It’s true that the dedicated Weezer addict (worse for your health than weed, but probably better than meth) will perk his or her ears at the chance to hear any new scrap of music from the band — the older the vintage, the greater the excitement — but this here demo sparked a much more fervent reaction than average. Much like a paleontologist discovering a new fossil, the geologic timeframe from which the song specimen originates is just as important to its proper evaluation as its quality, and the slight ambiguity surrounding the birth date of “I Want To Take You Home Tonight” led more than just a few folks to jump the gun.
Rivers Cuomo himself debuted “I Want To Take You Home…” on a radio show he was guest-DJing in November of 2008 (a taste test from Alone II, which was then due out in just a little more than a month), commenting on how he had written it “New Year’s Eve 2002.” From here arose the question of whether he meant the night upon which 2001 became 2002, or the one upon which 2002 became 2003. If it were the former, this would place the tune squarely in the middle of his anti-coherent Maladroit phrase, and in such a context, a relatively fleshed out song like “Take You Home” would’ve been an anomaly almost impossible to explain. Caught up in the heat of the moment, the general tide of opinion gave into the temptation of wishful thinking (one of the deadliest and most prevalent symptoms of a Weezer fan declining into hardcore addiction), and went with the former — in which case, “Take You Home” was a rare gem in a sea of pointed mediocrity, perhaps even a sign that Cuomo truly has always ferreted away the best of his songwriting material in the post-Pinkerton era.
This explosion of optimism only lasted for a few hours, soon deflated by some particularly reasonable and clear-headed individual who must have checked the 4 and 5 Star Demos list and the Catalog of Riffs to confirm that this was actually a tune written on the very last night of 2002 — not its very first morning — which meant that Cuomo was already in the early stages of rediscovering his muse. (A process that, while successful in spots, still led to Weezer’s worst reviewed album, 2005’s Make Believe.)
Tough noogies. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s actually more interesting that this song marks an early stage of abandoning Maladroit and finding the path towards Make Believe, because it sounds to me like a cross-section between those two aesthetics. The pile-driving riffs, strophic repetition, and wailing metal guitar solo are all distinctly of the Maladroit locality — and yet the long-phrased melodies and awkwardly direct lyrics of the verse, the wordless ooh-ooh chorus, the curveball bridge and the general flair for the epic are all the kind of stuff you might find in the cherts and shales of Make Believe. It’s as if Cuomo hadn’t yet fully abandoned the “fuck you” antagonism of the former, but was searching to deepen it with the more focused gestures and emotional strokes of the latter.
The product winds up being proof that an album halfway between these two aesthetics might have been more satisfying than either of them on their own: despite its flaws, “I Want To Take You Home Tonight” could have been a standout track on either record. It begins quite bravely: over a simple drum-machine beat, Cuomo shouts, “I want to take you home tonight / And lay you down beside the fire / I’ve never seen your face before / I probably won’t see you no more.” The melody is simple but adequate, while Cuomo’s tendency to hold the last syllable of every line for a whole note — “toniiiiight,” “fiiiiire,” “befooooore,” “moooore” — starts grating fast. It’s a pretty unwieldy way to start off a song, and the listener is left grasping for something more substantial.
Thankfully, a fucking heavy one-chord guitar line crashes into the mix, and it’s just enough to sustain the rest of the verse. And yet Cuomo belts, “I hope I find another girl / That thinks that I am lovely too / But they don’t make those kinds of girls / And so I cry from me to you,” and the song continues to teeter on the edge of failure. But then the chorus hits — a stack of double-tracked Cuomos in wordless, choral despair, embellished in the upper register by some “whoa-oh-oh” counterpoint and Pixies-style guitar decoration — and things begin to click. The pure emotion, here unencumbered by the song’s regrettable lyrical content, is a real respite, and works well enough that by the time the song falls back into the verse (bridged nicely by a venomous stab of Mala-noodling), it’s got enough momentum to blow through some more embarrassing rhymes without much pain. That high-strung second guitar layers in again halfway through, carrying the tune back into the winning chorus, and for a moment it seems like the mixed-bag of a song is just good enough to be remembered more fondly than not.
But just then the bridge drops, and for a moment you’re elevated into true Weezer nirvana — by way of desperate, romantic hell. “Don’t go, I want you to stay / I need you to stay / And hold me,” Cuomo begs, while his interior monologue pleads a “Don’t go, don’t go” mantra from the bed of vocals panned deep in the song’s backdrop. Cuomo’s lead line even peaks into a spine-tingling apex of falsetto at its tail end, which comes beautifully crashing down against the dramatic dissonance of a heavily flubbed chord change in the guitar riff. I’m hard-pressed to find a trace of Blue anywhere in this song, but I’ll be damned if this bridge isn’t shades of Pinkerton — and goddamn is it good. It’s the kind of unexpected money-shot bridge that Cuomo had forgotten how to write somewhere around the turn of the century, but was just beginning to recall in 2002 with songs like this one and “I Was Scared.”
It’s a tough act to follow, but that angsty, bleeding heart guitar solo — halfway between a Green vocal melody solo and one of Cuomo’s better Maladroit demon-exorcisers — cleans up nicely, and helps propel the listener through another one of those so-so verses. That drive pushes the song to its fantastic conclusion, a repetition of the title lyric surrounded by echoes, counterpoints and harmonies. Which makes me realize that, on the whole, the vocal arrangements of this song might be one way to connect this song to The Blue Album after all: aside from a few songs on Pinkerton, “Take You Home Tonight” might be the most complex vocal arrangement since the band’s 1994 debut (although the lyrics and melodies of those vocals clearly lack in comparison). To its credit, “Take You Home” actually does a fine job of setting up 1992 lost classic “The Purification of Water” on Alone II — and that’s saying something.
Speaking of that record, the detailed anecdote Cuomo provides for the inspiration of “Take You Home” gives this song special significance. Essentially, Cuomo planned on flying solo to a Los Angeles rave headlined by DJ Paul Van Dyk to ring in the New Year, but found himself feeling sad, lonely, and ever contemplative of his musical career: wondering “how to write songs, what kinds of songs I should write, and whether or not my new songs were worse than my old songs.” Sitting on the curb and writing his ruminations in a pocket journal, Cuomo observed, “People love to dance, sure — and people like to rock. But everyone loves to feel the primal scream of song emanate from their chest, their lungs…I have to lead these people. I have to remind them how to sing.”
Just then, with cinematic timing, a New Year’s reveler recognized Cuomo on the street, accosted him to shout “SAY IT AIN’T SOOO-OOHWHOAOH-OH” in his face, then disappeared. Cuomo cited this moment in his notebook as a turning point, noting the very real fact that ‘A thousand “Keep Fishin’s” does not equal one “Say It Ain’t So.'”
It’s funny, then, that when Cuomo returned to his hotel room and picked up his acoustic guitar just minutes later, “I Want To Take You Home” was the first product of this hard-earned lesson. Ironically, this little epiphany of his — though grounded in a qualitative sentiment that would have made any Weezer fan nod in emphatic agreement — was tempered by his unfortunate conclusion, “That money-moment of belting from the chest is what I’m all about…If I don’t have that – I don’t have anything…It’s almost as if each artist really just represents ONE gesture. Whatever ornaments surround that gesture, the fact remains that there is ONLY one gesture that is important.” Indeed, “Say It Ain’t So” is at least 1000x the song that “Keep Fishin'” is, and the chest-belting chorus might be the emotional core and central impact of the song — but the fact remains that it would be nothing without the supportive “ornamentation” that Cuomo dismissed as inessential on this New Year’s Eve. The Al-Green-soul-meets-classical-beauty of the song’s opening guitar progression, the breathtaking falsetto harmonies of the verses, the overall perfection of the lyric sheet, the added guitar fills in the second chorus (and the mushroom-cloud swell of feedback that introduces it), the emotional swell of the bridge and the cathartic release of that brilliant guitar solo — ALL of these elements are essential to making “Say It Ain’t So” not only one of Weezer’s most enduring songs, but indeed one of the 1990s’. Remove any one of them, and the song would suffer fatally for it. Strip it down to its chorus and some verses as brittle and awkward as those of “Take You Home Tonight” and you’d have a song scarcely better than…well, “Take You Home Tonight.”
So that’s the great irony here, and one of the biggest creative roadblocks for post-2000 Weezer: Cuomo takes a step or two forward, only to take one or two behind (and maybe a couple to the side, for the hell of it). The Cuomo of the ’90s seemed to understand the import of a song’s overall sonic and lyrical construction, whereas the Cuomo of the ’00s seems dead-set on believing that there has to be one simple answer — “the money-moment of belting from the chest,” for example — and that once the answer has been found, it must be pursued to the utmost extreme (until it is proven that this answer is actually a false solution, is discarded, and the search for the next contender continues). Hence, we get a song FULL of chest-belting moments (and little else), a sword by which it both lives (the chorus, the bridge) and dies (the verses inbetween).
I wonder if that New Year’s reveler was sober enough to remember that he had sung a line of his favorite Weezer song to Rivers Cuomo himself the morning after. And I wonder whether or not, upon hearing the many belting choruses of Make Believe a few years later, he realized that his brief comment to Cuomo single-handedly defined one of the main aesthetic features of that entire album.