September 11, 2010

Album Review: Weezer's Hurley

Since their return from an indefinite hiatus nearly a decade ago, Weezer has really done a number on testing both their fans' loyalty and their influential legacy. With their debut ("The Blue Album") and sophomore effort Pinkerton being highly regarded as two the '90s most classic alternative rock albums, 2001's self-titled (aka "The Green Album") and 2002's Maladroit's half-decent nature from the nerd rock quartet made fans happy just to have the band back in the music world.

However, when Weezer rolled out 2005's Make Believe, their always peculiar frontman, Rivers Cuomo, caused many devoted listeners heads to turn uneasily with an album chalk full of stale, samey anthem rockers (Which of course, easily translated to the band's biggest chart hit to date, the atrociously banal "Beverly Hills".) It would begin a hideous downward spiral into "WTF" pop schmaltz. 2008's third self-titled release ("The Red Album") found Cuomo and company all over the map, as he allowed his fellow band mates to grab lead vocals for the first time ever on a number of tracks that followed his new found precision in writing the "perfect" pop song. Of note, the album cover also depicted Coumo in a cowboy get-up and a moustache for no particular reason. That same hint of ridiculousness would explode at the seams on 2009's Raditude, which saw Weezer team up with the likes of hip-hop's Lil' Wayne and some of pop music's trendiest producers for an over-produced, commercially sheen, Autotuned plethora of nonsense that left critics wondering if the past few years of the band's career was actually a huge joke on the music industry.

It may very well have been. Not even a year later since the Raditude disaster, Rivers and Weezer are back with Hurley. They've since left their longtime home at DGC / Interscope, and signed to the diverse punk label, Epitaph, to mark their first independent release ever. What is most interesting is that while some of the tomfoolery of recent Weezer is still present on this release (LOST's Jorge Garcia aka "Hurley" gracing the album cover, for instance,) the music sounds like the band is back in the business of taking songwriting more seriously. Lead single, "Memories," is pepped up with nostalgia-laden references to Weezer's heydays of touring, the state of music at that time and a bridge at the 2:35 mark that sounds like something straight out of Pinkerton. Meanwhile, the sequential "Ruling Me" contains nerdy love lyrics and crunchy power chords that hearken back to "The Blue Album" -- but with a modernized synth riff. Throw in "Where's My Sex?," an angsty, juvenile track that half-wittingly replaces the word "socks" with "sex," and early fans might get excited for a full-fledged return to form.

That's just about where the similarities to the band's best days and where they are today end. Aside from those few tracks, Hurley is a fun pop-centric album that isn't cringe-worthy in the same sense as their latter efforts, but still shies away from engaging college rock that has been absent since Maladroit. "Run Away" has Weezer teaming up with alt-country singer-songwriter, Ryan Adams, for results filled with subtle coos and "aahs" amid sophisticated guitar progressions between each verse and chorus. "Hang On" is a song that contains an overblown anthemic horn riff that might as well have been copped from Andrew W.K.'s classic party album, I Get Wet, while "Unspoken" and the gritty "Time Flies" are adversely stripped down takes similar to Cuomo's demos from his Alone: The Home Recordings of... series. Not every track on Hurley is absolutely bearable, to caution. "Trainwrecks" is an inspiration-themed modern emo jam building towards a climax that doesn't end up going anywhere, while the upbeat synth drum-driven "Smart Girls" is just plain silly girl-crazy pop punk. Neither is any better than something you'd expect coming from Weezer-inspired mainstremo acts like The All-American Rejects or Boys Like Girls.

All this stated, this begs the question: If it weren't for Weezer's position as one of the most influential '90s alternative college rock bands, would the music world still be giving these guys the same attention upon hearing tracks like "Smart Girls?" Has the legacy of their first two classic albums given Rivers Cuomo complete absolution to do whatever he pleases, as long as there's at least one or two good singles on each album derivative of Weezer's "The Blue Album" or Pinkerton eras? Well, the good news is that Hurley finally marks a major improvement as a band who's direction is being taken more seriously. Whether or not the jump from a major label to an indie had anything to do with a sudden disinterest in sounding bluntly commercial is unknown, but what is known is that on Hurley, Rivers Cuomo's penchant for practical pop songwriting finally shows some matured assurance rather than youthful flippancy. While we may never hear anything exactly like "The Blue Album" or Pinkerton ever again, today's pop rock version of Weezer at least offers enjoyable redemption in original melodies and decent "Memories" instead of ones you'd much rather forget.

Weezer's Hurley will be released September 14, 2010 on Epitaph Records.

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