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Friday, June 14, 2024

Eccentric Weezer singer back with solo project


Earlier this year Malcolm Gladwell penned an essay for The New Yorker about two different kinds of geniuses: those born with their brilliance fully formed and those who take years of practice to realize their potential. What made Weezer's first two albums so great is that Rivers Cuomo is a member of the former. What made Weezer's last few albums so terrible is that Cuomo thinks he is a member of the latter.  


Calling Cuomo a genius is a bit of a stretch if not entirely false, but it is accurate to think about his mind functioning similarly. While Weezer the collective was just getting their musical feet wet, Cuomo was doing the breaststroke through hundreds of songs concealed beneath the murky stream. Over the course of Weezer's existence, he has perfected his stroke, being overly cautious about where he steps and what he touches. With last year's Alone and this month's Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo, though, Cuomo got his hands dirty, running the pond water through a sieve and releasing the gems to a crowd of anxious, nostalgic fans. 


Album opener, Victory on the Hill,"" is an effective call to arms for apprehensive listeners. The trumpet chorus leads straight into the powerful ""I Want to Take You Home Tonight,"" recorded in 2002 right in the middle of Maladroit-era Weezer. And that's what's most impressive about this album: even the songs recorded during some of Weezer's darkest days still manage not to suck. 


Earlier this year, amidst some of Weezer's most repugnant times, Cuomo recorded the Jermaine Dupri-composed ""Can't Stop Partying."" Hearing Cuomo moan lines like ""Screw rehab, I love my addiction"" over a melancholy acoustic guitar provides a rare glimpse of a man robbed of his inhibitions. He's not overly concerned with time signatures; he's just having fun. 


Even if these are Weezer's forgotten outcasts, there are some real gems, particularly the cover of the Beach Boys' ""Don't Worry Baby."" Recorded before the release of The Blue Album, it probably had no place on any Weezer albums, but it's easy to see it as a staple to early Weezer shows.  


However, this isn't pure gold. The more tracks from the mythical Songs from the Black Hole project that get released, the more it seems like Rivers was right to trash it. The three-song mini-suite of Black Hole tracks here is forgettable at best. A rock opera was a little too ambitious for a freewheeling Cuomo, but a modern, measured Cuomo would probably still do worse. 

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So while Cuomo studies the science of chord progressions and guitar solos, trying to develop the perfect algorithm for pop, hiding himself behind his clean-cut songs, the rest of us are just yearning for more of his hapless teenage insight about surfing and resemblances to certain pop-culture icons. In some cases, practice doesn't make perfect. Through tireless practice, Rivers has lost the indifference that made him so phenomenal to begin with, and ultimately the thing that makes the Alone recordings so valuable.  

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