Review: Weezer’s “Weezer (Red Album)” Deluxe Edition

Jun 9, 2008 12:22pm

  Weezer’s sixth album is much like their first and their third in the way that it’s a self-titled effort differentiated by it’s monochromatic cover.  The first album was blue.  The third album was green.  This one is red.  It’s also their most ambitious effort to date.  Their debut and its follow-up, the initially critically misunderstood but now classic “Pinkerton” unquestionably rank as their best records.  Surprisingly this album also stands at just as high a ranking.  This comes as somewhat of a surprise when you consider that their last album “Make Believe” was a huge, misguided disappointment.  Yes, the song “Beverly Hills” was a big hit, and it wasn’t awful, but it was more mindlessly flashy than thoughtfully dynamic.  Ever since the really personal “Pinkerton” album was initially not well-received, leader Rivers Cuomo’s lyrics have remained shockingly simple.  After “Pinkerton,” the band took a five-year hiatus, so the thought is that album’s chilly critical reception may been taken strongly.  Since then it seems like Cuomo has been lyrically guarded.  Now that revisionism has taken hold and the majority of Weezer fans now view “Pinkerton” as an underrated classic, Cuomo now feels comfortable to open up once again.  His lyrics still remain somewhat basic, but for the first time in more than a decade we are given more open access to the inner-thoughts of this enigmatic leader.  It’s funny that his lyrics remain straightforward considering he recently graduated from Harvard as an English major.  Given that fact, I’d expect a higher level of complexity.  Cuomo has also opened up in a different way.  For years, he was the only one who wrote or sang the songs.  It’s unclear what has happened to Cuomo in recent years but he has loosened up considerably because throughout the “Red Album” we get to hear songs written and sung by all four members of the band.  Maybe Cuomo is finally as confident as he should be and is willing to share the spotlight.   In any case, it’s an excellent move for the band.  This development makes this album a quintessential statement about the state of Weezer as a full-functioning band and not just as a mouthpiece for Cuomo.  He’s still the main star, but it’s nice to let the others shine as well.  The record opens with “Troublemaker” an easy-going rocker about being the lead singer of a band.  I guess Cuomo is writing about what he knows.  It would be a standard, boring look at life behind the curtain if it weren’t delivered in with a self-deprecating wittiness.  “I picked up a guitar.  What does this signify?  I’m gonna play some heavy metal riffs and you will die,” he humorously declares.  Elsewhere he sings, “And when it’s party time, like 1999, I’ll party by myself because I’m such a special guy.”  It’s the kind of power-pop infused self-aware material we have come to expect from Weezer.  They are back in their classic mold!  Ambitious actually doesn’t even begin to describe the second song, “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn.)”  It actually stands up well to its overstated, pompous title. It’s six minutes long and over that duration the song repeatedly changes and morphs in the mold of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” or  the two nine-minute suites Green Day put on “American Idiot.”  At its core is a piano melody that gets played beneath the ever-changing landscape. At the points where the music stops and makes room for an angelic-sounding, staggeringly complicated multi-voiced dose of vocal harmony, the track’s immensity becomes truly impressive.  Who knew Cuomo had something so stupendous in him?  It’s jaw-dropping.  Every little detail of the song is larger than life.  Cuomo obviously knows this.  Perhaps this is meant to be a way to show-up the critics who don’t give him his due.  He sings, “After the havoc that I’m going to wreak, no more words will critics have to speak. I’ve got the answers to the tangled knot.  Sleep tight in your cot.”  Well said.  This track may take a listen or two to digest, but I guarantee by the third listen you will be hooked and listening to it on repeat to catch all of the various details.  This is no three-chord pop number, it’s an epic rock-opera compressed into six minutes.  It deserves an equally stunning music video.  The single “Pork and Beans” is next.  Suddenly it’s 1994 again.  This plays like the true follow-up to their breakout single “Buddy Holly.”  All of the elements are there.  If ever there was a perfect Weezer track using all the band’s trademarks, this is it, from the self-aware lyrics to the almost crushing amounts of guitar distortion. This is a song you can’t help but want to sing along to.  In combination with it’s hilarious youtube parodying video, this makes for a hit for the ages.    “Heart Songs” is a softly beautiful nod to Cuomo and all his musical influences. It name-checks everyone from Gordon Lightfoot, to Quiet Riot, to Grover Washington, to Debbie Gibson and the Fresh Prince.  Such name-dropping could be bad if the track didn’t feel so genuine, but it does.  With this song Cuomo shows in his own delicate way that he has immersed himself in music history.  His passage about Nirvana’s “Nevermind” is key.  No doubt he’s hoping Weezer stands up in comparison to his idols.  I think he has nothing to worry about.  Many bands have already appeared with obviously Weezer influence.  He has crafted some “Heart Songs” of his own.    “Everybody Get Dangerous” is mosh-pit ready slice of party rock.  It doesn’t matter that it only really relies on two chords for the most part.  It’s packed with venom, steam and know-how and it’s guaranteed to get any party started.  Drummer Patrick Wilson really shines here.  I look forward to this song becoming a hit.    “Dreamin’” is five minutes long.  It’s a head-bobbing good time song reminiscent of the band’s 2002 single “Keep Fishin’.”  Somewhere in the middle though, it changes and gets softer with a nice vocal call and response between Cuomo and guitarist Brian Bell.  Together they build the song back up.  It’s Bell’s turn to take the microphone next and handle a song on his own on “Thought I Knew.”  It takes a moment to get used to Weezer songs not sung by Rivers Cuomo, but this is a hand-clapping, single-worthy track.  Bassist Scott Shriner next sings “Cold Dark World,” a song he wrote with Cuomo.  Shriner has a distinct rasp in his vocal tone.  It makes him a captivating performer. He does some impressive work here.  As if placed in a line, it’s now drummer Patrick Wilson’s turn and he delivers the full-throttle “Automatic,” which has a nice, in-your-face guitar-riff.  This also would make a stunning left-field single.  It sounds like something you’d find on a harder-edged Sloan album.  By opening up the band this way it’s almost profound to discover that they’ve essentially been holding out on us for the last 14 years.  How many great Weezer songs from the other members could we have gotten if Cuomo had let them contribute like this over the years?  They all have likeable, distinctive voices, so this move is like a revelation. The last track on the standard-issue album is “The Angel and the One,” a slow-moving but epic number.  It begins with Cuomo sadly singing “It’s not my destiny to be the one that you will lay with. So many reasons I have to go but want to stay here.”  Cuomo hasn’t been this nakedly honest and intimate sounding in years.  There’s a lot of sweetness here.  In 1996 when Nada Surf first appeared on the scene, they got a lot of Weezer comparisons, mainly because at the time both bands shared producer Ric Ocasek, and their song “Popular” loosely had a lot of the same qualities as Weezer’s “Undone – The Sweater Song.”  Since then, Nada Surf have developed a more delicate style which has made them respected champions in indie rock circles.  Here we see everything coming full circle, because with “The Angel and the One” we find Weezer mining similar territory.  These bands write very different songs from each other, but surely there must be some sort of mutual respect between them.    The U.S. “Deluxe Edition” of “The Red Album” sports four bonus tracks.  The first is the strange and occasionally off-putting “Miss Sweeney.”  The verses are flinching and uneasy with one coworker telling another he’d like to see her in his office.  All is going rather awkwardly until during the chorus part when he seemingly accidentally confesses his undying love for her. (“You make the rain clouds disappear. The sun always shines when you’re near.”)  It is at this point when the uneasy song structure becomes downright beautiful and sweeping. It’s a great save. The romanticism is felt in the epic guitar swell.  Odd as it might be, it works well! Next is the strangely-titled “Pig,” the story of a pig who as a piglet played in the mud, grew up, got married, had some children and died.  Yes, you read correctly.  It’s a lifetime of a pig in four minutes.  Like “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” seems to be a huge influence, for this song uses the exact same chords as that song’s main section, but it is still epic in its own right.  “Spider” is next.  All of these bonus tracks cover softer, more reflective territory than we are used to finding on a Weezer record.  This is a song about death centering on a spider preparing to go down a drain.  There’s frailty in Cuomo’s delivery, perhaps accentuated by the right amount of vocal reverb and acoustic guitar arrangement.  Once again Cuomo seems unusually tender, honest and open.  It’s refreshing.  The closer is a song called “King.”  According to the album’s liner notes, it was written and demoed by Cuomo but wasn’t picked for the album until Scott Shriner expressed his admiration for it.  Cuomo told him that he should sing it, and so he does.  Does he ever!  He was right to intervene and save this track.  It’s one of the strongest tracks the band has ever recorded.  It’s a song about two guys fighting over a slow-dance with a woman, and I believe Shriner is able to bring an authoritative gravitas to the table that Cuomo might not have been able to pull off. The song is slow, but it has a threatening element to it.  Something ugly is about to go down as Shriner sings, “You see, I own this town. If you want to get by then cool it down. If you want to start something, know one thing: I’m king. If you wanna mess around like that, that’s just how it is. If you wanna get by, then mind your biz. If you wanna start something, know one thing: I’m king.”  The bold way he sings it, there’s the feeling that if things go the wrong way someone just might get stabbed.  Cuomo is likeable and not the least bit threatening, so passing the song to Shriner was a bold, wise move.  In a perfect world, this track would get some airplay as well.  The only frustrating thing about “The Red Album” is that around the world, different “Deluxe Editions” of the album have different bonus tracks.  The most coveted is most definitely their cover of the Band’s “The Weight,” on the British edition of the album.  Thanks to someone uploading it to youtube, I have heard this and wonder why it didn’t make the cut on our version.  It’s a rather surprising, straightforward reading of the song with Shriner singing most of it and Cuomo handling the “Crazy Chester” verse.  During the chorus there’s a little bit of nice guitar distortion and the members positively nail the song’s vocal harmonies.  I’m calling for the people at DGC and Interscope to release this in the U.S. as well as any other rare B-sides or bonus tracks.  The members of Weezer have now, nicely hit a new stride and it is obvious that there is quality work we aren’t hearing.  In a global society such a move is maddening.  Why do people in the U.S., England and Japan all get different bonus tracks?  This version of “The Weight” would be received well here! With “The Red Album” Weezer have hit another high mark.  So high in fact that I’m almost willing to forget how embarrassing some moments on “Make Believe” were.  (Anyone remember the awful “We Are All on Drugs?”)  This album is beautifully made with excellent production from Rick Rubin, “Jacknife” Lee and the band themselves.  Weezer are back in their peak form and more functional than ever.  Dare I say that I very well may have a new favorite Weezer album! 

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