Hit singles sometimes trigger ugly and debilitating bouts of writer's block, but Ivy League-educated Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo seems to be too smart to suffer brain drain.
Not only have Weezer recently sent out eight completed songs from their upcoming Maladroit disc to radio and press, on Saturday they re-entered the studio to record even more new material. One of the songs was described on the band's Web site as "'70s smoky rock and the Smiths all at the same time."
The Maladroit songs that were mailed out are all between two and three-and-a-half minutes long, and for the most part they all rapidly click into a buzzing power riff, segue into a soaring vocal hook and bridge the action with a raging guitar solo. Then they end just in time for the next dose of noisy melody.
But while Weezer adhere to a hit-and-run formula, they experiment with different styles and flourishes. The new tunes are more ragged and turbulent than those on the band's self-titled 2001 disc, and they seem to downplay irony in favor of confessional sentiment.
"Dope Nose," the first song being embraced by radio supposedly against the wishes of the band's record label, which has asked stations to not play the songs Weezer's management sent them is driven by a staggered riff accented with a whiff of Southern rock. The band even takes a smirking stab at Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" when Cuomo sings, "Please rescue me, take me back to my home" and a background vocalist shouts, "Oh, take me home!" The chorus is a harmony-laden gem, but its lyrics are somewhat obtuse: "For the times that you wanna go and bust rhymes real slow/ I'll appear, slap you on the face and enjoy the show."
Like several other songs on Maladroit, "Dope Nose" features a flailing guitar solo that suggests Cuomo dreams of being in Iron Maiden.
"Fall Together" rocks with chugging stop-start guitars and wailing fills, climaxing with tumbling drums and an exultant riff but not before Cuomo can slide in another "ahhh-ahhhh"-embellished chorus.
"Death and Destruction" is a soulful ballad that opens with heartfelt McCartney-esque vocals and builds with long, strung out guitar chords. And "Slob" is an aching track comprising a ringing arpeggio and whiny, painstricken vocals reminiscent of the Cure's Robert Smith. After the verse, the tune becomes more agitated as Cuomo moans, "Get yourself a wife, get yourself a job/ You're living a dream, don't you be a slob."
Throughout the new tracks, Cuomo seems to be grappling with dilemmas of the heart, unsure whether to listen to the romantic within or embrace his isolation. On the '50s rock-influenced love song "December" he croons, "Only trust can inspire soggy lungs to breath fire," then on the razorblade sugar pop of "Slave" he sings, "When you're on your own you can see things clear/ Clear as a bell, and you're free."
Maybe it's this uncertainty that keeps Weezer rocking and allows Cuomo to cobble together songs like the headbanger "Take Control," which progresses from a crunchy, Southern-metal chug to a triumphant power-pop anthem. As long as Cuomo struggles to take control of his life, Weezer fans stand to benefit from the prolific chronicling of his successes and failures.