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Let It All Hang Out

Weezer’s career is one that lends itself to unexpected twists and turns: buttoned-down, multi-platinum power pop band of ’94 goes for raw, rock’n’roll catharsis in ’96; result tanks in every way imaginable, band goes off the radar for four straight years, widely presumed dead; ’96 album meanwhile winds up amassing one of the most fervent cult followings in music history despite silence from band, inspiring their belated return; ’01 comeback album is a slick and vacuum-sealed pop record that is in fact the exact opposite of what that cult following wants from the band, in turn trades much of cult fanbase for a platinum record’s worth of new mainstream fans; band re-embraces die-hard fans in following recording sessions by seeking their advice on everything from vocal performance to guitar solo melody, only to wind up making their least fan-pleasing record of all time; shortly thereafter forges a deeper love-hate relationship with those same fans and promises a new schedule of constant touring and one new album per year, but instead sinks back into anonymity for another 3 years before releasing ’05 album with most obviously (and successfully) commercial-leaning single yet; etc, etc, etc.

Still, 2009’s Raditude represents the point at which many lifelong Weezer taboos became commonplace. Rivers Cuomo, always fixated exclusively on whatever he’s most recently written, began plunging into the vast archives of his own unreleased demos to resuscitate songs dated as old as 1997 for fresh recording. Cuomo, usually averse to collaboration, finally embraced co-writing — but instead of with the songwriters in his own band, he chose to work with name-brand pop stars and songwriters. Cuomo even finally made good on his 2002 threat for there to be real, honest-to-goodness rapping on a Weezer album — and yet instead of Cuomo himself, it’s the world’s biggest rapper contributing the flow and rhymes.

“Let It All Hang Out” is a strange crossroads of many of these firsts. Cuomo recently mentioned in an interview that the song’s main guitar lick is one he found on an old demo recording — lending strong support to the fan theory that part of this song is recycled from an unreleased 1999 composition also called “Let It All Hang Out.” And while the finished track does feature the talents of a rather popular rapper, it’s not in the form of a guest spot — rather, pop rap producer/former Kriss Kross manager Jermaine Dupri contributed the lyrics for the song, which accounts for the painfully awkward (and frankly unnecessary) name-dropping of none other than Jay-Z. (Dupri says he was drawn to Weezer in 1994 with “Buddy Holly,” because despite being a rock band, they were “singing about the kind of thing you’d hear on a rap record” — so it’s no coincidence that this marks the second time in Weezer history that the term “homie” appears in song.)

Other than that, though, I have quite the fondness for this athemic slab of big, dumb party rock. That wailing riff that introduces the song lends itself to air-guitaring, and the pummeling riffs, stuttered lyrics and simple man’s drawl of the verse remind of Everclear (good Everclear). The palm-muted guitar that layers in halfway through the verse is an obvious move, but still gets my hands back on my imaginary fretboard just the same. The chorus is a delight too, a great big sugar rush of heavy guitars, arena rock drumming courtesy of Josh Freese, and a real shouter of a singalong melody from Cuomo. The lyrics are simple as hell — “Tonight I’m leaving all my worries and my problems in the house / I’m goin’ out with my homies and we’re gonna let it / Gonna let it / All hang out, let it all hang out / It’s the last day of the weekend, boy, I need some release!” — but, like the simple riffs and stomping drum fills, it’s relatable in a made-for-the-masses kind of way.

Then there’s that bridge, which is a real test of good taste: over some neanderthalic chord changes, Cuomo shouts (with nary a melody for the words), “Me and JD, chillin’ in the shack! / Sharin’ Chiclets, from the same pack! / 180-proof Vitamin Water! / Energy flavor! / Take us to your daughter!” What’s more is a gaggle of girls from the local coffee shop (no shit) make an appearance to echo the lyrics of the build back into the chorus, sounding kind of like a mix between the annoying bitch on “Beverly Hills” and the children’s choir that Passion Pit have made into their indentured servants. The two name-brand name-drops (wonder if Cuomo got a kickback for that), the Dupri reference, the deeply out-of-character embrace of alcoholic escapism and the skirt-chasing of women half Cuomo’s age and well out of his marital vow bounds (Pinkerton did the whole creepy sexual frustration thing with elegance, damn it) all threaten to drive the average Weezer fan into a spasm of self-inflicted blows to the head — and yet I find this section the most infectious bit of the whole damn farce, tempted to shout along as if it’s something I actually give half a care about. Spiked Vitamin Water and crappy chewing gum ain’t my thing, I assure you — but there’s some kind of shit-stupid, stubborn self-belief going on in this track that actually makes it all work well enough to achieve its (rather modest) goals.

In the end, this is not what I want from Weezer in 2009 (or any year), and I’m well aware that this is not a lick different (or better) than the stupid party rock jams I used to bang in the car when Family Force 5’s debut album came out. But this is what Cuomo wants to do right now, apparently, and I have to say I like this a lot more than Cuomo being a loathsome asshole on something like “Space Rock,” or Cuomo feigning insightfulness on a crusty turd a la “We Are All On Drugs.” Hell, even for, say, one of Make Believe‘s better tracks (“Peace,” “Hold Me“) I’m bound to listen to this one way more in the long run, because it actually goes for something completely unique in the Weezer canon and pretty much pulls it off. Consider it a litmus test: if you’re the type of person who can check his cred at the door, crank the fucking volume and sustain a little bit of whiplash in the name of having a good time, then you’ll be more than down to “Hang Out.” And if you aren’t that type of person — say, you’re the kind that despises this song as it represents the sort of hellish, ultra sell-out inversion of everything central to the Weezer you once loved, or maybe you just hate the thing on a strictly musical basis — well, then  I expect you to report to the comments section of this post immediately.

One thing that invariably pisses me off about this song, though, is the fuckawful mix. Someone recently brought to my attention (entirely coincidentally!) a clip of this song being played in Rock Band, for which tracks tend to be remixed to make each individual element shine through much clearer (since the kids are supposed to be playing along on their plastic instruments, of course). And indeed, each and every element is far more audible in this version of the mix, including an awesome lead guitar line that layers into the second half of the chorus (COMPLETELY and very regrettably buried in the mix on the album) and a great harmony line from Cuomo that further improves the chorus. The bridge sounds miles better too, and I think the progression actually might be a little bit different! Dear Weezer: release this version of the song — and “Rock Band”-style mixes of all of the records you’ve released this past decade!(Just make sure to skip on the fake audience track and the power-up sound effects.)