June 3, 2008

The new Weezer might hurt a little...

Okay. "Pork and Beans." By many accounts a return to form after sloppily-written, over-polished stumbling on Make Believe. Probably not a representative sample from the upcoming Red Album, if "Beverly Hills" isn't from Make Believe. But here's the problem: I find it odious. It's serviceable, if Bowling for Soup-y, power pop. And I do love the creativity hiding in the formalism of really good power pop. I can't get behind "Pork and Beans," though, for a couple of reasons:

1) It's the New Rivers Formula. There really wasn't an Old Rivers Formula for Weezer's biggest pre-Make Believe hits - "Buddy Holly," "Undone," "Say It Ain't So," "El Scorcho," "Island in the Sun," and even "Keep Fishin'" all feature a pretty broad spectrum of simplicity with unabashedly dorky lyrics draped over them - but it seems like Rivers as a songwriter has really retreated into a "rebellious" attempt at irony under the guise of self-mockery. He did it on "Beverly Hills," too. The very beginning of "Pork and Beans" features a goofy synth effect and simple, chunky, countrified lift of the guitar line from The Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me," coupled to unwieldy and generally weak opening lyric "they say I need some Rogaine to put in my hair / working out at the gym to fit my underwear / Oakley makes the shades that transform a tool / You'd hate for the kids to think that you've lost your cool." This is already a capitulation. Rivers has to voice his detractors before declaring, essentially, that he doesn't care with the defiant and clumsy chorus. It's just long on attitude and short on substance, which is opposite of what the best Weezer is.

2) No soul, no commitment. "Buddy Holly" did the same thing, lyrically, that "Pork and Beans" tries to, which is to brush off a bunch of trendy jerks who be hatin', but where Rivers used to pull out pop culture references that were contrary to immediate relevance and dateability (like, you know, Buddy Holly... or Mary Tyler Moore) in a sort of timeless resistance, he throws out names like Timbaland now just establish that, yes, he is aware of the "cool" that he doesn't wish to have. It's like Madonna rapping about Mini Coopers. The execution is an attempt to be stylish, if derisive, but in the end it just sounds like Rivers gives up trying to be himself and has to be anti-everyone else instead. The appeal of his songwriter's voice, to me, has always been its authenticity. Like Brian Wilson before him, Rivers is direct but poetically observational in his most unguarded moments. Even on the Blue Album, when he sings songs like "Surf Wax America" that don't seem personalized at all - for one, Rivers don't surf - or songs like "Holiday," which are pure fantastic escapism next to the purely personal escapism of "In the Garage," Rivers manages to come across as the quiet kid in the back of the party who sees a lot more than he does. To me, that's a remarkably relatable persona. I'm sure most Weezer fans who geeked out in 2001 when Green was announced agree. On "Pork and Beans," just like on "Beverly Hills," Rivers sounds like the party loudmouth who's so busy talking something up that he misses all the fine detail of what 'being there' actually is. He still hits the mark occasionally, most recently on songs like "Freak Me Out" and "Haunt You Every Day", but in his commercial offerings, Rivers seems to bow and scrape to the kind of radio programming he turns around and disses just for the extra credibility. It's the difference between self-awareness and self-importance that haunts "Pork and Beans," and where the self-aware speaker of "Buddy Holly" don't care what they say about [himself and his girl] anyway, it's because he's caught up in a moment; the self-important speaker of "Pork and Beans" who don't give a hoot about what you think just seems interested in people nodding "yeah, he's still cool, I guess" due to his anti-everything posture of aging irascibility. It's almost a cranky statement where a grateful one once existed.

The music itself sounds empty. Just plain empty. There's not a lot of rock gravitas in the current version of the Rivers/Brian Bell guitar sound, unlike the bass-heavy version of the sound of 90's or the cutting and nimble version on Green and Maladroit and Rivers is obviously moving toward safer song structure after his last qualified single bomb - "Dope Nose" - careened around with lots of nervous energy (if not substance). From what I understand, the other songs on Red are much more varied and adventurous, so I can hope that "Pork and Beans" is a misrepresentation of what the rest of the album offers. But it sounds lazy in all aspects, a predictable piece to ship out and collect a paycheck. I would've hoped that, on the success and reception of Alone, Rivers would have realized that his most idiosyncratic and earnest music is just as welcome to listeners as his most formulaic and superficial. Well, hope against hope. This might be my last hurrah with new Weezer material for a while.

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