Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The decade that Rivers failed

The shortcomings of Weezer amount to more than just a bassist switch-up. It’s become a grim, quixotic spectacle.

Frontman Rivers Cuomo’s shrugging off his Harvard degree and his musical talent, it seems, to be a lot like Phil (played by Ty Burrell) from the ABC sitcom "Modern Family," the middle-aged dad with his youth cryogenically preserved on the inside, trying to please everyone, and in turn, please himself. Phil’s sometimes as wide-eyed as a little kid or salivatory as the feral, airborne canine on the cover of Weezer’s Raditude (coined by actor Rainn Wilson), the seventh album out today.

Cuomo’s a little different from Phil in that he longs to be “the greatest man that ever lived” and live in Beverly Hills. In spite of his denial, he’s a melancholy, tortured genius who’s lost his spark and instead gained the will to pander. Contradictions in the catalogue are abundant: Weezer was “tired of sex” in 1996 but says quite the opposite in Weezer (The Red Album)’s “Cold Dark World" ("I'll be here to sex you.") “In the Garage” tells of how Rivers grew up listening to good music; “Heart Songs” tells of how Rivers grew up listening to not-so-good music.

After all these years, Rivers’ signature quavering voice remained (ironically) constant, a lasting selling point among the pitter-patter of questionable creative decisions. His voice scarily sounds pubescent on this record, unfortunately evoking a emo pitch on “Put Me Back Together.” Weezer has new friends these days: All-American Rejects, Butch Walker and Jermaine Dupri, who all co-wrote songs. A band that could’ve collaborated with Dr. Dog or The Hold Steady has instead teamed up with the radio.

Cuomo’s innocence and vulnerability were always a part of his charm – then he creeped us out when he cultivated a mustache and donned a cowboy hat for Red. Cuomo’s still channeling his imperfect formative years, which was oh so relatable, but with Raditude, he’s managed to reimagine his teen years as if he was still going to high school in 2009. Songs, “In the Mall,” “The Girl Got Hot,” and “Can’t Stop Partying,” take bland sub-urban slang to a new level. And, for what?

Early Weezer fans have become scathing watchdogs like crestfallen sports fans railing with drunken bitterness about the glory days of Blue and Pinkerton. Slant Magazine’s ½-star review of Raditude hit hard even if they all saw it coming. Huw Jones writes: “Even the most dogged members of the Weezer fanbase will struggle to mount a shred of defense for such an abhorrent cocktail of deluded lyricism and indolent musicianship.”

Fans have been shortchanged when picking up their albums in the past, but this time they may be at the end of the road. This was not made with them in mind at all.
At best, a few of the riffs stay in your head for a few days (the guilt lasts longer). The catchy deluxe edition bonus track “The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World” is Blue lite. It could have easily come from one of Cuomo’s basement solo discs.

So maybe Rivers Cuomo isn’t the uncool middle-aged dad type. Maybe he’s Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are. If you block out all the noise and lose yourself in your dreams, you can still be king. Those may be words of inspiration for him, but it ain’t doin’ nothin’ for me.

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