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The Story Of My Life

For years, “The Story Of My Life” was one of just several hundred unheard and unknown songs from one of Weezer’s many dark-age periods of apparent inactivity — one of the diehard fanbase’s favorite topics of speculation and obsession. This one comes from the period between 2002’s Maladroit and 2005’s Make Believe. It was a period rife with consistently delayed album release dates, breakup rumors, bustlings about a potential acoustic-only album that would find Weezer doing stripped down takes on previously released tunes while also focusing on new material, and a rotating lineup of folks not normally associated with the group (an uninterested Pat Wilson took a break from the band, leaving Josh Freese to have his first crack at the band’s drumstool; and Rivers Cuomo even did a quick and dirty jam session with the members of Sloan).

Even if most would agree that this protracted period of endless writing, recording, and soul-searching produced a very underwhelming album — Make Believe remains the band’s worst-reviewed disc — it is nevertheless one of the times in the band’s life in which fans are most interested. There are many reasons for that, but mainly because the unfinished scraps and ideas that have trickled out hint at a massive potential that the resultant album fell far of fulfilling. One such unfinished product is “The Story Of My Life,” an acoustic rehearsal demo curiously released as a preorder bonus track to 2009’s Raditude (an album that, perhaps not coincidentally, features the drumming of Freese). Although the recording history reveals this recording is from 10/05/03 (unless the 9/07/03 song “The Story” happens to be the same tune), we don’t know what the band’s intentions for it were: as official band historian Karl Koch has noted, the acoustic sessions at Rod Cervera’s studio that ended just a couple months prior (August 2003) were intended for that aborted acoustic album project, but we don’t know whether these Office sessions were also intended for that record or if they marked the beginnings of demos for the record that would become Make Believe.

Regardless, as far as just another name on a list of titles goes, “The Story Of My Life” is unassuming — surrounding songs with names as obtuse as “Ghosttown Life,” “Sun Off the Sea,” and “I’m Afraid (Lost Bread Crumbs)” seem to suggest much more interesting pieces. And yet, despite having apparently only been considered long enough for a single take, “The Story Of My Life” is a true gem.

The elegiac acoustic progression and haunting hummed melody that begin the song set the scene nicely for a tune of despair, and what might be the most legitimately “emo” lyrics Cuomo has ever written. In a rather beautiful melody filled with enjambed pauses (sort of like that of “Island In The Sun“), he begins: “You and me don’t / hang together / All we say is” — and here, Brian Bell adds in with a perfectly wan harmony — “Pleasant weather.” The chorus is just as direct: “Listen to me, if you have the time / I’m all alone in the story of my life / Nobody cares if I live or I die / I thought that you should know / Some people never know / I hope you never go away.”

It’s simple stuff, almost to the point of being amateurish — and that, when considered with the supremely melodramatic lyrics, is what I mean when I say this is about as emo a thing as Cuomo’s ever written (especially considering he’s a man in his mid-30s here). Judging by the lyric sheet, this could easily have been the second or third song written by a kid somewhere between 8th and 11th grade — which, judging by dreck like “I Don’t Want Your Lovin’,” is a perspective Cuomo (sometimes eerily) embraced during this period. But where the (pre?)adolescent lyrics of “Lovin'” couple with similarly trite music to a laughable degree, “The Story” bespeaks Cuomo’s maturity as a tunesmith: the melody, progression, and harmonies are all lovely, lovely things. Simple, too, but just right — as with that descending minor figure, lightly touched by subtle arpeggiations, that appears beneath the “you should know” post-chorus. Moreover, Cuomo and Bell’s vocals are delivered with believable emotion (something the predecessor Maladroit almost completely lacked, and the successor Make Believe frequently struggled with) — and that’s what makes the whole thing work.

The (curiously electric) guitar solo doesn’t hurt, either, as it spins longing circles around the heavy-heart downstrokes of the acoustic progression, however half-buried in this rough demo mix it may be. And the gutting outro — a wailed, anti-meditative mantra of, “I’m all alone!” — does everything it has to eliminate any residual doubt about Cuomo’s sincerity in this song.

Coupled along with other winners from the era like “I Was Scared,” “I Can Love” and “It’s Easy,” a song like “The Story Of My Life” indeed thickens the plot surrounding that 2003-2004 dark age in Weezer history. It’s enough to make a guy salivate for the forthcoming Odds & Ends compilation, even if he knows that alone can’t possibly sate his appetite.


Although The Green Album is almost universally considered Weezer’s strongest offering of the past decade — some fans even ascribe it the “classic” status usually reserved for the band’s first two albums — there remains a consensus that the record is a bit of a missed opportunity. In 2002, not even a year removed from the record’s release, Rivers Cuomo himself wrote an email to Weezer fan Ridd Sorenson with the following thought:

Do you think it’s possible that the songs on Green are actually really good and that we just choked in the studio? I mean, not just me, but all four of us in Weezer. I feel like if we had managed to attack the songs with more conviction, people wouldn’t have noticed the things like impersonal lyrics or repetitive song structures as much.

It’s a bit crass of Cuomo to have chalked the blame up to “all four of us in Weezer” since Green is the Weezer album over which he asserted the most dictatorial control, but his concerns here ring true: simply put, the pointedly undercooked and dashed-off vibe of the album compromises the immense potential of its material. “Hash Pipe,” “Island In The Sun,” “Photograph” and “Knock-Down Drag-Out” are about as fleshed-out as they need to be, but there’s a definite sense of the incomplete and undeveloped in the other six tracks on the record (and not in an artful, Kafkan sense). It’s no coincidence that most Weezer fans can agree that until the fourth or fifth attentive listen of the record, about half of the tunes are hard to distinguish from one another.

For my money, “Smile” is the song that most embodies this deepest flaw in the album’s design. It is perhaps the standout melody on an album full of truly great ones, wedded to a chord progression to match; the lyrics, although a little obtuse (more on that later), are befitting and quite gorgeous; and the double-Cuomo, stadium-reverbed harmonies provide an epic majesty to the song’s delivery. But the arrangement is characterized by the same overdriven guitars, buried bass presence and barely-interesting drumming as is the rest of the record — and the super-compressed production quality is just as flat and sterile. It’s a beautiful song, but it feels like it’s smothering itself in the trappings of Green, which would explain why it takes much longer to enter the listener’s consciousness as a highlight track before, say, “Island In The Sun” or “Photograph” — though I would argue that the potential wrapped inside of “Smile” is much greater than that of either of those songs.

To wit? Well, we have two examples. The first comes from this montage of footage from the recording of The Green Album:

The clip is an odd and entertaining one (it’s very endearing to see the band acting like a bunch of teenagers at the sunset of their twenties, as if getting the last of their adolescent giggles out), but fast forward to the 7:15 mark and you’ll be treated to a rather muffled take of Cuomo playing “Smile” by his lonesome on the piano (an instrument that makes not one appearance on Green). Because of the atmospherics of the room, it’s instrumental as far as we can hear for the most of its duration, but the true beauty of those chord changes comes to light when you shear away all the chugging guitars and vacuum-sealed compression. At around 7:44 you can hear Cuomo singing very beautifully, and as he shifts into the bridge I hear a resemblance to “Hey Jude” that would otherwise be completely undetectable in the song. It’s a very moving little clip, and one that makes me hope that a pared down recording of this song exists in some form or another — and that we might eventually get to hear it.

Another example is a cover by the Japanese band Sumrus, which can be found on the Across the Sea tribute album. If you can get by the absolutely awful accent of the lead singer (“Oben tha door and let stuff come down / Ober tha warl you’re spinnin’ lound ‘n louw…”) and appreciate the brilliance of the arrangement, the fact that Weezer practically murdered this song’s potential in the studio becomes difficult to deny. The ethereal quality and slow build of the first minute is breathtaking — from angelic clean arpeggios to overlaid acoustic harmonies, feedback squall and sinewy bass, the song evokes a perfect blend between Weezer and Jesus and the Mary Chain before the drums even enter. The lovely brief instrumental break, the orgasmic Pinkerton shredding of the guitar solo, and the quiet piano outro are all relatively obvious moves, but they’re fucking perfect for the song, and if Weezer had spent the couple extra days they would’ve needed to come up with arrangements like these for this and the other five blatantly undercooked songs on Green, we would have had an album truly worthy of “classic” status. A take on this version performed with the mastery of a clear-headed Weezer and the beauty (and, erm, enunciation) of a Cuomo lead vocal would be absolutely stunning.

The MP3 of “Smile” as covered by Sumrus, for a limited time only!

I’d be remiss in not mentioning a few of the other versions of this song floating around out there. First of all, there’s an “Early Green Album Leak” version of “Smile” that goes by its original title “Inside A Smile.” But the title isn’t the only thing that’s longer, as it reveals that the concise 2:39 of the officially released version was once 3:21 — though I think the band were wise to trim the recording down to its essentials. Also noteworthy is that the album version lyrics of “Standing there deep in front of you / Take a look inbetween my eyes” was formerly “Standing there in the ocean blue / Take a look deep within my eyes,” and I can’t quite decide which I prefer: I like the obtuse quality to “deep in front of you” (what’s “deep in front of you” mean, exactly?), but the dream-like associations of standing “in the ocean blue” — while a little cliched — are quite nice, and do fit that epic/majestic vibe of the recording I mentioned earlier. Perhaps it would’ve been nice to have both on the record, alternating between the two, but that’s a point almost too minor to fuss over.

The band also posted several live versions of this song on their official website during the Extended Hyper Midget Tour of 2002, including the one from their appearance on HBO’s Reverb program. The solo’s slightly improved, it’s nice to hear Brian Bell on the harmony instead of a second Cuomo, Pat Wilson’s drums are a little more alive and it’s cool to have more bass presence, even if it’s Scott Shriner playing the thing and not Mikey Welsh. There’s also a pretty funny 12/02/01 take that begins with Cuomo asking the crowd for requests, and replying to the unintelligible din of screams with a simple, “Cool. This is probably not what you want to hear” — very typical of his Maladroit asshole phase (as is the directionless solo). Lastly, I have a performance from what I believe is a 2005 tour, in which guitarist Bell inexplicably takes to lead vocals and the piano for a rather cheesy, wanking performance that is far from the beautiful sound of Cuomo rehearsing it on piano some four or five years prior.

Lastly, I can’t get out of this post without mentioning the popular fan theory that this song is at least partially about oral sex. Lines like “The way you wanna wrap me up / Inside a smile” and especially “Water me, girl, and let me ease the drought” (really, what other context would that second one make sense in?) lend the claim some legitimacy…Making such a pretty ballad into a hidden ode to fellatio might be unprecedented in the Weezer canon, but it’s not something I’d put past the mischievous Cuomo of the early aughts. (For a blunter insight into this theory, listen carefully to the line “Your fine face I can’t take” and think of what it might be commonly misheard as…)

Your Room

This song first surfaced during an SnS demo sessions dated 9/6/01 (bassist Scott Shriner’s first recordings with Weezer, if I’m not mistaken), and appeared many more times on the way to Maladroit, the album it failed to make. It was played with some regularity on the band’s Extended Hyper Midget Tour of late 2001, four instances of which were posted to the band’s official website as free downloads. From there, six studio demo versions of the song from the Mala sessions were released that same way, dated between 12/20/01 and 1/12/02.

For all the time that apparently was spent on it, it’s remarkable just how little “Your Room” developed or improved in its life as a Weezer song. Not that it was much of a song to begin with: it’s essentially two minutes of circular, destinationless riff-rock that has two haphazard vocal sections that we might as well call “the chorus” (they’re identical). Some versions are a little bit better than others, though the differences are largely immaterial — though if someone were to threaten violence in forcing me to listen to this song, I’d probably choose the 12/08/01 live take or the 12/20/01 studio version.

You’re coming up worlds away
There’s nothing that I can say
And all of these games you play
Will lead you to your room

That’s the lyric sheet in it’s entirety, and while I found a lonely comment on this song on SongMeanings by some guy convinced that this is a song about a girl who cheats, it clearly means fuck-all — whether you’re the listener or Rivers Cuomo himself. As for this here chorus section, the way the second line creates some tension with the chord progression (especially as Brian Bell parenthetically echoes, “I can say”) is a nice little musical moment that is just about the song’s sole redeeming factor in my book — far from sufficient for me to ever seek it out, but that moment would be one that could fit nicely in the context of a “real” (better, finished) song.

“Your Room” in a nutshell? Not good, not awful, and no real reason to exist.

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.)

How Long

Some may complain ad nauseum about Raditude‘s unprecedentedly pop-minded leanings, but Maladroit outtake “How Long” is proof that the idea of Top 40 pop/rock has produced far worse things in the mind of Rivers Cuomo. I have six versions of this song in my iTunes, dated between 12/19/01 and 1/09/02, and while there’s some variation in backing vocals and the guitar solo here and there, in any form it is one of the most offensive tunes in the Weezer catalogue. This is grating, in-your-face mall punk a la Good Charlotte or Yellowcard, and it really is amazing just how much everything here unabashedly blows, from one-dimensional lyrics like “Two plus two, me and you / Strolling down the avenue” — which isn’t even coherent, if you pause to think about it — to the unimaginative riffs, structure and arrangement. I’m listening to the fifth version I have of the song right now, and the pain I have come to associate with that opening guitar lead line is nigh unbearable. What’s scariest about this fucking thing, though, is that unlike certain Maladroit scraps — “Serendipity,” “Change the World” — there is a very obvious degree of effort and ambition in this song, and given the insulting worthlessness of the final product, that realization is a strange and haunting one. Perhaps someone has something interesting to say about “How Long” in the comments, but personally, I cannot bear to think of this one any longer.

I Was Scared

When “I Was Scared” first leaked with the rest of Rivers Cuomo’s Alone II home demo volume in 2008, there was a fair amount of speculation revolving around how this song — an apology set to lyrics — might have been written for Mikey Welsh. Welsh was a bassist who, to paraphrase a 2005 Alternative Press Weez feature, joined the band when few would have dared (circa 1998, the “dark ages” of Cuomo’s songwriting and career) and was forcibly ejected in 2001, when Weezer weren’t at all a bad band to be (fresh off the platinum comeback Green Album). The long and the short of it is that Welsh had dwindled deep into an addiction to hard drugs and had lost enough weight to compromise his ability to continue; he checked into a rehab facility in Boston and the band moved on without him. Scott Shriner was named a temporary bassist for the second half of 2001, but the band never offered Welsh his place back and Shriner went on to become the third and final bassist for Weezer. Welsh’s comments on exactly how Cuomo explained his severance rationale to him have been strictly off-record, but the reporter who wrote that same AP cover feature has said it is “more fucked-up and insensitive than [one] could possibly imagine.”

As tends to be the case, the fans’ speculation proved unfounded: Cuomo’s Alone II liner notes specify how, after a Vispassana meditation retreat in 2003, he felt compelled to write a song about an incident in high school wherein he sheepishly allowed his brother Leaves to get beaten up by a gang of bullies. This had apparently caused Cuomo a level of subconscious guilt for some 15-or-so years, which he finally exorcised in writing this buoyant pop tune.

It’s an interesting one: the song’s opening bassline falls somewhere between the Pixies and blink-182, and the first verse is largely spoken word — which, bolstered by the occasional half-buried falsetto embellishment and an upper-register harmonic chord on the electric guitar, actually works. Delivered in a conversational and confessional tone, the lyrics work wonderfully:

Listen to me, I’ve got to clear the air
There’s something I’ve held way down deep inside all these years
You always were a friend
You always trusted me
But now I must admit that I was not trustworthy

“Air” and “years,” “me” and “trustworthy” — actually some neat rhymes there! The chorus does the predictable Weezer power-pop-explosion thing, but is floated by an impassioned delivery on the lead vocals (“I was scared! I was terrified!” — kind of like “First I was afraid, I was petrified,” now that I think about it…) and a nice wall of “ahh-ahh” backing vocal chords. The post-chorus 180 into a miniature 4-bar guitar solo is a nice surprise, too.

The song’s best moment is a surprise even greater, though: after the second chorus, the song scales into an absolutely magnificent bridge, building against the cascading weight of downstroked guitars, lush backing vocal counterpoint, and a lead vocal that not only drips with emotion — “Though I loved you, I was so afraid” — but makes a soaring, spine-tingling reach into a nigh-falsetto melody. The song itself is quite solid, but this brilliant moment — only slightly hampered by Cuomo’s subpar drum skills — is one of the best to come from his pen and heart ever since Geffen declared Pinkerton a lost cause.

The song’s mostly done all it does by then, though the last verse is no slouch: there’s a very cool, dramatically out-of-key guitar chord that comes halfway through, and Cuomo’s awkward, rushed-to-fit-in-the-meter promise that “I might get my ass beat, my throat slit, and my fingers hacked / But I’ll never miss another chance to watch my brother’s back, and I got yours!” is not only adorable but also the kind of heart-on-sleeve honesty and informality that once colored some of his best lyrics. The song rocks and rolls to a triumphant conclusion and we feel that Cuomo is all the better for it.

Why this song didn’t make the cut for Make Believe is hard to say — it is, at least in this form, a far more convincing apology song than the version of “Pardon Me” that we all know, and seems to be very poppy and accessible while also retaining a lot of character and musical complexity. In any case, its placement on Alone II is something to celebrate, and in my opinion, is proof that Vispassana really breathed fresh creative life into Cuomo rather than drained it of him. The only thing it leaves me wanting is an Alone III and an apology song that is, in fact, for Welsh — I think you know he deserves it, Cuolmes.

It’s Easy

Folksy, simple, and all around a very nice little ditty written and sung by Weezer guitarist Brian Bell. Although this song was released as a bonus track for The Red Album (the official coming-out party of Bell, bassist Scott Shriner, and drummer Pat Wilson as lead vocalists on a Weezer record), the performance here is actually culled from one of the many acoustic demo sessions held for 2005’s Make Believe. Apparently per the urging of band archivist Karl Koch himself, “It’s Easy” belatedly became one of the few pre-Red examples we have of non-Rivers Cuomo songs being pitched and seriously considered for Weezer (joining the ranks of Bell’s “Yellow Camaro,” Wilson’s “Reason to Worry” and “The Story Is Wrong,” and original bassist Matt Sharp’s Blue-era “Mrs. Young”).

As the only recording we have of it (and evidently the best one there is), “It’s Easy” is a breezy acoustic jam built on a couple acoustic guitars and an acoustic bass. It’s a very warm and organic arrangement, with a beguiling little run up and down the fretboard at the end of the progression. Bell’s Tennessee boy lead vocal fits the bill perfectly, especially with such breezy and agreeable lyrics: “Let’s not be mean to each other / There’s no need for name-callin’ / There’s no need for chain-ballin’ / Let’s be nice, babe, it won’t kill us.” Hard to argue with that, especially with Shriner and Cuomo harmonizing behind him oh-so-fine.

The chorus finds Bell catching his girl in a lie, placing the song in league with his Red Album cut “Thought I Knew” — which many Weezer fans grumbled was far inferior to “It’s Easy,” as Weezer fans are wont to do. I see where they’re coming from, but considering that “Thought I Knew” sounded quite nice in demo form as well, perhaps it’s best that we never got an arrangement of “Easy” with laser drums and million-dollarproduction.

But surprisingly enough, Weezer might have agreed in retrospect: for the band’s 2008 AOL Sessions in support of Red, “It’s Easy” got an airing instead of “Thought I Knew.” It’s a nice performance that trades in a few of the demo cut’s harmonies for the luxury of having Rivers beneath a beret and behind a cocktail drumkit. Bell plays even more into the victimized chorus with a new couplet: “All this time we could have got along / Instead we bitch and moan, you done me wrong!”

Oh, and Wilson’s extended guitar solo is a nice added touch. The band seems to enjoy playing it quite a bit, so perhaps it really is a shame this tune wound up being pushed into the margins.

The Bomb

Rivers Cuomo’s home demo cover of “The Bomb” ain’t much to revisit, but it sure is interesting for a single listen. First of all, this is a pre-Blue era cover of an Ice Cube song, of all things — the closing track from his 1990 West Coast rap magnum opus AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.

That alone tells us a lot: we know Cuomo’s influences of the time heavily leaned in the direction of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, his ’80s metal heroes, a bit of classical and the then-contemporary grunge explosion (which, as this was recorded Fall 1992, was in full effect). In the Alone liner notes Cuomo recalls how he and his original bassist Matt Sharp tried to avoid traces of any “funky” influence in Weezer, being of the opinion that white bands should avoid trying to sound like black musicians at all costs — but the fact that he was interested enough in early gangsta rap to record a cover of this song is significant, not only suggesting that in those days Cuomo had a wider palette than was readily apparent, but also foreshadowing the future integration of hip-hop influences in Weezer’s music. (If this blog had footnote capabilities I would use one here to mention two faults in Sharp and Cuomo’s logic: the first being the fact that rock’n’roll itself, although a predominantly white genre for the past few decades at that point, was originally one of black invention; and the second being that very palpable traces of soul and even the usptroked guitars of reggae dominate the verse of “Say It Ain’t So,” one of the best songs Cuomo has ever written. Oh, footnotes; if only…)

Ahem. As for the cover itself, it takes some pretty interesting liberties with the source material. Cuomo chops down the 3:25 runtime of the original to a paltry 1:18, and distills the Bomb Squad production team’s heavily layered collage of samples into a spare mess of sloppy drumming, a rumbling one-note bassline, some squiggly synths and a severely cracked-out funk guitar solo. And of course, there’s Cuomo’s rap delivery, which boldly attempts to flow at a pace considerably faster than that of Ice Cube himself. The end result sounds a bit like an early Beastie Boys demo, with some punk rock DIY aesthetic and Cobainesque screams tossed in for the hell of it. A kind of audio purgatory, if you pause to evaluate it, but a compelling curiosity nevertheless.

In short, “The Bomb” is the kind of personal Cuomo ephemera that represents the lighter side of the Alone series — and while it’s not something likely to garner repeat rotations, it’s definitely an artifact worth preserving.

Waiting On You

After 21 northeastern winters in a row, I’ve grown pretty damn sick of the season. The cold always seems to pierce through my woolen layers and straight to the bone; the already sickly social scene at my college seems to fall headlong into a frost-bitten coma; and if there’s any magic to be found in snow anymore, it’s eluded me for at least a few years now. One of the few positives I still associate with winter is the brutal, unforgiving insecticide that comes with it.

Another would be Pinkerton. It’s an album that can be enjoyed in any season, but one that fits best in the kind of lonely, New England winter that birthed it. The music wields the same bitter sting as does a harsh wind chill, yet has a sort of kinetic warmth to it, vital and angry and hot-blooded. There’s enough friction between the guitars to start a fire, enough vitriol in the vocals to heat an empty apartment — lord knows I’ll be sweating by the time I’m done singing and thrashing along with it, no matter the temperature outside.

The same can be said for the album’s incredible clutch of b-sides, songs so good that they give their incredible parent album a run for its money. Taken as individual works separate from their overarching theme and cohesion, half the songs on Pinkerton proper would have a hard time matching the strength of a rock’n’roll behemoth like “Waiting On You.” Even acclaimed and often-hilarious music critic Mark Prindle — whose general hatred for Weezer is no secret — swoons for this one, noting in his review of the The Good Life EP:

I haven’t listened to the first couple Weezer albums in years, but if their guitar tones are anything like the one in “Waiting On You,” it’s no wonder I gave them such high grades! It’s basically just a ’50s love ballad, but the guitars are like BLACK SABBATH heavy! There’s also a nice Flaming Lipsy guitar line after the chorus…

That’s a pretty good summary of Cuomo’s musical influences of the time: classic pop songwriting, guitars weighted by a heavy dose of metallic angst, and a bit of contemporary indie rock flavor — during a 2008 radio interview, Cuomo admitted that the Lips’ sound was a big inspiration for that of Pinkerton.

There’s much more than that going on here, though. Musically speaking, there’s the fantastic falsetto melody Cuomo sings during the intro, one of the more obvious antecedents of his Puccini crush of the time, as well as the great vocal counterpoint Brian Bell provides on the chorus — and the reference to Harry Nilsson’s 1968 classic “One” in the line, “Mine is the loneliest of numbers.” It’s a song built on the traditions of ’50s and ’60s pop, ’70s and ’80s metal, ’90s rock, and early 20th century opera — all references that are executed with subtlety and panache, creating something that is bold and unique but manages not to insult your intelligence or palette by making it all too obvious.

And even after taking the  brilliant songwriting into account, there’s yet more: this song reeks of unashamed, human emotion. In a melody gorgeous and harmless enough to be a lullaby, Cuomo drops his guard and asks why he hasn’t heard from a love interest in a while — “I need to know,” he pleads. “Now is the loneliest of times,” he despairs with Bell on the chorus, a bit out of sync and disoriented. It’s a song about being off, and knowing it — the girl’s call wouldn’t be “nineteen days late” (and counting) if Cuomo had it together, right? “Still, I sit and wait,” he admits. “Waiting and waiting on you.”

Of course there’s anger, too, in the acrid jealousy that starts to seep into the second verse: “Who have you been seeing, that made you forget me? / I bet you called him… / Where does he come from? I bet he lives close by / I bet he’s ‘just a friend!'” (Is it safe to add Biz Markie to the list of references in this song!?) And Cuomo’s tortured shouts before and between dancing around Bell’s vocal lines on the second chorus just drip passion, especially when the rising guitar line that enters at the 3-minute mark starts to push up against them. Cuomo’s operatic vocal re-enters, this time wedded to words — “I asked you if you had a good heart / You answered ‘Yes, I’ll never do you harm'” — a sad, fading mantra amidst a growing din of vocal interplay from Bell, tom rolls and cymbal rushes from Pat Wilson, Matt Sharp’s bass runs, and feedback swells spiraling out of Cobainesque anti-solos. The ending canon to “God Only Knows” is musical proof of how heavenly love can be: the ending cacophony of “Waiting On You” shows the lonely flipside, an ugly and maddening hell.

Some things never change: perhaps the biggest complaint about the Weezer of the 2000s is the consensus that they have never once sequenced an album to contain the best material of its respective era. The same could be said for the band’s two ’90s albums, to be honest, but the difference there is that while “Waiting On You” might make a song like “Why Bother?” sound like child’s play, it was wisely left off the album for considerations of sequencing, flow, and conceptual unity. The end result is a couple great albums with some surprisingly great leftovers; something like The Red Album, on the other hand, winds up being a frustratingly haphazard mess with frustratingly superior outtakes.

“Waiting On You” actually predates not only Pinkerton, but even the release of The Blue Album, written immediately after the latter’s classic b-side “Susanne.” Although it made neither of the embryonic tracklist proposals, it was written as a part of Cuomo’s aborted Songs From the Black Hole space-rock opera, although no alternate lyric sheets exist to my knowledge. A couple alternate versions do, though, including a hissy Ft. Apache demo that replaces Cuomo’s operatic vocal line with a synth organ, and in fact has no lead vocals at all but only a few scattered backing harmonies. The song also got a rare live performance in 2008 at Cuomo’s Fingerprints in-store “hootenanny” jam with die-hard fans, a shaky but admirable one-take featuring something that sounds like some kind of middle school woodwind — as documented on the Not Alone DVD. Both are worth a listen for Weezer specialists, but no else in his right mind would give a shit.

A damn fine song, regardless, and one more reason to get excited for the forthcoming Pinkerton Deluxe two-disc release. Might wanna release that one while winter lasts, fellas. ‘Tis the season…

Oh Jonas

Yet another interstitial piece from Rivers Cuomo’s unfinished space rock opera Songs From The Black Hole, this scrappy, 26-second demo was officially released on 2008’s Alone II solo home recording compendium. Written and recorded in 1995, before Cuomo’s first term at Harvard (and the shift from operatic concept album about interstellar travel to opera-inspired concept album Pinkerton), “Oh Jonas” is meant to be a moment of introspection for the storyline’s Maria character, whose love for Jonas (Cuomo’s analogue, the tale’s tragic hero) goes unrequited even as Jonas indulges in platonic sex with her — hence the interlude’s alternate title, “Maria’s Theme.” As such, Cuomo’s vocal performance on this song is pitch-shifted to the point of barely sub-Chipmunks nasality, meant to be ultimately performed by the Dambuilders’ Joan Wasser (as the project went incomplete, this of course never happened).

It’s a pretty, modest little soundscape that is here characterized by the awkward, makeshift Cuomo-as-female production and a hasty job on the instruments, but it provides the template for a really beautiful little songlet — further evidence that a finished Black Hole album could have genuinely competed with the brilliant Pinkerton it ultimately became. As it is, though, “Oh Jonas” is a fun little curiosity for the die-hards and no one else.