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Run Away

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).

Mrs. Young

When Rivers Cuomo opened up Weezer’s songwriting (and lead microphone) to his three bandmates on 2008’s Red Album, it struck both critics and fans as a surprising move from such a typically autocratic frontman. But the gesture was not nearly as unprecedented as Cuomo’s even more recent enthusiasm for collaborating on Weezer songs with outside songwriters, friends, and people of all walks of life — a la Raditude and Hurley. History has shown that Cuomo has been at least somewhat sympathetic to the idea of his bandmates stepping into the =W= limelight: scattered glimpses into the band’s demo troves from the early aughts show that guitarist Brian Bell was pitching material for 2005’s Make Believe (the lovely “It’s Easy,” the otherwise “Rat Race”), and Weezer even played live a song or two each by Bell and drummer Pat Wilson during their adventurous 2002 tour behind Maladroit. And though they remain unheard like virtually all material of the era, four Bell tunes were regularly rehearsed by Weezer at practices in 1998, though Cuomo (whose writer’s block had spurred Bell to bring forth the songs) balked at the suggestion of recording them as a demo for the band. And though Cuomo handled much of the writing and sings lead on the songs, three of The Blue Album‘s songs feature backing tracks largely composed by Wilson.

But before any of that, Cuomo collaborated with original Weezer bassist Matt Sharp on a song called “Mrs. Young.” Likely inspired by Cuomo’s recent composition “Jamie” (indeed, an early version of Sharps’s song is listed in the Recording History as “Jamie II”), it was written as an ode to Jamie Young, the band’s lawyer at the time of their signing to major label Geffen Records. Sharp approached Cuomo with a mostly-finished draft of the song in May of ’93 for help with a couple sections and vocal harmonies, which Cuomo provided — his voice can be heard on the demo, if not perhaps his playing too. However, it was mostly Sharp’s tune, and one for which he sang lead — and seeing how there were at one point serious plans to release it as a b-side for an indie “Jamie” single (scrapped when the band finalized their thoroughly restrictive contract with Geffen), “Mrs. Young” would have been the first officially released Weezer song for which Cuomo took the back seat as early as 1994.

Looking back, it’s a dang shame that didn’t happen. “Mrs. Young” is a great song — perhaps Sharp’s all-time best — and one that is, against considerable odds, actually worthy of the “classic Weezer” period from which it hails. Sharp’s warm and melodic voice has never sounded better, in my opinion, and there’s a charming magic to when that first Cuomo-harmonized, softly strummed chorus swells into an instrumental breeze of harmonicas and guitars. Things get a little predictable when the trademark Weez crunch amp comes in at the two-minute mark — though to be fair, they’d probably just discovered the sound back then — and it sounds great, making room for a fantastic little solo and the song’s heartfelt final stretch. It’s no “Jamie,” but it comes surprisingly close.

Like “Jamie,” though, there’s no way this song could’ve fit on Blue, let alone Pinkerton — but had Cuomo at least been open to the idea of letting other band members write for Weezer on a b-side basis (or, as we see with Wilson’s case on Blue, as co-writers), perhaps things would’ve turned out a little differently. I can imagine Sharp perhaps not starting his own Rentals project, or at least being satisfied enough with his creative role in Weezer as not to leave it (or be discontented enough to act so troublesome that the band had little choice but to give him the boot — whatever was the case). Bell’s knack for songwriting is hard to deny, and with Cuomo’s help (especially one as focused and clear-headed as was his mid-’90s self), I think some great songs could have come from the partnership. And Wilson’s contributions to songs like “My Name Is Jonas” and “Surf Wax America” (hell, even an old scrap like “Lemonade”) have shown that his collaborations with Cuomo can be immensely fruitful. And while Bell’s best work has been his own (Cuomo’s never collaborated with him, ridiculously — Bell’s abortive rewrite of “Private Message” doesn’t count!), I don’t think Sharp’s ever done better than this one on his own, and with the exception of 2008’s solid “Automatic,” Wilson’s solo contributions to the Weezer name have been forgettable at best (2002’s “Reason to Worry” and “The Story Is Wrong,” last year’s “In The Mall”). Had the band seriously explored the possibility of collaboration earlier (at least during the Pinkerton fallout), I think we’d be looking at a different — and perhaps likely — kind of Weezer today.

In any event, the post-1993 life of “Mrs. Young” has been pretty interesting. Once it became apparent that Cuomo was content to leave the song behind, Sharp erased his bandmate’s contributions and rewrote it as “Please Let That Be You” — changing it from a lo-fi, autumnal reminiscence to a nightlit electro-pop ballad (the chorus lyrics left virtually unaltered). It’s a bit of a downgrade, for sure — I feel like Sharp’s sad robot routine in the verses feel a bit forced — but it’s still pretty damn catchy, and one of the highlights of his solo project’s debut album Return of the Rentals. From there “Mrs. Young” seemed largely forgotten, however, eventually turning up on the Rentals’ 2001 fan club-only collection, Excellent Stocking Stuffer — which might well have been the first time the original Sharp and Cuomo demo surfaced to the public, now that I think about it.

But thankfully, the story doesn’t quite end there. Instead, at a now-legendary Matt Sharp solo acoustic show in February of 2005 at Cal State Fullerton, during which he was joined for a few concluding songs with Cuomo — marking the first time the two had performed together since Sharp’s last gig with Weezer in 1997. In order, they played an appropriately heavy-hearted take on “Mrs. Young” (Sharp changing the opening lyric, “Since you called yesterday, I have felt so swell,” to “like hell”), a new mostly-Matt song they had recently collaborated on called “Time Song,” and the Blue staples “Say It Ain’t So” and “Undone – The Sweater Song.” The performance of “Mrs. Young” is a little sloppy, from both Cuomo’s apparent lack of preparation (reading from sheet music) and Sharp being in sentimental singer-songwriter mode, but it’s quite moving nevertheless — especially in its lovely bridge (“stand by my side, always be true”). The two Blue songs sounded great (Sharp’s improvised 2pac quotation at the beginning of “Undone” is classic), and “Time Song” shows the outlines of a song better than at least 90% of anything each of them had have released with their own projects since ’97. It all made Sharp’s little aside about how they had been working on new material for a record genuinely exciting — but any hope for that was soon quelled when Weezer’s Make Believe came out and proved to be something entirely different than what most fans had wanted, and any news of a Cuomo and Sharp collaboration subsequently withered and blew away. The two have unfortunately never played together again, the last place they were seen together at all being Cuomo’s wedding in 2006.


The way back has never been the way forward, for you or for me or for all the good folks we know in Weezer. Like people (they’re made of ’em, after all), bands need to grow, develop, evolve — and in Weezer’s case, you can hear the sweet sound of progress in tunes like “Run Over By A Truck,” “The Spider,” “The Organ Player,” and “Pig.” Weezer are people, though, and nobody gets anywhere without making a few blunders along the way (some break down and cry; some rob banks, or murder; some release songs called “Cold Dark World”). Weezer’s fans are people, too, though, so it’s equally forgivable that sometimes they forget. Sometimes, Weezer fans want nothing more than a Weezer that plays it safe, that regresses, that simply sounds like they did back in those halcyon days of Blue and Pink.

Not me, I say — Weezer could record a free jazz record for all I care, as long as it’s bangin’ — but damn if this new one “Memories” isn’t more than just a little ironic. ‘Cause just when Rivers Cuomo decides to pen a song about wanting to “go back” (hey! I just listened to “The Good Life” this afternoon!) to the days when Weezer were a young and troublesome band of geeks banging out grade-A rock’n’roll (and pop, of course), the end product is something as far removed from those days as stylistically possible. I’m not sure if “Memories” is pop or rock or in what ratio the two relate during the song’s trim runtime, but whatever it is, it is bad in ways Weezer could have never imagined back then, and in ways Weezer fans could have scarcely imagined even by the standards of yesteryear. Say what you will about Raditude, but anything that we have from its sessions is preferable to this dreck, and the majority of Rad actually crushes “Memories.” Just like “Memories” crushes Weezer fans’ memories of Weezer more than any other of the band’s other (not uncommon) blunders, in that it not only sucks violently, it sucks violently while Cuomo is in the act of remembering when none of his music sucked. “Memories make me want to go back there,” goes the chorus again and again, and sweet damn do I ever find myself agreeing with him…which really isn’t my style! “Pig” might be my favorite Weezer song, dammit!

Okay, it’s a bit neat that Cuomo is screaming from the gut on this track like he hasn’t since the Kitchen Tape days that he’s singing about during the first verse, but only in theory (in practice, it sounds slop-poopy). And seeing how this song represents layer-upon-layer of sedimented nostalgia for Cuolmes — this is a 2010 revisiting of a song he home demoed in 2007, which was itself a revisiting of a song he wrote in 2003, about a time in his life roughly a decade prior to that — I can imagine that at one point or another, this song might have actually been kind of good. Hell, seeing how “Can’t Stop Partying” is at once one of the best (Alone II), worst (live in Korea ’09), and most confused (Raditude) things he’s ever done, there’s a chance that one memory of “Memories” might actually make for a great song (anything’s possible in Weezer’s universe, for better or worse). Because I’m a sick and miserable fuck, I’d really enjoy hearing every version of this song ever recorded and letting you know which is the best (Facebook me, Rivers) — but this new single version from the upcoming Hurley record cannot physically possibly be it. That’s how bad it is.

I’m talking in circles here, but in short: horrible verses (diseased melody, lyrics that go for quirky and wind up with fuck-stupid), one of the most remarkable spiritual deadzones ever placed in the “chorus” section of a Weezer song, a bridge and instrumental breakdown that do absolutely nothing, a grating self-congratulatory tone of wistfulness throughout, and jeez, yeah, that’s really all there is to this one-dimensional songscrap. This is the worst single Weezer has ever released, coming from a band responsible for insta-regrets on the order of “We Are All On Drugs.” This is maybe the worst album track the band’s ever released, actually, presuming this is Hurley‘s worst offering (which has never been the case for any =W= lead single, so…yikes?). And discounting “Cold Dark World,” too, because hey — people make mistakes.

Anyway, this right here right now is one too many for me, and I just needed to break the silence and share that with y’all while the wounds’re still fresh. I wanna go baaaaaaaaaaaack~~~

American Girls

It goes without saying that The Blue Album and Pinkerton are two very different beasts — the latter album’s commercial failure was proof that it was not the kind of record people expected after songs like “Undone” and “Buddy Holly.” But listening in hindsight, it’s clear that there’s a common thread between the two albums. Their songs feature the common traits of long, winding melodies (many of which were originally conceived as instrumental melodies on Rivers Cuomo’s guitar), harmonies that are deceptively complex (but seldom overdone), and lyrics that are by and large very direct and sincere (and yet somehow easy to misconstrue as ironic or lighthearted). And structurally, they all follow familiar verse-chorus-bridge structures, albeit with plenty of subtle changes deployed in the interest of being interesting (see: in “No One Else,” the way in which the vocals come in on the first beat for the first verse, and on the second beat for the second; or the endlessly winding structure of “Across the Sea“).

But after Pinkerton‘s initial tank, Cuomo made a very deliberate and marked change in his songwriting — and “American Girls” is the first fully-formed expression of his new musical mindset. It marks the beginning of his long obsession with rigidly strophic structure (i.e., the classic verse-chorus song structure, with very little variation between the first, second, and third of each; here, even many of the words simply repeat), one that would characterize the vast majority of his work from this early 1998 recording up through 2005’s Make Believe. There’s also the less personal, everyman-relatability of the lyrics: “Why are all American girls so rough? / Damn, a girl can’t ever hurt you enough.” And though the heavily produced piano and repetitive, looped beats are very uncharacteristic for Weezer, they’re not at all unusual for the kind of sanitized alterna-pop that was being made for the radio in the late ’90s.

Of course, this can partly be chalked up to the fact that although all “classic lineup” members of the band are featured, this song isn’t a Weezer recording, per se: it is instead the only officially released song by Cuomo’s more playful ’97/’98 side project, Homie. And furthermore, there’s the very interesting melting pot of musicians playing on the song: in addition to Cuomo (acoustic guitar, piano, lead vocal), Matt Sharp (co-production and background vocals), Brian Bell (background vocals), and Pat Wilson (live drums, “miscellaneous”), there’s Greg Brown of Cake (the tasty electric leads and solos), plus Sebastian Steinburg and Yuval Gabay of Soul Coughing (upbright bass and beat-looping, respectively).

Unsurprisingly, the result sounds like nothing else in the Cuomo canon (as lyricist, melodicist and lead vocalist, the song is more his than anyone else’s). It’s not the “goofball country” of Homie’s other material (none of which features any of the other musicians on this song), but it definitely has that goofy, summery vibe to it. Buried on the soundtrack of a movie called Meet the Deedles, it’s definitely a hidden gem — and essential listening for anyone hoping to craft a good mix for windows-down driving for the season upon us. A couple live bootlegs exist of the “Hard Rock Version” Cuomo played with his Boston cohorts at a few small gigs in late ’97, but the repetitiveness of this early arrangement is so insistent that the tune wears thin much faster than its later studio iteration.

Of historical interest is the fact that the studio version is the last time all the members of the “classic” Weezer lineup were present for a recording date. Sharp skeptics might be loathe to admit it, but it’s definitely a sad thing to hear his quirky falsetto in the second verse and know that it would never again be there to brighten the corners of another Weezer performance.

Kids/Poker Face

Once you get to a certain size and age as a band, it’s inevitable that you start making mistakes. A dozen million record sales and well over 15 years on the odometer definitely qualifies. And as the discography burgeons, with all its offshoots into outtakes, demos, and other strata of availability, the severity of a given mistake is a matter of its context. In Weezer’s case, for example, “I Don’t Want Your Lovin’” might be a truly abysmal song, but the fact that it remains a scratchy home demo one-take heard only by a self-selecting group of die-hards, it’s not that bad. It’s easy to forget; the blogs and critics never got a hold on it, there’s no Google cache record of the thing sucking so fiercely, its existence is a dark secret kept by the few who have heard it (and the fewer still who actually might kinda like it). “We Are All On Drugs,” on the other hand, was an ignoble blunder that was produced and distributed and shoved in people’s faces on a mass-market scale, and I’ve got the pink marble vinyl to prove it (which is the best thing about it, really). It’s definitely embarrassing, though thankfully most people seem content not to think about anymore; it was never a hit, the band never plays it live anymore, only dorks like me ever bring it up. And “Beverly Hills,” though many have come to appreciate it in some way or another, is largely remembered as such a gross offense because it’s one of those songs that’s come to define Weezer in the vague popular consciousness. Any dope brave enough to go about telling people Weezer’s his favorite band in 2010 is likely to have that lumbering schlock-rock riff hummed in his face, just like tons of people find a way to know the Beach Boys as little more than “that ‘Kokomo’ band.”

“Kids/Poker Face” started like a secret. The idea of Weezer playing the most covered/remixed/regurgitated song of 2008 (MGMT’s admittedly great “Kids”) in 2009 at a cellphone company’s day festival was a bit disheartening, especially when the band replaced the bridge with a painfully extended section from Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” as sung by a wig-wearing Rivers Cuomo (considering he shitraps the line “I’m bluffin’ with my muffin,” is it safe to say that hes’ veering into transexual territory?). But at it appeared to be a gimmicky one-off, the imaginationless mashup wasn’t really much to get worked up about. Besides, the band was being paid bushels to entertain a crowd that…well, probably mostly knew them as “that ‘Beverly Hills’ band.” Who cares, right? Hell, some folks in the audience probably thought “Kids” was a Weezer song!

But it wouldn’t go away. Soon, an official music video was issued. A recording of the song was released on iTunes as a Raditude preorder bonus track (almost hysterically bad in comparison to what it came with, the heartfelt and fantastic “Story Of My Life“). The blogs, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone wrote about it. There was no going back after that: it had become part of the canon. The stupid thing sank down a few notches, settling somewhere around the “All On Drugs” plateau of embarrassment.

But Cuomo doesn’t seem content to let it rest now, either. For the time being, it’s *still* a setlist staple, taking up 5 whole minutes of any given show (substantial stuff for a band that refuses to play any more than 80 minutes in a night), pushing out a theoretically infinite number of things most Weezer fans would rather hear. Meanwhile, MGMT have moved far from “Kids” (to the point that they only ever play the thing to parody it anymore) and are doing their psychedelic prog thing, while Lady Gaga has had about half a dozen (largely superior) hit singles in the meantime.

Though who cares about things like progress, anyway. This one’s there for all the folks in the crowd who came to see the “Beverly Hills” band.

Harvard Blues

It’s interesting that Rivers Cuomo notes in the sleeve for the Alone II demos compendium that by the time this little piece was composed — spring of 1997 — his ambitions to quit rock and become a classical composer by age 30 had already begun to wither. Even at the late date of 2008, when he wrote these notes, Cuomo was making excuses for himself: the first consideration he noted was that, while studying classical composition at Harvard, he was mostly just writing scholarly papers rather than composing much of his own material. Secondly, he felt that he couldn’t connect with the kind of classical they were brewing there in Boston: while Cuomo dug the emo-Romantic sounds of Puccini and Tchaikovsky, he found that “Harvard music…was modern, 20th century, atonal, serial, non-catchy and non-emotional.”

Of course, Harvard’s just one place he could’ve honed his craft, and a truly determined individual rarely dismisses artistic practice out of hand because of one or two bad teachers. Indeed, the truth comes out with Cuomo’s third point: his Puccini mancrush had done nothing but cause him pain, as the relative commercial failure of Pinkerton‘s Madame Butterfly-inflected rock’n’roll was, by early 1997, confirmed to be a no-go on the charts. And while one artist might have withdrawn deeper into his craft, perhaps dropping the rock and going full-out on the classical front as Cuomo had originally planned, this failure sharply stung the young man. How this would impact his songwriting was something that, in April 1997, remained to be heard — but by semester’s close, Cuomo had his heart set on the English major after all.

I mention all this as a preamble because this little piece, while “not a real song” (Cuomo’s words), reflects that the auteur’s experimental and explorative tendencies had not let up. His mind frayed to its limits by Ivy League academia, Cuomo made a sound collage out of a voicemail from his classmate Lucia, who had called to give him the details on an assignment that was given in a class he had missed, layering her voice at different speeds to create an altogether disorienting effect — culminating after 30 seconds with an anguished scream from Cuomo. (Whether or not it was one Cuomo intended to make, “Harvard Blues” serves as a witty comment in and of itself: at Harvard, even the blues are more intellectual than musical.)

In any event, this stands as a nice little lo-fi transition piece, which is how it functions just perfectly on Alone II: a great segue into the exhausted-schizo piano pop of “My Brain Is Working Overtime.” I almost regret that the randomized format of Teenage Victory Songs forces me to separate these tracks into separate discussions, but alas… The point remains: whereas the Cuomo of just a year or so later might find such a pursuit to be a waste of time, the Cuomo of ’97 was still interested in adventuring into sonic territory he had previously yet to chart. And though it would bear far less modest (and brilliantly inspired) results in the form of contemporaries like “Lover in the Snow” and “Rosemary,” this little audio paste-up is just as much a reflection of that creative curiosity as anything else.

Love My Way

I’ve already spent some time explaining why the Red Album b-sides were such a letdown, so I won’t belabor the point here. But it suffices to say that with “Love My Way,” once again some very incomplete fraction of the band covered a good song poorly — in this case, drummer Pat Wilson does a solo guitar/voice performance of a Psychedelic Furs song. The original is a cool ’80s cheese-noir dance tune; the “Weezer” cover is one that misses the obvious point (this song just doesn’t work without the vibraphone) and goes for a more spare, haunting arrangement.

‘Twas the idea, at least. I was a bit harsh on the other Pat-sung Red b-side cover “Life’s What You Make It,” giving a sort-of listenable thing “The Very Worst” tag on the basis of sheer disappointment — but this one truly deserves it. Boring, snoring, chlorine.

Run Over By A Truck

On March 24, 2002, Rivers Cuomo issued a “Fair Warning” to his fans on a certain Weezer message board, the contents of which simply read: “rock/rap.” It was a threat, and in the midst of 2002 it was one that resonated deeply — at the time the combination meant Rage Against the Machine at best, and garbage like Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park at worst (dire straits, either way). Unsurprisingly, the assembly of die-hards panicked as though Cuomo’s post were a telegram announcing tomorrow’s scheduled end of the world. His only offer of clarification or self-explanation read, “i am so not joking. i should have seen this coming. it’s the next break.”

Of course, the rap/rock album never transpired, but both before and since that “warning” Cuomo has incorporated many a shade of rap influence into Weezer’s music. And for the most part, whether or not that’s been successful has been a point of debate: the rapped verses and focused beat repetition/musical simplicity of “Beverly Hills” has never been a fan favorite, but won the band massive success as one of the biggest singles released in 2005 by anyone. “Mo’ Beats,” written in early ’02 (probably moments before or after Cuomo posted the aforementioned message board thread), is either one of the band’s worst songs or some kind of so-bad-it’s-brilliant transcendence. The Red Album‘s “Troublemaker” and “Everybody Get Dangerous” each employ hallmarks of hip-hop in both structure and vocal delivery, which Cuomo accredits to Eminem’s influence (despite neither sounding anything at all like Detroit’s finest). And the palpitations those fans first felt upon Cuomo’s horrible promise in 2002 finally became full-blown heart attacks last year, when it was confirmed that the list of outside collaborators for the Raditude album would include rap industry giants Polow da Don, Jermaine Dupri, and none other than Lil Wayne himself.

That said, there are at least two Weezer songs that incorporate hip-hop influences to brilliant effect. There’s Pinkerton‘s “El Scorcho,” the verses of which are the adorable, geeky white protagonist’s idea of rhyming (including a Public Enemy reference) — and then there’s “Run Over By A Truck,” written in 2007, recorded by Jackknife Lee at the tail end of 2008, and released as a Deluxe Edition bonus track for Raditude the following year.

It’s unclear as to what Cuomo’s ’07 home demo might have sounded like, but on the studio version the rap influence is quite clear. The verses sound like vintage Beastie Boys to these ears, and are — from a hip-hop perspective — certainly the best rhymes this white boy’s ever laid to tape. Cuomo dances about a boogie woogie piano shuffle, adequately on the first verse but really quite impressively on the second. True, there isn’t much to the A-B-C rhymes of “park”/”dark,” “club”/”love,” and “come”/”everyone,” but the pattern around the meter starts to get pretty cerebral in the second couplet (the identical rhyme of “foot”), especially as the interplay between the foreground and background vocals starts to escalate. It’s no Eminem, but it sure is a shock to hear coming from the “Beverly Hills” guy (and it definitely is better than some of the stuff on Relapse — sorry, Em).

That said, the rapped verses are just one of the many styles and influences Cuomo skillfully interweaves here — “Run Over By A Truck” is one of the best genre-blenders he’s mustered in ages (right up there with the likes of the ’93 demo of “Hot Tub,” for me). I already mentioned the 1930s throwback style of the piano (the second line of the song even references “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” a song from a 1946 Disney movie), but there’s a laundry list of other stuff swirling into the mix here: the first chorus has got a seriously fuzzed-to-fuckall guitar that I can’t even find a decent analog for (sounds great though), and the second chorus vocals have a production and harmony to them that reminds me of big glossy pop along the lines of Britney Spears (at which point Pat Wilson’s drums shift into a nice swing groove). Then comes the left-turn bridge, which is a composite of syncopated doo-wop backups, a scorching guitar lick that Brian Bell self-describes as “butterfly-picking,” and a lead from Cuomo that reminds me more than just a little bit — in both style and lyrical content — of Jellyfish, or a great Self b-side (PSA: if you don’t know Self, you need to do that).

Somehow it all works, and damn well. The lyrics are excellent as well: the “zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-day,” the lines that pointedly confuse languages (“I used to like to learn how to speak in Chinese / ‘O-Kudasai’ means ‘baby, would you please?'” — the latter being what Cuomo’s actually learned, Japanese) and sports (in the second verse, Cuomo claims to be playing basketball but winds up describing soccer moves), and his I’ll-take-anything approach to “the girls out in the club” at first sound like dashed-off throwaways. But then it sinks in that he’s evoking the feeling that the song is all about: feeling like you’ve been “run over by a truck,” in a total funk, devastated by something and unable to do anything. And as the bridge reveals, it’s a song meant to capture how Cuomo felt in the wake of his grandmother’s death. The age of the woman for whom the song is a requiem might explain all the delectable old-school genre references (and the way in which they’re tastefully intermixed with the more recent influences of big-dollar pop and golden age hip-hop), though I’m not sure whether or not Cuomo’s g-ma really did pass from this earth by way of a plane crash “on the way to see the Cleveland Browns.”


Regardless! This one’s a winner for sure, as far as I care one of the best songs Weezer recorded last decade or any other. And it’s a nice reminder that despite the occasional clinker, Cuolmes can do the rap thing just fine when he feels like it.

Now let’s just hope and pray that that ’02 Fred Durst collaboration never leaks…

I Want To Take You Home Tonight

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.


Looking at the original lyric sheet for the pre-Blue Album song “Paperface” is a pretty rare (and funny) treat. There is an aborted attempt at a verse that begins, “I played the game / I was all right / For a while / I didn’t fight,” which Rivers Cuomo scribbled over with an emphatic “CRAP” (made slightly ironic in hindsight, since those kind of lyrics aren’t too uncommon in his latter day songwriting). And there is what wound up becoming the song’s second verse, an autobiographical story of learning that it pays to be a fake in the competitive push-and-pull of Los Angeles — to “wear a paper face,” so to speak, which presents Cuomo with some struggles of authenticity (“How am I supposed to sing with this thing in my way?”). There are also two interesting marginal notes, a list labeled “Weezer” that was either meant to be a setlist or some early contenders for album material (notably including the unheard and fantastically titled “Spiderbitch”), as well as a note that says, “It sounds like something I heard before in a Spike Lee movie.”

The latter note probably isn’t a reference to this song, ’cause “Paperface” is a genuine slab of that angriest of white dude musics, punk rock. In fact, Weezer — then with Jason Cropper on guitar and backing vocals instead of his soon-to-be-replacement Brian Bell — have never attacked a recording with quite such unbridled energy ever again after the 1992 recording on the Kitchen Tapes demo. The guitars come surging right out the gates, and the larynx-lacerating scream that Cuomo and Cropper share moments later is more intense, primal, and unleashed than anything else ever to bear the Weezer name. Cuomo also indulges in a rare moment of third-person storytelling during that frantic first verse, crafting a thrilling vibe also unique in the band’s catalog before or since:

Amy Moore blew her top
Stole a car, shot a cop
Sped away — 2000 miles
Didn’t stop until she hit New Orleans
That’s all right
There’s just one thing…
Her wedding ring, or anything
She left behind, forgot to pack
How the hell is she gonna get it back!?

As the energy builds through the verse and into the narrative’s wry punchline, Cropper appears in the last couplet with some scream-shouted echoes that are pitch perfect (marking another distinction this performance has: Cropper vocals that actually fit!). The chorus offers no answer to that concluding question, but only the insane, blood vessel-bursting refrain: “PAPERFACE!!!! PAPERFACE!!!!” Fortunately, it sounds fucking great.

And so does that early Weezer acoustic arpeggiation that introduces the second verse (the same as the one originally written in Cuomo’s notebook), just before the electric comes roaring in with a pickscrape to tear the thing to shreds. The chorus reappears, twice as long as before, leading into a fantastic bridge that could make for a pretty good swing progression (if they slowed it down a few dozen BPM) but winds up collapsing on itself in an exhausted heap.

And this is where things really click. The acoustic reappears — this time shouldering the progression while a clean-cut electric moseys a melody around it — and Cuomo repeats the first verse half as fast as he did before. While the frenetic energy of the song’s opening made the mid-line pauses sound as though Cuomo was fighting to breathe through the bedlam, now he savors every moment of it, as if telling some sad bluesy tale almost too hard to believe. (I’d say it sounds like he’s the new east coast boy trying to fit in with the guitar-slingers in some Nashville bar, if it weren’t for what sounds like crickets in the background — so we’ll have to settle for a Nashville porch instead.) The bass, drums, and a third guitar add in for dramatic emphasis halfway through, but soon Cuomo loses control of the thing again, as the rhythm speeds up, Cropper challenging him with those scratchy back-up vocals of his. The chorus explodes once again, even more brutal than before, Cuomo testing out his vocal stamina as Cropper barks like a rabid dog and either of them pushes one of those wailing electrics into its death throes. It’s an intoxicating, lose-your-shit-or-protect-your-neck moshpit moment up until the very last chord.

This version — finally released in 2004 as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition reissue of Blue — is a real winner, and the one song “Getchoo” has to answer to in the raw rock power department. But in 2007 we got to hear this song in another, earlier light on Rivers Cuomo’s Alone II compilation — that of its original home demo. (Curiously, this was issued as “Paper Face,” with an added space.) For the most part, it’s a similar arrangement, but performed with a beat machine and some truly fuzz-smothered guitars. The tempo just barely lacks the velocity it needs to work, though, and everything here — from Cuomo’s vocal to the beat machine — sounds tentative and unsure. There’s also a different (and seriously cheesy) bridge that features awkwardly melodramatic lyrics — “Let’s see what you have got inside / Underneath your paperface” — and some very deep-voiced counterpoint in the backing vocals, an effect that was never repeated in Cuomo’s recorded history outside of maybe “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here.” The bridge is far from the best part of the Kitchen Tapes version, but the one here just doesn’t fit lyrically or musically, and really weighs things down — especially when the bridge is reprised as the song’s anticlimactic outro. But to his credit, I don’t think Cuomo included it on Alone II for its quality, but rather its humor. My favorite part is his hilarious vocal intro to the song, in which he acknowledges the performance’s shit quality by bragging that it’s a scratch track.

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that a new recording of this song was included on 2008’s Not Alone DVD. It’s an acoustic performance (not sure if Cuomo’s playing the guitar, but it’s got a surprisingly Brazilian bossa nova swing to it), which is interesting for a moment but ultimately ruined by an absolutely bizarre rendering of the chorus. It’s neat to hear Cuomo choose to revisit this song a decade and a half later, but this take is even worse than the original demo.

In short: wanna brush up on your Weezer archaeology and hear some strange little curiosities? Check out the solo Cuomo variations. Wanna get whiplash the fun way? Crank the Kitchen Tape.