bunch of stickers, posters, and Hash Pipe demo tapes!) and got tickets to see Weezer at Pointfest, the night after their SNL appearance. I loved the album when it came out. I didn’t notice that it was incredibly short and the songs very repetitive. I hadn’t heard the SS2K songs and probably wouldn’t have liked them so much if I did. Simple Pages, strangely enough, was my favorite song (along with Knockdown and Island) and I played it over and over. It was a perfect time for me, in love with my favorite band (not just their 5 year old music that I was almost getting tired of) and discovering perfect, joyous pop music. Hash Pipe was on the radio and I didn’t have to be ashamed about my obsession anymore. I was a huge awkward nerd but Weezer gave me confidence. I fell in love with a girl who also loved the Weez and we’re still together. So I have extremely fond memories of this song and the album. I still listen to O Girlfriend and feel “all right”.

    Maladroit was huge disappointment to me and still is. I rank Green right up there with Blue and Pinkerton, since after Green, Weezer ceased to be Weezer anymore. As my life got more complicated and fragmented so did Weezer, and I’ve never felt the close connection to the band that this album gave me.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  24. Soyrev wrote:

    Lovely comment, Charlie. Bravo!

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 6:41 am | Permalink
  25. OOS wrote:

    Yeah, really good. I also really like Green, and I think those first 3 discs complement each other nicely. Although, for most bands, the progression would’ve gone:

    Green
    Blue
    Pink

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

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