Weezer baffles on new album

by Carl Burnett | 5/29/02 5:00am

Weezer seems more determined than ever to keep all but the most blindly devoted fans scratching their heads by perpetuating an ongoing identity crisis: are they a pop act, emo pioneer or punk band?

They have always been a pop-punk band, of course, but in the beginning, the emphasis was on the pop -- at least, that's how it seemed to the public. The band was known for the hook-happy hits "Buddy Holly" and "Undone," not for the decidedly crunchier material that dominated much of the rest of their self-titled 1994 debut, known to fans as "The Blue Album."

So it's not surprising that they largely fell out of the public view with 1996's "Pinkerton," a feedback-heavy record without a clear single. What the album did have were "emotional" lyrics like "Why are you so far away from me? I need help, and you're way across the sea." The album soon became a touchstone for the burgeoning hordes of "emo" kids, who can still be found in droves at Weezer concerts, wearing vintage T-shirts and glasses with thick black frames and carrying messenger bags adorned with buttons bearing the band's "flying W" logo.

The band maintained its emo credibility but lay dormant for five years until bursting back into the public consciousness in 2001 with a new self-titled disc known as "The Green Album." Led by the distinctly Blink-182/Green Day-sounding single "Hash Pipe," the album was a success, and front man Rivers Cuomo began to make a name for himself not just as a nerdy kid who admired Buddy Holly, but as a bona fide rock star. Weezer toured unendingly in support of the album, developing a brand of arena rock quite different from the band's previous underground image.

This new persona, if it is indeed that, is unleashed in full force on "Maladroit," the band's new album, released earlier this month.

It ties with "Pinkerton" as the hardest-rocking album of the band's career, but it's far more radio-friendly. For one thing, the climate of pop music has changed: in the mid-1990s, pop-punk was a fledgling genre; now it's almost de rigeur.

What is more, the new Weezer represents a comfortable expansion for the palates of pop fans bored of rap-metal but not looking for anything too far left of center.

For starters, there's the single "Dope Nose," whose classic-rock hooks create an incongruous backdrop for Cuomo's laconic indie-singer voice. It's not that he's unenthusiastic or doesn't know how to sing what Cake's John McCrea would call "big dumb rock songs," it's just that something in Cuomo's voice reverts back to his intentionally bored-sounding delivery on "Buddy Holly."

Still, "Dope Nose" is one of several songs on "Maladroit" that leave a pretty indelible impression, along with "Slob," a good old-fashioned rock song complete with a wah-wah-pedal-enhanced guitar solo. With lyrics like "Leave me alone / I won't pick up the phone" and "I don't like how you're living my life," it's easy to see why Weezer now appeals to both emo kids and fans of bands with a known propensity for angst-ridden power ballads.

Maybe that's not totally fair: "Maladroit" contains only one power ballad, the self-pitying "Death and Destruction." But aside from "Dope Nose" and "Slob," the rest of the songs are good-naturedly hard rocking but disappointingly impotent. There's none of the vitriol of a real punk song and little of the wit they displayed on their debut.

One is left with the feeling that it's distinctly possible Weezer is building a whole career on ironic rock-star posing that was never meant to be taken as sincere. Maybe all the guitar solos and flying W's are just a schtick and Cuomo et al. are just waiting for the right time to return to writing witty pop songs.

We can only hope.