The dudes from Weezer have it rough.
Imagine being part of one of *the* defining rock bands of the mid-'90s post-grunge era -- a band whose members kick-started their careers with back-to-back, indisputable masterpieces (the blue-hued, self-titled debut "Weezer" and its painfully personal, less-pop-sensible follow-up "Pinkerton"). Now imagine the pressure that comes with trying to meet or exceed the stratospheric expectations of both critics and rabid fans looking for you and your bandmates to recreate that magic on subsequent releases -- to, in essence, make lightning strike twice, *twice*.
The band's 2001 comeback (also titled "Weezer," but nicknamed "The Green Album" because of the cover art's color palette) came closest to appeasing their mass of followers, partly because it was seen as somewhat of a return to form, but mostly because it was also literally Weezer's "return" after a four-year hiatus. By the time 2002's mildly praised "Maladroit" came out, even some of the band's most devout loyalists began to lose hope. And don't even mention 2005's schmaltzy "Make Believe" (or its ubiquitous, love-it-or-hate-it single "Beverly Hills") to a Weezer fan unless you want to get punched in the face.
So, does the band's sixth LP "Weezer" (dubbed "The Red Album" for clarity's sake) manage to finally recapture the glory days of the emo-pop foursome at their creative peak? Well ... no. I think by now, it's obvious that doing so would be impossible, which is why I believe "Red" (and the rest of the post-"Pinkerton" albums, for that matter) shouldn't be judged against the band's earlier work. Instead, it should be appreciated for what it is: a well-rounded collection of catchy, decent-to-great pop songs that, at the very least, will leave even the most finicky Weezophile satisfied.
If you've logged on to YouTube in the last couple of weeks, there's a good chance you've seen the video for "Pork and Beans," the album's first single. It's the band's latest incarnation of "Buddy Holly" -- after "Hash Pipe," "The Good Life," "Keep Fishin'" and "Beverly Hills" -- and was written by lead singer Rivers Cuomo to spite record executives who pressured him to pen a radio-friendly hit. (Ironically, with its inescapable chorus and driving guitar rhythms, all crammed into a perfect three-minute run time, "Pork and Beans" is the summer's prime candidate for nonstop airplay on Top 40 stations across the country.)
Elsewhere, Cuomo plants his tongue firmly in his cheek for a song detailing rock star excess ("Troublemaker"); "boo-yah"s his way through a speedy, metal-inspired tune about his days as a reckless teenage prankster ("Everybody Get Dangerous"); and lays out a laundry list of his diverse musical influences ("Heart Songs"). The band's most epic experiment to date comes in the form of "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)," a six-minute, Queen-esque rock opera that cobbles together rapping, Prince-like falsetto wailing and church-choir backing vocals.
When I heard each of the three other band members -- guitarist Brian Bell, bassist Scott Shriner and drummer Patrick Wilson -- would be getting lead-vocal duties for one track apiece on this album, I was a bit leery. And alas, after hearing their respective entries, my fears were largely confirmed. Bell's "Thought I Knew," Shriner's "Cold Dark World" and Wilson's "Automatic" aren't necessarily "bad" songs; their biggest detriment is simply due to the fact that, without Cuomo's trademark voice, not one of them is identifiable as a Weezer Song. Sequenced one after another near the end of the album, they have a jarring effect on the listener, like someone placed a trio of generic alt-rock staples from 1999 on the CD as a joke.
The best way to wash the aftertaste of those misfires out of your mouth is to pick up the deluxe edition of "Weezer," which includes four Cuomo-sung bonus cuts, including fan favorite "Pig" and the heart-laid-bare "Miss Sweeney," about a real estate executive who secretly pines for his secretary.
Pound for pound, The Red Album is another solid effort from the elder statesmen of emo. And although this album doesn't come close to matching the decade-defining influence of Weezer's first two outings, it definitely gets points for *not* trying.