With its well constructed songs, great hooks and dorky themes, Weezer’s self-titled debut (released in 1994) is a power pop classic. Fact is, back then, Rivers Cuomo and Matt Sharp knew how to write songs. And those songs combined with great production from Ric Ocasek (best known for being one of the key members of 70s/80s new wave band The Cars) have undoubted gone a long way to paying the bills for Weezer ever since. After all, nearly everyone of a certain age has seen that Spike Jonze video for ‘Buddy Holly’ set in the Happy Days diner…right?
‘The Blue Album’ (as it is often called) featured not only that monster hit, but some other songs which have rightly become cult classics, becoming a triple platinum seller in the US and double platinum in Canada. How do you follow such success? If you’re Weezer, you don’t even try. ‘The Blue Album’s successor, 1996’s ‘Pinkerton’, features little of the perfection Weezer had displayed on their debut. Ric Ocasek had been ousted from the producer’s chair and in place of the debut’s easily accessible power pop songs, ‘Pinkerton’ was a slab of discordant darkness, questioning songs and the sound of troubled souls. Naturally, it wasn’t what most people were expecting.
Weezer then took an extended hiatus, eventually returning after five years (minus Matt Sharp) with their third disc – a second self-titled album (again produced by Ric Ocasek). ‘The Green Album’ sounded very much like ‘The Blue Album’, but not as strong. The fact that it contained a lot of the spark that made me like Weezer in the first place was a step in the right direction, but still, it wasn’t a patch on the debut. It’s really then – circa 2002 – that Weezer began their downward spiral of releases containing substandard material, culminating in the release of 2009’s ‘Raditude’ – an album loaded with autotuned ugliness and almost entirely bereft of songs.
It was important, therefore, to put their 2010 release ‘Hurley’ into some sort of context. With their last four releases made up of songs ranging from forgettable to flat out awful, Weezer have seemingly let down fans time and again, with only the re-release of ‘The Blue Album’ (released as a two disc deluxe version in 2004) alleviating the ever escalating disappointment. Weezer don’t have a great track record, it’s true, but there’s no way that ‘Hurley’ is as bad as ‘Raditude’…is there?
‘Hurley’ (housed in a wordless sleeve featuring a photo of Jorge Garcia) is Weezer’s eighth album and the opening moments of ‘Memories’ (the album’s lead single) might lull you into thinking things could be okay, but before too long, a distorted noise kicks in and makes a half-arsed chorus almost unlistenable. The bridge section after the second chorus features a spark of what used to make Weezer great, but this in turn is also spoiled. Here, Rivers Cuomo shouts out the last line of his vocal in a manner which is unrestrained and nasty. ‘Ruling Me’, on the other hand, is power pop brilliance: a great chorus (and pre-chorus too) and simple harmony vocals give the track all the elements of classic Weezer, a feeling reinforced by the use of the kind of chord patterns which swamped their ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’ discs. The fact that they can still do this just makes those years they wasted by not doing it all the more unbearable… Similarly, ‘Hang On’ employs a huge chorus and some fantastic harmony vocals and a really solid arrangement. Cuomo’s lead vocal could do with being tightened up and toned down a little, but there are so many great power pop hallmarks here, it should appeal to all but the most curmudgeonly of Weezer sceptics.
‘Where’s My Sex?’ falls somewhere in the middle. Chugging downstrokes recall early Weezer, but while its big chorus demonstrates that the band can still cut it when they want to, silly lyrical content lets it down. Here, “sex” is actually “socks” – and Cuomo can’t go out without any. It’s a brave attempt at bringing back the geekiness that made so much of ‘The Blue Album’ fun (and a change of pace near the song’s end is surprising) but after so long, its sounds like too much like a contrived attempt at re-creating the band’s early signature sound. A tongue-in-cheek tale of being a rock star, ‘Trainwrecks’ is very commercial, but not commercial in the geeky power pop way Weezer’s best work has been previously. There’s a shininess and an 80s AOR edge to be found beneath the chugging chords; the sound of something bigger than Weezer. It’s a co-write with Desmond Child (co-writer of some of Bon Jovi’s big 80s hits), so that should give you a clue as to where that “something bigger” comes from. Opening with the sound of a choir, the song then opts for a riff that sounds like John Waite’s 80s radio classic ‘Missing You’, although played with a trademark Weezer chug. Rather more mature than you’d associate with Weezer, certainly; better than you’ve come to hope for from Weezer by this point? Definitely.
‘Run Away’ begins with a lo-fi intro, before the whole band come crashing in on a tune which shows promise. The chorus isn’t as strong as it could have been, and Cuomo’s slightly shouty delivery grates a little and the riffs aren’t quite as good as those from ‘Trainwrecks’, ‘Where’s My Sex?’ and especially ‘Ruling Me’. But despite all of these negative qualities, the song manages to hit the spot somehow – partly due to the simple ‘oohs’ on the backing vocal. Certainly not the best song ‘Hurley’ offers, but so, so much better than most of Weezer’s post-2001 recordings. The thin, wobbly vocal and drum machine during the verses of ‘Smart Girls’ are horrible, but the chorus has enough oomph to win you over. The production here is great; there’s a mini wall of sound to rival Ric Ocasek’s style on those earlier Weezer discs and, as with the album’s other great choruses, there are enough backing vocals and harmonies to balance out any misgivings you may have. To begin with, ‘Unspoken’ provides some respite from the huge blocks of sound. The intimate setting of Rivers Cuomo, his acoustic guitar and harmony vocal make up the bulk of the song. There’s a happy and confident vibe here – the heartache and emptiness of ‘Pinkerton’s closing number ‘Butterfly’ a distant memory.
‘Brave New World’ (a co-write with Linda Perry) features the classic early-Weezer-by-numbers sound present on at least half of this album (though, in their hearts, that’s surely what most fans want). It’s not quite so simple, though, this is heavier than any of its ‘Blue’ or ‘Green’ album counterparts, though for all of its density, it carries none of ‘Pinkerton’s darkness. ‘Time Flies’, on the other hand, is a little bit more interesting. Driven by distorted acoustics and a bass drum marking time, it closes the album with an upbeat stomp which manages to sound halfway decent, regardless of an iffy vocal and the feeling of a Cuomo demo experiment. It’s one of those tracks which is infectious in a good way at first and then after a few spins becomes slightly annoying…
Despite being disappointed by Weezer so often, every time they release something, there’s always a deep rooted feeling that wants to believe there are going to be some decent songs. It would be stupid to believe that anything they release could be a complete return to form, but there’s always the hope for something halfway enjoyable. After ‘Raditude’, it didn’t seem like too much to hope for – and ‘Hurley’ is okay, it breezes along merrily and could appeal to the undemanding. It’s better than ‘Raditude’ for sure, but then for it to be worse would have been impossible – if not career suicide.
For the sparks of greatness we should be partly thankful, but aside from a few shining stars, ‘Hurley’ still represents Weezer’s journey through the average. There are so many other bands that do this kind of thing better…it shouldn’t take you too long to find one. In the meantime, go to the link below and download ‘Ruling Me’, ‘Hang On’ and ‘Trainwrecks’. They’re better than anything on ‘Raditude’ and possibly better than anything Weezer has released since 2001.
Is your name a Tom Waits reference? I hope it is. 🙂
Hey. I really appreciate your honesty on reviewing this cd. I'm still on the fence about whether or not I'll pick up a copy though – a few songs seem solid and everything else seems generic.
Do you do reviews of lesser known bands? If so, I put out a punk/ska compilation with a friend and we're looking to get people's thoughts on it. If you give me a mailing address, I'd be glad to send you a copy.
Hey Guitar 1036! Thanks for your interest. If you'd like to get in touch via the email link on the right hand side, I'll see what we can do.