By Clayton Purdom & Alan Baban | 23 June 2008
Really, we should be thankful. At last, at least, Cuomo has given us a steady rubric against which we can judge all other music; here he has bravely plumbed the depths of taste, defiantly applying his outrageous talent toward the most insidious music ever created. This is Cuomo, glasses aflame, shredding through the symbolism and equations and notepad schemata of one decade’s worth of math; this is Cuomo embracing who he is, what he’s become and why, actually, that’s important full stop to our combined interests. This is Cuomo telling you he has something to say; this is Cuomo, and he’s telling you to open your mouth. This isn’t a toss-off: this is Cuomo explicit. This is Cuomo exploding. This, finally, is Cuomo in a gay cowboy hat.
We would that it were merely vacuous. Make Believe (2005), at least, was vacuous! And accurate, too: consistent with Weezer’s decline, dutiful to those consistencies. It showed a band, which, though foundling in a post-Pinkertonian (1997) universe, had at least come to terms with that decline. We don’t listen to Make Believe (because it’s awful), but we appreciate its overriding success (that it’s awful). More than anything, it hit at a perfect nought-to-nought correspondence, the benchmark, really, for subsumed anonymity. They’d sanctioned Hugh Hefner, hiccupped a song for Shrek, posed on the cover as career bachelors in black. Cuomo was then celibate. Starting with the Green Album, he’d written himself into oblivion and Make Believe sounded like his conclusive submission from inside that artistic black hole. Not even the sound of his dying gasp escaped, so anonymous was its blurting.
But the Red Album is not vacuous. Instead this awfulness has form, heft, detail. The production is clean, though textured. We really hear these lyrics; they are right there in the mix. And the whole time, too: that heinous cover art! On Weezer (2008) our faces are pressed up against this sweltering, angry behemoth and shook like a dog in its filth, our own filth. This is Cuomo’s festering tumor of sound, meted out in square punches with a bunch of square heads. This, in other words, is what the critics asked for last time we called shop. Return to the whimsy, Rivers! Alone (2007), which isn’t even a real album, is your best, most real album for over a decade! Write a seven minute no-nothing cock opera! Let Scott Shriner sing! Fuck you!
The Red Album concludes the Weezer story, and so that story, then, needs retelling. There are probably in this readership those who did not grow up alongside Cuomo’s first two records; there are, we must assume, people for whom the Blue Album did not function as the social metric for the future and Pinkerton the emotional equivalent. You are then innocent of this crime (the Red Album’s existence) but will not be spared the punishment (also the Red Album’s existence). In the halcyon mid-‘90s this small man with funny glasses made simple pop music out of simpler chords and almost asinine words that, somehow, burned like a sun made of empathy, galaxies made of pathos, star clusters mapped liked acne. Was this generational universality unintentional? It appeared so, eventually. Cuomo retired to Harvard, rebuked his masterwork Pinkerton, refused the supplication of his person to our collective anxiety. We despaired and got really, really into Modest Mouse, but never forgot about the boy who’d once held us with the innocent omniscient serenity of Kubrick’s Starchild.
Into this eager environment came album three, five quiet pubescent years later. Cuomo realized what people “wanted,” because he’d spent time exploring the thoughts and feelings of literally billions of people, in at least four time zones, before deciding: fuck those people. Weezer as an institution, Weezer as philosophy, Weezer as a concept fraternized and defiantly not to be fucked with: all this had to go. He purposed a critique, but only said a load of shit about stuff nobody had asked. He gave us riffs we didn’t want, he sang in tones we couldn’t feel. He pronounced judgment on his own body of work, and then gave us something completely different: a handful of hash boners, an album with a seemly babel of hooks but none of the foreglow.
But right now is the time to reassess the Green Album as something Important—and really fucking good! Because it represents the point at which Weezer’s existence so-to-speak stopped existing, the big catch-on of which was the immutable power of popular suggestion: Weezer (2000)! The letters struck familiar valedictory neurons, as did the vibrations from the speakers. This was Weezer: still Weezer, largely Weezer (1994). We listened to those pop songs and maundered their lack of persona. Now we look back and admire it for the same: the guilelessness that let Weezer evaginate from what lay within, that let them move up and out of the ditch, over the turnpike and into the established void of songs about girls and drugs. But these were really good songs! This wasn’t Maladroit (which would serve as the guttural middle portion of what now looks like the band’s “Suck” trilogy) but just a fast set of inoculated sound, hypercompressed and feverish. It went multi-platinum.
In doing so, it remained supremely and insultingly indifferent. But the Red Album is not indifferent. If the Green Album marked the disappearance of the band Weezer into itself, the Red Album heralds the return with trumpets of fire. The Red Album is the point at which indifference charts into the picayune. The Red Album makes no “sense,” but it offers us an indication of what Weezer might actually “mean.” The anonymous trilogy of this decade is over, and the self-loathing trilogy of the last decade has reached its triumphant explosive retarded conclusion. The Red Album is Weezer invaginating. The Red Album is Weezer coming back into the womb. The Red Album is not Blue, or Green or Black, even. It is, like that cover jimmies, one hundred and ten percent Red. This is the real raw meat of Cuomo’s craft; it is the soft wet fleshy core of this artistic entity. The Red Album is to the Blue one as Milton’s Lucifer said to God: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” This is Rivers growing a dick. This is that dick growing a dick. This is that dick growing a Rivers.
Needless to say, Cuomo is indulging himself here, lavishing the listener with direct ironic/unironic funny/unfunny comments on his own fame and artistic trajectory. But most distressingly, he is indulging us here, too. We longed for this. It’s not his increasing age that produced this hideous and deliberate thing, as has been hopefully suggested; it’s just him, just as those remarkable, effortless early records were. This is, clearly, what’s remarkable about the Red Album as well. We now know that the real Cuomo has been this the whole time; he hid from us before but this is the conclusion to the story! The discography makes perfect sense: two separate trilogies, one of Suck and the other three something like Spit. In his endless self-loathing and frustration Cuomo has created an artwork of absolute malevolence. Like Tetsuo at the end of Akira , Cuomo’s unhappiness, when finally mutated into absolute solipsism, becomes something physical, a fleshy cyberkinetic mass that destroys Neo-Tokyo – or, in this case, destroys the notion of pop music as an agent of anything but self-destruction. Like Akira, the Red Album equates intellectualism and the artistic impulse with absolute nihilism, but unfortunately the Red Album does not have sweet bikes and psychic powers.
What it has is Cuomo—stupid, lonely, self-loathing-and-correct-to-do-so Cuomo. In this light the Green Album and corresponding Suck Trilogy seem like acts of mercy, releases of absolute anonymity because he felt this poisonous person emerging from within. How insidiously this beast ingratiates itself! You’d think, first, that this is the best album ever. Except of course it isn’t, because “Troublemaker,” though fun, is in essence a “Good Life” re-enactment, a conclusion and a re-run so unimaginative that in retrospect it’s sort of amazing how Cuomo hasn’t delivered the song like this before. The riff ProTools through to lend credence to an argument the band never delivers on. It’s good to hear him this playful, to rally on “having seven ke-ods” and tittering at the word “be-otch” like these were the new central questions of his personal catharses. Fucking asshole: Like the following five tracks on this record, to hear it is to forgo relevant critique for a sort of pointed and unambiguous kinship. To be a Weezer fan is to have an ultimately passive-aggressive relationship with a band that only purports to be Weezer, but is really lost in the infinite precision of what that word really means. By explicitly re-hashing old songs and themes (“Heart Songs” = “In The Garage”), Weezer provides us, or them, with a means of deconstructing what had become a depressingly backhanded catalogue.
As such, it is both a strong refutation of every album Weezer has made since Green (as it, in its time, seemed to balk at Pinkerton) and a numbing confirmation of the only available place this band has left: comic shearing, loose plagiarism, three separate solo projects (all of which are balls). The first six tracks on this record comprise probably the best near-half hour of music this band has produced in a decade. It is festering, garish pop music, too consistent in its absurdity to be ambiguous or interesting, but also too absurd in its consistency to not be (yes) one of the tightest, most enjoyable records to illegally download this year. Whereas before such ruminations would be, well, uninteresting, it now seems merely inappropriate to speculate on the future of this band. Cuomo is fucking nuts. Cuomo is a pop auteur/popular idiot and he probably always envisioned it like this, expanding, finally, in a direction of omni-flatulent largeness, a gross insulting non-expletive, a riff from me to you.
It’s difficult to spiritually accommodate further descent from a record that contains the word “boo-yah” along with an earnest, palm-muted nod toward Nevermind (1991) along with “Variations on a Shaker Hymn,” which in its twinkling starlit grandiosity and glib self-aggrandizement seems to imply both Limp Bizkit and Styx, like some compendium of all that crawls from the earth when God closes his eyes—but, barring natural disaster, this band seems intent upon continuing their scourge of pop music. Elsewhere on the record, Scott Shriner shows up acting like it’s okay to just look like that, soft-rock “The Angel and the One” sends shivers down our stupid spines, “Cold Dark World” is obviously inspired by The Eminem Show (2002), and Weezer proves, completely and exhaustingly, that music sucks. We have wasted our time, we have wasted yours, because Cuomo has wasted his. Nihilism is the new I-forget-what and liking Weezer is the new hating Weezer. Most art is only a joke without the courage to have a punchline, but here, finally, is the decadent orgasmic fountain of gags Cuomo has been pumping toward for fifteen years. It is ostensibly self-critique, but too trenchant not to implicate us all, too generous in its hate-filled cumspray not to hit even those who never liked the band in the first place, and (though its reach is magnanimous) it inseminates no thing and no one. This is an inverse bukkake, where the ratio of semen wasted to personal shame remains exorbitantly one-sided but where Cuomo is the sole ejaculant and we are the quivering transcendent victims, all transformed through the damning ritual into a slick, febrile mass where everything is the same and yearns to never have been. Ah, music! Ah, spit!