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Devotion

“Devotion” is, without question, the single most depressing song Rivers Cuomo has ever written.

That’s no small claim, especially considering the Pinkerton era from whence it came. The song is a b-side to the “El Scorcho” single and, like most Weezer b-sides, is fantastic: most all of the ones we’ve heard are as good if not better than the album they failed to make (perhaps excepting those of The Green Album; it’s also hard to tell with the Make Believe outtakes that have never been released, though brief clips suggest disproportionate excellence). But while the obviously superior quality of later Weezer b-sides to album tracks brings the band’s judgment into question (see “Miss Sweeney,” “Pig,” “Living Without You”), the Weezer of the ‘90s seemed to have a better grasp of what they were doing: tracks like “Susanne,” “Waiting On You” and “Mykel & Carli” can equal nearly any track on The Blue Album and Pinkerton, but trying to add or substitute them on to those records invariably ruins their delicate and near-perfect sequential flow.

“Devotion” is definitely among those great b-sides’ ranks, as it is not only the most depressing Cuomo composition in circulation, it is also one of his most subtle and brilliant. The tune begins with a volcanic eruption of midtempo guitars and drums, primarily driven by the forlorn organ figure that oozes down the center of the mix. While I most immediately sound with a heavy burden, I’ve also heard it described as “euphoric,” which isn’t entirely off base either. The emotion here is certainly a complex one, as the lyrics are soon to convey.

“Suddenly our shortcomings don’t seem to matter that much,” Cuomo begins, and for a moment it seems like this might be the meeting of a boy and girl whose personal halves have joined together, making a lovely and singular whole. But the way Cuomo dwells on these shortcomings for the remainder of the verse — the girl’s stupidity, his own physical imperfections — suggests that this isn’t quite the case.

That inkling is confirmed as Cuomo then expresses regret over having pushed this girl away, “waiting for Mrs. Right” — someone better. But the loving, harmonious admiration that begins the chorus makes it sound like everything’s okay now: “You never gave up devotion / Waiting for me / You’ll always be my girlfriend / I, too, waited for you / I’ll always be my…”

And then, that word: “Friend.”

Just like that, the imbalance in this relationship is solidified, and the happiness of the chorus makes the listener uneasy. This isn’t love, and Cuomo knows it: he lead on this poor girl, used her until he got bored, then tried to find someone that could truly capture his heart. This girl of his dreams — who he personifies as “Perfection” in the next verse — winds up cheating on him, and Cuomo, heartbroken, returns to this sadly devoted girl who pitifully embraces Cuomo once again. “You’ll always be my girlfriend” — Cuomo can always fall back on this girl. But she’ll always just be his friend: soon he’ll bore of her again, and break her heart once more.

This is the same kind of subtle abuse that lends emotional power to the thinly veiled misogyny of “No One Else.” They’re such resonant songs because of these insecurities, and just how honest Cuomo is about them: we come to despise the narrator of these songs (and with ‘90s Cuomo, we can be pretty sure that they are purely autobiographical), because the abuse is so deplorable. Perhaps the listener can relate because (s)he too has been the subject of this kind of “Devotion”-brand manipulation before, or even more uncomfortably, because the listener has manipulated and used someone else like this before. “No One Else” is a frighteningly jealous and controlling song once you crack its power pop exterior, but it’s a bit unnerving because pretty much any guy can relate to it one way or another: who wants his girlfriend to be out laughing at some other asshole’s jokes?

These songs pick and poke at the darkest of emotions that can develop in a relationship after its spiraled out of control, and “Devotion” is the most chilling portrait in the Weezer repertoire. The solo that enters with the key change definitely sounds distressed, like the product of the confused feelings and twisted perspectives that can consume a wayward lover whole. That’s just the thing: Cuomo’s joy here is so distorted and unhealthy and we fear it because we know what it means for the poor girl Devotion. There’s a brilliantly nuanced irony in the second verse, as well: Cuomo damns Perfection for “being untrue” and having “her own concerns,” when Cuomo did the exact same thing to the girl he’s running back to now. When Cuomo qualifies all his complaints about Perfection with an admiring “unlike you,” he might as well be singing “like me.”

I think there’s a special significance to the chorus line, “Devotion / Waiting for me” — perhaps an intentional tie-in to another Pinkerton contender/b-side, “Waiting On You,” a song that expresses Cuomo’s frustration over a girl who leaves him high and dry while looking for someone else (her own idea of Perfection). When these songs were in consideration for being on the same album (both songs originated during the Songs From The Black Hole concept), it’s possible that Cuomo was trying to make a point between the two songs — that the kind of pain he experiences in “Waiting On You” is the same kind of pain he makes Devotion endure, the girl that was Waiting On Him. Either way, it’s a neat connection that further deepens the emotions in each song.

This song was, to my knowledge, never properly played live, although a couple super-lucky fans reported hearing it at soundchecks during the Pinkerton tour. However, the song was performed at the Fingerprints Hootenanny jam with Cuomo and a roomful of jamming fans, and was one of the six songs to make it onto the EP snapshot of the evening, Not Alone. Listening to the performance elicits a reaction about as complex as the song’s lyrical subtleties themselves: on the one hand, the stripped down arrangement of “Devotion” bedded on fingersnaps and a brite-lite omnichord is immediately entrancing, and practically overflows with potential. Unfortunately, Cuomo’s lead vocal is shaky and tentative — being in the room as it happened must have been something magical, but in CD mastered sound, the flubbed notes and flaws are hard to miss. But that girl’s backing harmony is a pretty sweet touch, and it’s easy to appreciate the performance for what it is. Cuomo probably hadn’t thought of the song in at least a decade, and just to see this song getting an official live release in 2009 is something of a miracle in and of itself.

27 Comments

  1. NoobcakesMcGee wrote:

    Both Cat and blueguy definitely make some good points about it being a more uplifting or hopeful song, but there’s something about it that I still find very depressing and sad. I don’t think “friend” has to be a compliment or insult, but when contrasted with the explicit “girlfriend,” you wonder why the clearer prefix was dropped.

    And really, only the last verse extends any sort of straightforward compliment to the girlfriend: “Unlike you / she isn’t true” But everything else either highlights flaws (“Your IQ is 20 points low) or could go either way (“I commend your stubborness).

    To me, this song reeks (in the best way) of a settling for second (or third, fourth, who knows) best after a brutal heartbreaking situation (“chasing her leaves me with nothing but pain”). I feel like it’s more a case of the girl being so stubborn and unwilling to move on to another guy that she finally found the chink in his armor at his most vulnerable moment. I mean, he’s not all enthused about her (see: first few lines of song) and it feels like she’s perhaps a temporary stopgap between “real” girlfriends, thus, the “I’ll always be your friend (but not necessarily boyfriend)” line. I even get a vibe (completely unsubstantiated however) that she’s a girl that sticks around to tide him over until the next search for Ms. Perfection.

    Now maybe it’s just from personal experience/preferences, but I would hate to see myself settle for a girl that I wasn’t crazy or passionate about, so that’s what depresses me about this song, the idea that the perfect love (or even really great love) doesn’t really exist and mediocrity will save the day. -“Kids, I proposed to your mother by serenading her with a song”
    -“Oh yes, I remember, you called me an idiot! Well, you’re not exactly hot stuff yourself!”
    -“Don’t worry, I got that part covered too, remember?”

    Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Permalink
  2. ThomYorke wrote:

    Funny you should use that last bit about the proposal Noobscake : As many of you know I sang to Susanne to my fiance recently during our proposal, and we were friends for over 5 years before we finally began dating 3 years ago.

    During that initial 5 years though, Devotion was my fucking theme song. She remained my Best Friend on the planet, despite the fact that I wanted to date her badly all through college, and she wanted nothing to do with me romantically. At the time, I was not considered “hot all American man” at all! 🙂 I cherished her presence enough in my life to stick it out no matter what hoping one day she would stop chasing “Mr. Right” and realize I was actually the best catch out there.

    This song for me was hopeful because I saw myself as the girl character in the song, diligently remaining her best friend, while always hoping we could be more.

    My “stubbornness” paid off – she graduated from college, the haze lifted, and she realized we were perfect for each other after all. We’re getting married next year, and the past 3 1/2 years have been nothing short of incredible.

    I didn’t come right out with this story as it sounds a bit cheesy or like I’m trying a little to hard here, but I couldn’t pass it up after that comment Noobs.

    Ridiculous as it may seem, my own romantic background plays out damn near identically to this hopeful interpretation of this song.

    Oh, and BLUEGUY – great story! It was harder to be a fan back then 🙂

    Friday, May 8, 2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  3. Soyrev wrote:

    Some really great comments popping off here, folks — thank you, and keep it up!

    I’ll read more of the rest of these when I have a bit more time on my hands, but I gotta give props to CatFamine for a particularly great comment. It can definitely be interpreted in at least two (very) different lights, although I remain steadfast in my opinion about which of those is the primary (and intended) one. I may change the wording of this post slightly someday, though, as I seemed to forget just how bruising “Butterfly” is for a moment. Goddamn, what a wonderfully sad song…

    Friday, May 8, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  4. NoobcakesMcGee wrote:

    Haha ThomYorke, that’s a great story. I guess personal experience can greatly alter how we both look at the song and lyrics. Although I will say I assumed the girl of Devotion wasn’t a strictly platonic friend and was maybe a previous girlfriend. But I definitely see your point!

    Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  5. GuessWho wrote:

    ThomYorke, you’re my hero.

    Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  6. ThomYorke wrote:

    Nonsense! You make me blush. We should be giving credit to Soy for such a great thread. Isn’t it amazing though how much more interesting these discussions get when we’re tackling =w=’s best work?

    Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  7. waitingandwaiting wrote:

    Then what’s with all the comments for crab!

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  8. Soyrev wrote:

    Even the lesser Weezer songs can be fascinating in their own right. I think they’re just as fun to discuss as the greats.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  9. OOS wrote:

    Yeah, it’s interesting to talk about the really bad tracks (MBF, Crab, I can’t wait for CDW to come up). It’s neat to see what everyones reactions are to the tracks, and why we thought they were bad.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  10. Soyrev wrote:

    Someone on ATW pointed out that this song lyrically references KISS, as well:

    “You’re starin’ at the band, you want to land / A six foot, hot look, all american man, yeah”

    from “All American Man,” from the Alive II album!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink
  11. Nate wrote:

    I’m sure that everyone knows this by now, but because I saw the movie again earlier this week, but Michael Cera covers five seconds of the song in the movie “Paper Heart.”

    It’s minor, but I thought it was kind of cool that he chose a Weezer B-Side to cover instead of, like, anything else. And he played enough of it to have Rivers be credited in the.. um… credits.

    Also, the song Charlyne writes definitely seems to have Weezer influence.

    Excellent film, by the way.

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

    in his itunes celebrity playlist, I think he said Pinkerton is his favorite album, or something along those lines

    Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  13. Soyrev wrote:

    Yep. This was right before the first Alone came out, and he said that it was going to be the best thing to happen to music since 1996. 😀

    Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  14. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    This was a great, classic discussion (re: sad vs. not sad). To add something else in wayyyy later to the “I think it’s sad” side, the tempo and music are almost funeral/dirge like w/ the organ and whatnot.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink
  15. Soyrev wrote:

    Indeed it was! Though really, there is NO QUESTION that this is meant to be one streamrolling downer of a dirge. The poor girl loves Cuolmes to death, and the ultimate promise he gives her is, “I’ll always be your friend.” Cuomo’s never had much of a taste for subtlety, but he definitely gets sneaky every now and then — recall that “The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide World” isn’t a song about love so much as it is one about a guy who’s in for a whole lot of heartbreak.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Permalink
  16. danup wrote:

    The reason this song works, though, is that I know a ton of guys who feel this exact way about girls—it’s okay that she’s dumb, I’m not very attractive—with no irony or sinister intentions.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 2:14 am | Permalink
  17. Ludicrosity wrote:

    Man, knowing that story about Prettiest Girl makes it feel awkward that I put it on a CD for my anniversivary with the gf. lol

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 5:28 am | Permalink
  18. Ludicrosity wrote:

    Anniversary too… stupid typos.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink
  19. OOS wrote:

    I dont know, theres a meloncholy here, but I dont get the all-encompasing sadness

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink
  20. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    Wait, what is the Prettiest Girl story? It is slipping my mind right now.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  21. Ludicrosity wrote:

    I was just referring to Soy’s post about it being a song about some guy in store for a lot of heartache… don’t know the specifics behind the story actually.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  22. yim_yecker wrote:

    I also made the mistake of putting Prettiest Girl on a mix before knowing the real meaning behind it. Unfortunately, the song’s foretelling heartache came true for me. Nobody can take her from me, my foot.

    However, I can top even that story because my ex-girlfriend cried after she heard my cover of Devotion. She asked excitedly if I was singing about her, but I never really answered her. I told her that she wouldn’t want me to be because of the real meaning behind the song. Soy’s post was what actually inspired me to cover it after I recently re-read it, but I honestly was singing about her. I’m kind of an ass, but I was right not to trust her.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  23. thegreatestscorch wrote:

    To be honest i think the saddest weezer song in exsistance is butterfly

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  24. Soyrev wrote:

    The turning point for “Prettiest Girl” is most likely in the line, “In the evening when she goes out walking alone, I wait at home patiently” — strange image there. Why would the girl wanna go out alone regularly, and why’s this putz got nothing better to do than wait when she’s not around?

    Cuomo wrote in the A2 liners that he was absolutely ecstatic when he completed this song, because of how simple it was structurally (that one-chord verse) while also conveying a very complex emotion — he mentioned the way in which the narrator is in bliss, but to the listener it’s clear that a world of pain is just around the corner. At least that was his idea, maybe some don’t pick up on it…

    But I hear very much the same subtle effect going on in “Devotion.”

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  25. Soyrev wrote:

    And that’s fair Scorch, I might actually agree with you on that one. What a song.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  26. Ludicrosity wrote:

    I agree Soy, that’s a strange image in the song… I always thought that way but never really equated it to upcoming heartache like that. If this is indeed the case (which I am guessing it is) then it’s very subtle.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  27. Oldmancane wrote:

    The minor-key solo in Devotion is just so brilliant; it really shows Rivers’ classical influences.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

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