Despite Weezer having been an active concern for almost 20 years now, the bizarre behaviour of mainman Rivers Cuomo has long served to distract from the LA band’s perceived worth. From putting the group on hold in 1995 while he underwent surgery to lengthen his left leg, to selling his house and car to fund his new calling of serving food to HIV patients in 2003, it’s a fair claim that Cuomo is one of the most fascinating rock stars of our time. It’s just a shame that such extracurricular activities have long shrouded an even stronger pitch for him being one of our most astonishing songwriting talents too.
His band’s sixth long-player is their third to be self-titled and in a now-traditionally nod to the record’s sleeve colour, fans are calling this ‘The Red Album’ – just as they named 1994’s eponymous debut ‘The Blue Album’ and the band’s 2001 comeback after a five-year sabbatical ‘The Green Album’. Musically, it’s a record that does much to further the claim for Cuomo’s songwriting greatness. Opener ‘Troublemaker’ is akin to a less angsty update of ‘The Good Life’, a choice pick from the band’s 1996 career benchmark ‘Pinkerton’, while single ‘Pork And Beans’ is a gold-star brain burrower. ‘Everybody Get Dangerous’ not only sounds like Devo gatecrashing the high school prom, but introduces the nonsensical word “booya!” into the dictionary of pop. ‘Heart Songs’’ cutely penned words trace the evolution of Cuomo’s influences (Springsteen, obscure LA hair metal band Quiet Riot, Nirvana “and Slayer taught me how to shred…”). ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’, meanwhile, is without question the most ambitious song Cuomo has ever penned, cramming a rapped intro, barber-shop harmonies and ornate music box twinkling into a six-minute geek-pop rewrite of ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’. All of the above makes ‘The Red Album’ the equal of 2002’s really-rather-good ‘Maladroit’, and infinitely better than the really-rather-overblown ‘Make Believe’ three years later.
On that last outing, Cuomo penned a tune called ‘Pardon Me’, where he went to great lengths to apologise for dictating the songwriting direction of the band since its inception. Frankly, he shouldn’t have bothered; what stops ‘The Red Album’ being a great Weezer album, is – for the first time ever – Cuomo’s invitation to his bandmates to sing and write songs too. Bassist Scott Shriner sings lead on the grungey ‘Cold Dark World’ and leaves it sounding more Nickelback than Nirvana, while stalwart guitarist Brian Bell unearths and retouches the pedestrian, Beck-lite moment ‘Thought I Knew’ from his side-project The Relationship. You can only assume his intention in doing so was to highlight what an outstanding songwriter Cuomo is. ‘The Red Album’ is a record that will leave you drawing the same conclusion. We wouldn’t bet against Cuomo deciding to leave the band and – who knows? – breeding baby elephants in the Rwandan outback to mask such truth, mind…