There is a moment right near the beginning of [artist id="440"]Weezer[/artist]‘s umpteenth album Hurley when Rivers Cuomo declares: “I’m not kidding anymore.” It’s a fairly loaded statement, considering he’s spent much of the past decade doing what could charitably be described as “joking around,” releasing a string of albums each a little more confounding (and a little less satisfying) than the last.
To wit: The last truly solid Weezer album (the so-called Green one) was released nearly four months before 9/11, and since then, Cuomo and company have gone progressively further off the rails. Maladroit featured just two songs that cracked the three-minute mark, and even then it felt too long and convoluted (mostly because Cuomo spends a portion of it taking thinly veiled jabs at his fanbase). Make Believe saw Cuomo unsheathe his arena-rock dreams, which is how we ended up with the talk-box solo on “Beverly Hills.” 2008′s Red Album is probably best known for its cover (on which Cuomo sports a cowboy hat and mustache) and the part where MC Rivers gets busy on the mic. Raditude is most notable for the dog on the cover, the bizarre fascination with partying and the Lil Wayne cameo. It’s been a rather grizzly stretch, and one couldn’t be blamed for thinking that perhaps Cuomo had embarked on some Kaufman-esque anti-comedy spree, mostly because the jokes he was telling were all pretty bad.
And while it may seem unfair to rehash the past, there are two reasons I’m doing it here. First, when you’re talking about a band with a star-crossed history like Weezer’s, discussing history is sort of inevitable. It informs every opinion you have about them, for better or worse. And second, because on many levels, Hurley (which drops September 14) is about nothing but the past. It is a very backward-looking thing, full of nostalgia and worry and the kind of itchy buzz that once powered this band. And therein lies the charm.
Of course, there’s the first single, “Memories,” which Cuomo himself said would appeal to fans of Weezer’s “super-raw, emotional stuff” (i.e. Pinkerton) and is full of lines that recall the halcyon days “when Audioslave was still Rage” and the band’s blurry, pre-hiatus period, when journalists prodded and the band “didn’t know what we were doing half of the time.” There’s the whinging guitar work and harmonies of “Ruling Me,” which make it sound very much like a Blue Album B-side. “Unspoken” is, in its best moments, like a really killer demo from one of Cuomo’s Alone albums. And, really, the entire concept of “Smart Girls” — Cuomo awkwardly pining for untouchable beauties (untouchable, in this instance, because they only exist on Twitter) — is what drove the entirety of Pinkerton, when you think about it.
And sonically, the majority of Hurley seems haunted by that album. Guitars growl and grow acne, Cuomo pushes his voice to the verge of cracking, and even during its prettier moments — the chiming bells that kick off “Trainwrecks,” the distant piano that opens “Run Away” — there’s a gawky undercurrent to the proceedings. Of course, all that awkwardness does lead to some rather unfortunate moments, most notably on “Where’s My Sex?” which goes over about as well as a song in which a 40-year-old man uses socks as a metaphor for coitus could be expected to, and the aforementioned “Smart Girls,” which sorta recalls the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” if Paul McCartney had bad posture and spent his days tweeting.
Overall, though, Hurley succeeds because it’s the record on which Cuomo decides to stop kidding around and tries to recapture some of his old magic. It’s not a perfect album, but it’s certainly better than anything they’ve done in a long, long time. Anyone can have a bad decade, but the past is the past. Unless, of course, the goal is to make history repeat itself. And that’s OK too.
Are you excited that Hurley conjures up memories of Pinkerton? Let us know in the comments!