Seeing how I did the knee-jerk reaction thing for one of Hurley’s lesser tracks (the unfortunate first single/opener, “Memories”), I thought I’d do something similar for one of the new album’s best. (Two relevant parentheticals, first: though I still deem it a negligible tune, “Memories” does fare a bit better in the context of the record than as a standalone. Also, while I discussed “Memories” within the span of a couple listens/minutes, I’ve given this one a little more time and space to dry.)
The song is the first on Side Two: “Run Away.” As with other recent victories like “Pig,” “Run Over By a Truck,” and “The Underdogs,” this song doesn’t merely succeed, but does so in a way I could’ve scantly imagined hearing from Weezer (as an album track rather than an outtake, no less!). I hear, compacted into its concise few minutes, very clear traces of subterranean ‘90s heroes like Daniel Johnston, Guided By Voices, Built to Spill, and the like-minded – implemented with an impressively shifting palette that’s rare in Rivers Cuomo’s work (the closest analog I can think of is “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” and that’s more of a patchwork exercise in genre distinctions than a song, per se). The lyrics seem a bit weak on paper but work nicely in context (a more typically Cuomo trait), fitting the bill for a good description others have used for Hurley’s lyric sheet: like a slightly more poetic, far more successful Make Believe (lots of melodramatics, here). The music takes a slight turn for the predictable when Cuomo very self-consciously channels the Pinkerton aesthetic in the bridge (kinda like how that Pet Sounds percussion seems to turn up on a song or two of every Brian Wilson album, now), but he pulls it off pretty nicely, and – well, there are much worse things one could complain about, no?
The song begins with another fanboy dream come true: Cuomo singing alone at his piano, lo-fi as fuckall, clearly sourced from some scratchy home demo (a la “Broken Arrows” or “I Admire You So Much”). Really does sound like Dan Johnston to me, and one of his better moments – before Weezer dramatically segues the arrangement into a pretty wonderful verse, cut on wiry Doug Martsch guitars (the lyrics have a touch of classic Built to Spill, too: “When I’m lookin’ at the night sky, I can see my soul / I see the little lights flashin’ at each other up above”). The ooh-ooh pre-chorus has a flair of ‘50s rock’n’roll to it (in the vocal melody, too), and the transition back out of the chorus is where I hear that mid-period GBV (the guitar arpeggios, from the playing to the production, really call to mind Doug Gillard on the Ric Ocasek-produced Do The Collapse album). Cuomo’s vocal, like much of Hurley, sounds more unhinged and emotive than it has in years (that “nah!” before the second verse is worth more than he knows) — it’s a great thing to hear at last. Cuomo winds up doing the Pinkerton throwback, then builds into a one-word refrain that feels like it simply gives up rather than finishes the song proper. It definitely could’ve gone somewhere else, but the sudden collapse ably fits the tune’s mood and sentiment.
Of the majority I’ve heard, I’d be willing to venture that “Run Away” is the second best offering Hurley has to offer. Writing that out makes me feel a bit less excited about the record than I did a moment ago (it’s roughly on par with or better than what I’d say is second best track from the past few – “Tripping Down the Freeway,” “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” “The Other Way”), but the distinction here is that this record has at least three songs that are almost as good as this one (plus, again, one that’s even better), which is more than I can say about any of the ’00s records with the exception of Green. So if Hurley manages to keep pace with this standard (roughly…I know I hate “Memories,” and “Where’s My Sex?” sounds like it’ll be a true disaster), it should have no trouble being overall the fourth best Weezer album. Perhaps a pretty darn close fourth.
Still, “Run Away” is emblematic, for me, of Hurley’s limitations as an album. First and foremost, while “Run Away” features some of the best ideas Weezer’s put on record in a decade, they’re not all Weezer’s. It’s hard to know how much to credit Cuomo for a good song when part of the songwriting credit goes to a skilled and proven peer in the industry: Ryan Adams, in “Run Away’s” case. Hearsay (/wishful thinking?) from other fans have led me to believe that all the musical ideas in this song are Cuomo’s whereas Adams’ main contribution was merely telling Cuomo to place together ideas from two then-unrelated song scraps (first of all, probably untrue; second of all, essential to the finished product’s charm), but I don’t have a source for that. And not coincidentally, the one song I’d place above it is a co-write, as is the first song I’d place below it – all done with genuinely respectable and well-known musicians (well-aged legend Mac Davis, whose claim to fame is having written for Elvis Presley — and Dan Wilson of Semisonic, about whom I know little but esteem solely for the classic “Closing Time”). Which suggests a couple obvious things…including the fact that Cuomo really ought to stop “writing” with “artists” like Aly & AJ, already.
(Quick aside: in addition to being a not-really-Cuomo-Cuomo composition, this is likewise a not-really-Weezer-Weezer recording. Cuomo sings and drums, Adams plays lead guitar and bass, and I’d have to see the credits to know but it seems like some of the band was made absent from these particular proceedings. The end result sounds great, so I don’t particularly care, but it’s something worth noting for what’s billed as a Weezer song.)
Green, on the other hand, is solely the work of Cuomo at his most dictatorial (and Weezer at their most fearfully compliant) – which, if nothing else, means we know who to credit and fault. Which brings to mind the point that Green’s also a faultless record, both in that it’s ironed and spitshined to the point of near lifelessness (bad) and that there’s not a bad moment on it (good). Great, in fact – what it largely lacks in excitement, it ably compensates with reliability and the last batch of perfect melodies (and harmonies) ever cranked out by the Cuomachine. There’s not an embarrassing thing about it, whereas Hurley boasts “Where’s My Sex” (of which I’ve only heard a brief clip, though it was a particularly Fred Durst brief clip) and a couple other tracks that may yet be cringeworthy, as well as a meme-joke of an album cover that should’ve been an impetus to come up with a new title rather than to settle on this one (yes, these things matter – compare that to the immaculate, Mikey-complemented style of the Green sleeves). In the end, I’m optimistic that Hurley will be a solid #4 and might even signal a promising change in the winds of Weezer, yet unfailingly skeptical that this could surpass or even match Album Number Three (chronological and qualitative).