Rivers Cuomo is a deeply weird individual. After the spectacular success of [a]Weezer[/a]’s 1994 debut album – which pretty much invented emo’s melodic wing – instead of embracing rock-star excess, the singer enrolled at Harvard, painted all his walls and windows black and set to work on a bafflingly opaque ‘space-opera’. In more recent years, his hobbies have included meditation and picking up “barely legal” (his words) cyber-girlfriends on Weezer.com.
So it’s a shock, in 2009, to find this awkward, crabby outsider hurling himself headlong into the world of blockbuster pop, penning songs for [a]Katy Perry[/a] and covering [a]Lady Gaga[/a]’s ‘Poker Face’ live – a version of which appears on the deluxe edition of this, Weezer’s seventh album. There’s also a guest rap from [a]Lil Wayne[/a] on the synth-boosted track ‘Can’t Stop Partying’. Meanwhile, tracks such as ‘I’m Your Daddy’ come slathered in the kind of sugary guitar distortion last heard sellotaping together [a]Ashlee Simpson[/a]’s record.
Is it convincing? Not quite. It works when Cuomo’s skewering the hollowness of that world. ‘Can’t Stop Partying’ does that job admirably, poking fun at ghetto fabulous stars who “gotta have the cars, gotta have the jewels”. Mostly, though, he plays it straight: these are big, dumb, glossy pop songs, delineating a weirdly phony world of open freeways, jocks, mallrats and parties where hot girls put their hands in the air like they just don’t care. You long for a riptide of geek rage to undercut the slickness, but those moments are frustratingly rare.
Cuomo is not critiquing pop, he’s immersing himself in it: doo-wop pastiche ‘I Don’t Want To Let You Go’ finds him Xeroxing Diane Warren’s dog-eared book of romantic clichés: “The pain is killing me, but I can’t let it be”. Is this his authentic voice, how he really feels? It’s hard to believe.
The band are on more comfortable ground when they play to their traditional strengths. ‘Put Me Back Together’ is magnificent, a heartsore tale of nerd romance to rank alongside ‘Buddy Holly’. This being Weezer, it also boasts a truly heroic chorus. And this album is full of them: colossal, gleaming hooks, buffed to a Botox sheen. But given what we know about Cuomo’s eccentric inner world, it’s hard not to find those dazzlingly perfect melodies kind of hollow.
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