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I don’t think it’s unfair to say that, as a general rule, the closer is the most sincere and genuine song on any given Weezer album. (The only possible exception I can think of is The Blue Album‘s “Only In Dreams,” if only because it must compete with “Say It Ain’t So”) Which, for the band’s post-2000 albums, presents a bit of a conundrum: all four (soon to be five) of these records are contrived in one way or another, and it’s the shortcomings that typify their respective albums that compromise that closing attempt at sincerity. The Green Album was, as it is put in the best Rolling Stone article ever published about Weezer, “a monument to vagueness,” the context of which lightly smothers the gorgeous song that is “O Girlfriend” just as much as its flat mix and creative self-restraint does; Make Believe‘s “Haunt You Every Day,” though a lesser song, suffered for similar reasons, such as that record’s overcalculations in general; and “The Angel and The One,” a song that can go toe-to-toe with a great portion of the band’s best material, feels unfulfilled by its fate being placed on Red, serving as a brilliant final thought to a brilliant album that never came to be.

Of all these closers, though, “December” is the weakest of the pack by considerable distance, and will likely go down as the worst final track ever placed on a Weezer album. Like all too much of Maladroit, the song reeks of the underdeveloped, the tossed off, the half-baked. But unlike songs like “Burndt Jamb” and “American Gigolo,” which revel in their laziness, “December” makes the mistake of trying to follow in the tradition of its album-closing predecessors. The result feels forced and unconvincing, like a high school kid bullshitting his way through an English class poetry assignment.

Lyrically, the song steals its “Only love” refrain from The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” without shame (theft is Maladroit‘s biggest overaching concept), which is employed in some lines that are barely passable, and some lines that simply aren’t: “Only love / Can inspire / Soggy lungs / To breathe fire” has to be one of the worst lyrics Cuomo’s ever bothered to release, not least of all because it sounds like he’s singing about bronchitis. Pneumonia, maybe.

And speaking of phlegm, the guitars are really thick and turgid on this song, in a bad way. It’s almost laborious to hear, the way it trudges so heavily along. Scott Shriner’s animated bassline fails to give the song any buoyancy, Brian Bell’s “ooh-ooh” backups seem to get stuck in the general mire of things, and Pat Wilson’s overcompensating beat makes a decent effort but winds up as ineffectual as anything else. The bridge — “It’s only natural / The moon is just half full / We give our best away” — is the most congested passage, which makes the duelling solo that follows feel like such a respite: freeing the arrangement from the weight of that mucky rhyhtm guitar, you can really inhale and appreciate one of the few places (the guitar solo) that Maladroit regularly excels. Other than that, though, it’s slim pickings with this song.

Examining the Maladroit sessions closely, it seems the band tried many small changes and edits to this song before finally settling on this version, but those variations (for the most part, Bell struggly to find something interesting to do with the background vocals) aren’t particularly worthwhile. The only noteworthy alternate studio recording of this song that I can find is that of the 6/13/01 BBC Demos, not least of all because it features previous Weezer bassist Mikey Welsh on the low-end. Wilson loosens things up with a loungey, ride cymbal-centric drumbeat; it seems that before the guitars soured into the rancid chords of the album version, they were a light and airy arpeggiation; Cuomo’s crap lyrics are no different, but their delivery feels less contrived, and are occasionally doubled by Welsh’s best falsetto/Matt Sharp impression. Of course, a lackluster song shines in few (if any) contexts, and it still fails to impress, but this relaxed early take seems to be the Weezer diehard’s preference, and it isn’t hard to hear why. If not for the inarticulate shift into awkward bridge rock-out, this version could float by as harmlessly as a bedside lullaby.

As an aside: Sometimes songs like these work a little better in a live setting, but my 7/26/02 boot from Philadelphia doesn’t offer many improvements. One wonders why Shriner was compelled to indulge in a one-man, two-note jam as the rest of the band exited the stage — but that’s probably the most interesting part of the performance. (Say what you will about closing with a cover song, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” is a LOT better than exiting with “December!”)