30 Days of Comics

I didn’t end up doing NaNoWriMo in the end – I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to stick to it, as although I had one or two loose ideas, nothing was compelling enough to drive me to spend a month hammering away at the thing (and besides, the better ideas I’ve had recently are being used elsewhere anyway). Nevertheless, I wanted to spend a month doing some kind of writing project, so although not announcing it in advance, I’ve been trying to blog something, somewhere, each day of November. So far this has included posts on G&T, URP! and F1 Colours, as well as a few other places; but something that should make it a bit more focused from now on is that I’m finally starting a one-post-per-day meme we’ve invented over on Alternate Cover. It’s called 30 Days of Comics (yes, it’s inspired by that 30 Days of Music one that some people have done/are doing), and there’s an explanation of what it’s all about here – but basically, it’s an attempt to frame one’s life/reading experience in the shape of 30 individual comics. James has just finished his run of 30, meaning that I’m taking over with doing mine as of today – the first entry, “Your first comic”, is up now, and hopefully should continue in an unbroken (or only occasionally and slightly unbroken) fashion for the rest of the month. I’ll probably update here a couple of times with a list of links every ten posts or so, as well, for anyone who’s interested in clicking through and reading…

(Not sent by my workplace, I hasten to add – but sent to it by an organisation that will remain nameless to protect the guilty)

Dear Sir or Madam,

On the 17th of December the Romans celebrated Saturnalia. It was marked by high jinks and japes and reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters switched places. It was a time to eat, drink, and be merry, and indulge in lascivious and licentious behaviour.

On 17th December 2010 we are serving the XXXXXXX Christmas Lunch at the London XXXXXXX XXXXXX…

Amazing.

(And it goes on to quote Catullus (“Saturnalibus, optimo dierum”) at the end, completely unironically and detached from the original context.)

pinkertondeluxe

This is how it goes with Weezer. They show up – at the moment, apparently on an annual basis – with some form of ludicrous story in the music press that usually has little to do with the content of the actual record. Then a record comes out, and it’s largely terrible – at times embarrassingly so – although it still usually manages to contain one or two tracks that remind us that yes, Rivers Cuomo did know how to write a song once upon a time, and which are just about enough to keep us from giving up on them entirely, though we swear that if the next album is this bad, we’ll definitely stop paying attention.

And then, just when we pretty much don’t want to listen to another album of his ever again, Rivers puts out a rarities compilation. It’s almost by way of penance – “Look,” he’s saying, “I know we can’t make a decent album for toffee any more, but back in the day we made fifty albums worth of good stuff, and you still haven’t heard most of it yet. Give me another chance, please.” And invariably, the rarities collection turns out to be EXCITING AS HELL, and we forgive his little face.

Well, after the double-whammy of Raditude and Hurley (decent track total: four, by my count, and that includes the “Viva la Vida” cover), he’s got a lot to apologise for. So not only have we got Death to False Metal (of which more another time) and a third Alone compilation on the way, but we’re also finally (arguably four years late) getting the Deluxe edition of Pinkerton. And after just a first listen through – hell, after a look at the tracklist – there’s a lot to talk about, so that’s exactly what I thought I’d do. Track by track, in painstaking fashion.

Hey, look, I used to run an entire website about this band. You were warned.

Disc 1

You Gave Your Love To Me Softly
This is the single version (as heard on the B-side to “El Scorcho”) rather than the one from the soundtrack of the film Angus (for which the song was originally written/recorded). There are slight differences in the style and tempo, but both versions have their merits. I’m more familiar with the rockier Angus one, but this one’s got a slightly less urgent pace that’s quite nice.

Devotion
The other “El Scorcho” b-side, this is seen as a bit of a classic by some – I’m less keen on it, but it’s still a strong track. It was also originally intended as a Songs from the Black Hole song (and if you don’t know about that album, I suggest a quick skim either of Weezerpedia or of my article about it so you know what I’m referring to elsewhere in this post).

The Good Life (Radio Remix)
The single version of “The Good Life” is less distinguishable from the album cut as “Pink Triangle” (of which more later) is – but you can spot the subtle differences if you listen full-whack on headphones in the dark, as I did last night. It doesn’t feel hugely essential, though, as more of a slight variant on the album track than anything else. Nevertheless, listening to it with an attentive ear makes you realise just how unconventional a song it is – I honestly don’t think anyone else has ever really recorded anything like it, and certainly not with a tempo like it.

Waiting on You
One of two tracks from the frankly quite brilliant “Good Life” EP, this is – like “Devotion” – another 3/4 ballad, but in my opinion much, much better. Lovely song. The Pinkerton b-sides are interesting, in that the four of them have a distinct style/sound of their own (particularly keyboard-driven, and a bit more produced and polished), and so couldn’t really have fit on the main album (which is rawer and looser) – but they work well together as a set of four. It could perhaps be seen as Rivers allowing some of the intended feel of SFTBH to come through on these tracks, rather than on the album itself.

I Just Threw Out The Love Of My Dreams
And here’s the fourth b-side. And also the best. With excellent guest vocals from Rachel Haden, an insanely catchy melody, and a powerful keyboard-led sound that explodes with the last chorus (when Rivers brilliantly comes in on backing vocals), it’s simply an exquisite piece. It’s also the biggest available indicator of what SFTBH would have sounded like (Haden was even intended as one of the lead female characters).

The Good Life / Pink Triangle (Live and Acoustic)
A couple of tracks from an unnamed session – although, amusingly, they’re tracks that I’ve had in MP3 form for years. I think it was possibly recorded at a school/college of some kind, considering the apparently small size of the audience. Most interesting about this pair is the way the audience whoop and cheer every time the “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian” line is sung in “Pink Triangle”…

Pink Triangle (Radio Remix)
Whoa. This is made of awesome. Unlike “The Good Life”, this is significantly different from the album version – so much so that I even think the vocal take is a different one – and is clearly the version from that Karl-made video on the Video Capture Device DVD (for those who don’t know, “Pink Triangle” was intended as the third single from Pinkerton, but was shelved when the first two flopped; that’s why this single version hasn’t been widely heard, and why there was never a proper video). But it’s fantastic. It’s a lot beefier and punchier, particularly when it gets to the fantastically rocky final chorus (after the solo), and the keyboards are clearer as well. As with the b-sides, it’s basically more polished – so wouldn’t have worked within the context of Pinkerton itself. But as a single, it’s terrific, and it should have been a bloody massive hit.

I Swear It’s True
I can see why this was included – it was one of the intended “Pink Triangle” b-sides – but it doesn’t really grab me, as it’s somewhat plodding. Plus, of course, we’ve had it before – in rough 1993-era demo form, courtesy of the Blue Album deluxe edition. This version isn’t even much more polished than that, either. A bit flat, really.

Blue vs Pinkerton (Interview)
An amusing little radio/phone interview (with a caller asking about the production style differences between the two albums), the most interesting element of which is just how much Rivers talks, and how nicely he comes across. It’s a far cry from later years, I’ll say that. Pat still sounds exactly the same, though.

Disc 2

You Won’t Get With Me Tonight
I’m not sure that this should strictly speaking be on here, as it’s not a Weezer demo – it’s Rivers on his own, playing all the instruments and singing both vocal parts. On the other hand, if it had come out on an Alone compilation, fewer people would probably have heard it, so I can see why it’s been held back. It is, of course, my favourite track from the shelved SFTBH, and it’s wonderful. Brilliant to see it finally getting a proper release on an official =W= record.

The Good Life / El Scorcho / Pink Triangle (Live at Y100 Sonic Session)
The Y100 Session is a great little set (I’ve already got the entire thing in my collection), although it’s slightly disappointing that two of the tracks featured here have already had acoustic versions featured on this record. And it’s also a shame that by far the best track of the session – “Undone”, featuring beat poetry by Timothy “Speed” Levitch – isn’t included. The reason why is clear – it’s not a Pinkerton track – but still. I’d like the inclusion of these tracks more if we were being given the whole set (it’s only about five songs), in full context.

Why Bother? / El Scorcho / Pink Triangle (Live at Reading 1996)
By this point I’m not minding the repetitiveness of tracks so much, since what we’ve got here is at least completely different-sounding from the previous acoustic tracks, and it’s nice to hear how the band sounded live on the festival stage back in the ’90s. But…

The Good Life (Live at X96) / El Scorcho (Live and Acoustic)
Do we really need these, too? They’re good versions, but they’re not wildly different from the acoustic cuts elsewhere on the album – and if I want a multitude of different live sets, I… well, I already do, but the point is I have them in their entirety, and clearly marked. This is just starting to become a random pick and mix at this point.

Across the Sea Piano Noodles
This is a bit more interesting, if entirely disposable. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the name – a different version of the little piano intro to “Across the Sea”. Annoyingly, about half of its 30-second running time is a single low note fading out.

Butterfly (Alternate Take)
Interesting, this. It opens by making you think it’s going to be a capella, but it turns out it’s just Rivers practicing the opening line. Then there’s an actual – if short – guitar intro, absent from the final version. Otherwise, it’s simply just another, slightly different, acoustic performance of the song. Not hugely exciting, particularly if you see “Butterfly” as Pinkerton‘s weak link, but it’s rather nice all the same.

Longtime Sunshine
Well, wow. This is almost, almost the standout of the album – entirely unexpectedly, and for unexpected reasons. Here’s the thing – this is a song we already know. It was another Songs from the Black Hole tryout, but also happened to be one of the handful of tracks that had found their way online long before the Alone series started (it subsequently appeared on Alone 1). It’s an odd one, though – a gentle, reflective ballad in which Rivers (or, more likely, the “Jonas” character) reflects on his desire to go and live a simpler life. The problem is, it doesn’t really fit the SFTBH narrative – it’s intended to be the final song of the record, but Jonas’ character arc hasn’t really been brought to this point, as approximately half of the album is missing (i.e. not recorded or possibly not even written by Rivers). As such, it’s always felt slightly “off” putting it as the last track on fan mixes – and it seemed far more at home on Alone, where it could be taken at face value as a post-Blue Album Rivers having grown weary of the rockstar lifestyle. It was also surprising to see it on the tracklist here – could this version really do anything different?

Well, yes. It could. Because this is the fabled “Special Coda Mix”. Which suddenly, after the last chorus “proper”, swells out to include four additional, harmonised vocal lines – each singing lines from earlier SFTBH songs (in order, “Why Bother?”, “IJTOTLOMD”, “Waiting on You” and “Blast Off!”). It’s done in a similar style to the overlaid harmonies of “Dude, We’re Finally Landing”, suggesting that – along with the keyboard-driven power pop of “ITJOTLOMD”, another recurring sonic theme on the album would have been this almost barbershop-style use of vocals. It raises other questions, too – such as, for the first time, confirming the status of “Waiting on You” as a SFTBH track (it’s not listed on either of the demo playlists of Rivers’, but had been assumed by some fans to be part of the album due to its style and its presence alongside the others as a Pinkerton b-side); plus, one of the voices at the end is clearly Brian Bell, and not Rivers, which furthers the suggestion that there are some full-band recordings of the concept album’s songs out there – the other previous hint we’d had was the clip of a recording session on the DVD, in which the band were seen recording a much louder, punchier version of “Superfriend” (one we’re all desperate to hear, but which has apparently been lost for good).

So, yes. For those of us interested in the Black Hole legend, this is another compelling piece of the puzzle. For everyone else… well, you may not see what the fuss is about. But “everyone else” isn’t really who these albums are aimed at, is it?

Getting Up and Leaving
The other lost “Pink Triangle” b-side. Better than “I Swear It’s True”, I think – still quite a raw and unpolished recording, and it sort of hints at a few of the ways Rivers’ songwriting would go on later albums – but it’s fairly catchy and melodic.

Tired of Sex / Getchoo (Tracking Roughs)
Ooh, crunchy. If you thought the original “Tired of Sex” felt like having your face rubbed against the strings of a guitar like a cheese grater, wait until you hear this considerably scrappier version. There’s still something irresistably compelling about it, though – and of particular interest is the way it’s got a slightly different lead guitar melody over the top of it – well, I say “different”, it sounds like it is the same riff as on the album version, but put in a slightly different place. As for “Getchoo”, meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that this features different lyrics from the Pinkerton version – but they are the same lyrics as on the widely-available “Ft. Apache” demo recordings, and which are assumed to be the originally-intended words for the SFTBH version (e.g. “I used to run around / Sometimes I’d fall and skin my knee” instead of “Sometimes I push too hard / Sometimes you fall and skin your knee”). Indeed, I can see both these tracks replacing the scratchier Ft. Apache versions in a number of fans’ Black Hole tracklists (including my own).

Tragic Girl
And then there’s this. Forget all the Black Hole pieces – this is the track that makes Pinkerton Deluxe special. As far as we know, this song had nothing to do with Black Hole – it postdates that idea, and is instead simply a “lost” Pinkerton track. Properly lost, in fact – Weezer have recorded hundreds of songs over the last two decades, and there’s a public record (courtesy of recording logs posted online) of just about every session for fans to pore over. “Tragic Girl”, however, isn’t in any of them. It’s the quintessential lost gem (as Rivers put it in a recent tweet, “Tragic Girl” is […] like “You Know You’re Right” for Pinkerton fans.) We don’t know why or how it disappeared, or why or how it was recently discovered – but we can be thankful it was. It’s astoundingly good. It slots in to Pinkerton like it was always meant to be there, it sounds like you’ve jumped back in time to 1996 and heard a brand new track from this once-brilliant band at the height of their powers. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s moving, it builds with each repetition of a stupendous chorus until it hits key-change-breakdown-screamy-vocal-bit territory. And frankly, it makes a better closing track than “Butterfly” does. No, really.

So what’s missing?
There are still a few known tracks from around the Pinkerton era that sadly haven’t made their way onto the Deluxe edition. We can discount the remaining short SFTBH pieces, as they’re due to show up next month on the third Alone volume (will I be track-by-tracking that as well? You bet your ass I might), although it’s worth pointing out that a full-band version of “Blast Off!” is known to exist that we’ve never heard. But the Ft. Apache demos I mentioned earlier might have been worthy of inclusion – the version of “No Other One” that was done in that session is particularly special. Since they found room for no less than five versions of both “The Good Life” and “Pink Triangle”, it might have been nice to also get the rarer Angus take of “You Gave Your Love…”, too. And there are a lot of tracks from ’97 – some of which morphed into songs for side project  Homie, including the fan-favourite “American Girls” – which may not strictly count as Pinkerton stuff but which it’d be nice to see get a release somewhere (they’re not slated for Alone 3, but perhaps we can hope for a fourth volume next year?)

On the whole, though
It’s a corking set, despite the repetitiveness of the acoustic tracks. A thirty-six-track, two-CD Pinkerton reissue is simply a marvellous thing to be able to have in our hands considering everything that bloody album has gone through in terms of reception and reputation. And it contains a handful of truly staggering tracks, some of which are not only great in and of themselves, but which shed a little more light on the whole crazy Weezer-in-the-1990s story. Top stuff.

Next…
Yeah, I’ll probably be taking a look at Death to False Metal – the new compilation of ten “actually recorded and finished, but not used on an album” tracks dating from the pre-Green, Make Believe and Red Album years. Hold me.