Rivers Cuomo took a chance a few years ago, and from the sound of it, he'llnever take another one, at least not any time soon.
On 1996's Pinkerton, he collected every one of his confused emotions and awkward missteps for public display, tying them to songs that abandoned Ric Ocasek's studied studio slickness and sounded like all the guitar strings had been replaced by raw, exposed nerves. He invited everyone into his head and heart, and only a handful of people bothered to RSVP. When critics and fans alike rejected Pinkerton, they weren't rejecting Weezer's second album; they were rejecting him, or so he thought. So he dropped out of sight and took the band with him, until last year's inexplicably sold-out welcome-back shows. You could still hear the aftermath at those gigs, with set lists that heavily favored songs from 1994's self-titled debut and new tunes that could've been on it.
That said, it's simple enough to assume that the band's third -- also self-titled -- album is nothing more than a retreat, given Ocasek's return to the boards and Cuomo's return to nonspecific lyrics ("Crab if you wanna/She won't be coming down" -- pardon?), as well as cover art that is a duplicate of the first disc. It's easy, almost obvious, to say Cuomo and company have decided to give the fans what they want, pulling out the old blueprint (or "Blue Album," if you will) to see if they can get a new building out of it. On first listen, most of that proves to be true; yes, this is a sequel, Bat Out of Hell II for the kids in the cardigans. Songs like "Crab" and "Island in the Sun" and "Simple Pages," none of which are about anything terribly important, would sound right at home next to "Say It Ain't So" and "My Name Is Jonas" and "Holiday," with their overdriven guitars and glee-club harmonies.
The only difference is, for the most part, Weezer isn't as fun as the first record with the same title, and most of that has to do with the absence of bassist Matt Sharp. When Sharp left Weezer in 1998 to concentrate on being a Rental (he was replaced by Mikey Welsh, who probably is a few years too old to be named Mikey, and who himself dropped out of the band's current touring lineup), in some ways, he took Weezer with him. It wasn't obvious at the time (because the band wasn't playing or recording), and it wasn't too noticeable at last year's shows (because his influence was still there), but it is now. "Hash Pipe" and "Don't Let Go" are immediately familiar and completely forgettable, alt-rock amalgams that could be by American Hi-Fi or anyone else. Sharp's silliness was the perfect counterbalance for Cuomo's self-loathing, and no one has stepped up to fill that role yet. The only time Weezer captures that spirit is on the rollicking "Photograph," with its hand claps and ooh-oohs and oh-baby's. "Photograph" gives you a picture of what it might have sounded like had Buddy Holly and the Crickets grown up Pixies fans -- '50s rock 'n' roll made with '90s technology. It's a hint at what could've been and what could still be.
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