Well, that new Weezer album turned out to be rather good, didn’t it? So much so that I’m really looking forward to discussing it in detail, particularly in the context of everything that preceded it. So with that in mind, I’d really better get around to finishing off said context. Here, then, is the latest part of my era-by-era trek through the band’s songwriting history. If this is the first time you’ve landed on one of these posts, you might want to head back to the start and go from there. But if you’re up to date, if you’ll recall that last time around we left things at the end of The Green Album‘s release period – so let’s crack on with the hectic remainder of 2001…
1. Listen Up. 2. Zep Song. 3. High Up Above. 4. Saturday Night. 5. Puerta Vallarta. 6. I Wanna Know. 7. Cygnus X1.
1-5 recorded May-June 2001 by Cuomo/Bell/Welsh/Wilson. 6-7 recorded September-December 2001 by Cuomo/Bell/Shriner/Wilson.
Even before The Green Album hit stores in May 2001, Weezer were already looking forwards. They may have been about to embark on extensive tours of both the US and Europe to promote the new record, but a new batch of songs was already on their mind. Just over a week after the album’s release, the band stopped off in Washington DC for a day’s recording, laying down what would become known, unsurprisingly, as the “DC Demos”.
A month or so later, while in the UK to play three gigs in London, they recorded a set for BBC Radio 1’s Evening Session. While these sets would ordinarily be used to plug tracks from a band’s new album, Weezer instead decided to take the opportunity to have another tryout of some of the new songs. Four tracks, ultimately, were broadcast, but eight were recorded in total – all of which had also been tried out in DC. Some of them made it onto the next album, so we’ll deal with those later – but for the moment, let’s stop and consider the mid-2001 songs that either didn’t go any further, or which (in my opinion) weren’t improved upon in the next round of demos.
“Listen Up” was a particular highlight of the BBC session, and I’ve always thought it was a shame it never became an album track. It’s got a very different feel from anything on Green (and from almost everything on Maladroit), and while its gentler tone perhaps doesn’t fit with the heavier rock sound the band were edging towards, it does prefigure some of the stuff they’d start to experiment with afterwards. The same could be said about “High Up Above”, with its prominent organ sound – that one was quite a favourite with fans, although it doesn’t stand out from the sessions for me.
What’s perhaps notable about these two songs, and “Zep Song”1, is that lyrically they’re all on a similar tone to much of the second half of the Green Album – in being fairly generic, but relatable, songs about relationship dramas – but the fact that Maladroit would go on to move away from that subject matter is perhaps a reason why the songs, despite all possessing quite memorable tunes, never went any further. The same is also true of “I Wanna Know”, which despite being recorded later (of which more in a moment) sounds the most like a holdover from Green.
Two more unconventional tracks recorded during these sessions were “Saturday Night” and “Puerta Vallarta”. The latter is a gentle, acoustic instrumental that would later see its tune reworked into a song called “Acapulco” (but I think the version here is distinct enough to justify being separated out). The former, meanwhile, is a really upbeat, fun track – one that, once again, it’s disappointing wasn’t taken much further. Unusually for post-Sharp songs, it’s somewhat driven by the bassline.
The first attempts in earnest to put together material for a new record (provisionally referred to as “The Black Album”) took place between around September and November of 2001 – but by this time, the band had moved on to its third bass player. Mikey Welsh had left Weezer for reasons that were undisclosed at the time (but later revealed to be down to depression and a mental breakdown, issues that continued to plague him until his sad death in 2011). His replacement, recruited at short notice to continue the touring and demoing in late 2001, was Scott Shriner, a former US marine who in a nomadic music career had previously most notably played in Vanilla Ice’s backing band.
The majority of the material from Shriner’s first sessions, including several songs not listed above, never made it out to the public – “I Wanna Know” and the instrumental “Cygnus X1” being exceptions. But a handful of the songs they were trying did get carried forward into the actual Maladroit sessions, which began in late December 2001.
1. Mr Taxman. 2. How Long. 3. Porcupine (aka Spend Some Time). 4. Sandwiches Time. 5. Broken Arrows (aka Love Canopy). 6. Ain’t Got Much Time. 7. Don’t Pick On Me (aka Big Chip). 8. Seafaring Jamb (aka My Weakness). 9. Serendipity. 10. We Go Together. 11. Change The World. 12. Your Room.
Recorded December 2001-January 2002 by Cuomo/Bell/Shriner/Wilson.
While recording Maladroit, the band undertook a then-quite-unconventional approach – each time they laid down a new version of a particular track, they posted it online via their official website, and sought fans’ opinions and suggestions. Rivers initially filtered the responses through Karl Koch, the band’s webmaster, roadie and all-around handyman – but eventually began posting himself under the username “Ace” (a reference to Ace Frehley of his beloved Kiss).
Although this makes the Maladroit recording era probably the most comprehensively-accessible slice of Weezer history – there are somewhere in the region of 130 officially-released tracks, across around 25 different songs – this new method wasn’t without its drawbacks. Firstly, the initially-positive relationship between Rivers and the fans began to deteriorate, as he was unhappy with the nature of some of the feedback, and frustrated by the conflicting nature of many of the suggestions (although he still took onboard a fan suggestion for the album’s title).
Secondly, it brought them into contact with the record label, Geffen, who argued that as fans (and radio stations) were essentially able to construct their own versions of the album once the final tracklisting was announced, the band were in breach of contract by releasing these recordings online. The standoff meant that Maladroit was in severe danger of not being released by Geffen at all – and some fans even set up a protest site titled Unreleased Weezer For The Masses in an attempt to get the songs out there.
Whatever Rivers’ thoughts on the fan comments about the demos, they were at least to some level instructive in helping the band whittle down the songs to the ones that would ultimately make it onto the album. And looking at the remaining tracks from that that didn’t make it onto the record (none of them being demoed any later than January 2002), it has to be said that between them, the fans and the band made some pretty strong calls. There are decent tracks among the unused Maladroit cuts, but none that really would have made the album strikingly stronger for their presence. They have a somewhat generic feel, and mostly lack even the imagination of the immediately post-Green work.
“We Go Together” (nothing to do with the Grease song of the same name!) could have been a strong effort if carried past these recordings, with its main chorus-as-verse melody providing a strong hook – although like many songs around this time, the lyrics feel somewhat dashed-off and inconsequential. The same goes for “Porcupine”, which has a very catchy verse, but lyrics like “Come on, come on and tell me girl / Did you believe it’s true / When I was here and waiting girl / When I was here with you”.
Perhaps the most notable track of this group is one that attracts a fair amount of opprobrium from fans – “Sandwiches Time”. It’s an utterly baffling song, with barely-sensible lyrics delivered in an unusual falsetto. But the combination of that falsetto and a 6/8 time signature means it at least stands out among the others.
All in all, though, the unused tracks from this era do feel like they’d run their course – there’s no “Listen Up” or “Cryin’ and Lonely” when it comes to wishing any of them hadn’t been dropped at the time they were. But as for the lucky songs that did make it forwards, the question would be whether or not they’d ever actually get a legal release…
1. American Gigolo. 2. Dope Nose. 3. Keep Fishin’. 4. Take Control. 5. Death and Destruction. 6. Slob. 7. Burndt Jamb. 8. Space Rock. 9. Slave. 10. Fall Together. 11. Possibilities. 12. Love Explosion. 13. December. 14. Living Without You.
Recorded December 2001-January 2002 by Cuomo/Bell/Shriner/Wilson. Produced by Weezer with Chad Bamford and Rod Cervera. Released May 2002.
It’s obvious, with the polish of an actual production process, that the tracks on Maladroit generally sound better than the ones that didn’t make the cut. But in truth, even before getting their final production work, the thirteen (or fourteen, if you have the U.K. edition that includes “Living Without You” as a bonus track) songs chosen were clearly, self-evidently the thirteen (or fourteen) best songs from that era of writing and recording.
Some of them, however, really do benefit from being properly beefed up for the album. Take leadoff single “Dope Nose” – an older song even than most of the Green Album, it dates back to the Summer Songs 2000 days, but it had always felt like something of a poorer cousin to “Hash Pipe” (similar title, nonsensical lyrics, but with a catchy main riff). The version that would eventually make it to Maladroit, however, showed the benefit of gradually being chipped away at and improved over two years, and even apparently gimmicky additions such as the “Whoa-oh”s in the intro help to give it a more distinctive character.
The heavier, crunchier rock sound that’s generally thought to characterise the album is most evident in its first half – from the plodding “American Gigolo” (never a good thing to have by far your album’s weakest cut be its opening track, but hey ho), to the also plodding but a bit more characterful “Take Control” (another track from the early 2001 era that made it all the way through). After that, we get a few of its more interesting diversions – starting with “Death and Destruction”, an absolutely lovely, gentle, slowed-down waltz-time piece, which began life as an instrumental before later having lyrics added to it.
The same is true of “Burndt Jamb”, which had first appeared during the 2001 live shows and demo recordings. It was initially just a light, throwaway curio, with a simple “Doo doo doo doo” line in place of lyrics – so it was a surprise to see it make it all the way to Maladroit with some new, and perhaps less comprehensible than ever, lyrics. It’s still a pleasant track, but the older, simpler versions are arguably better.
But one track that did benefit from continued improvement was “Keep Fishin'”. Debuted during the summer 2001 sessions (and comfortably the standout track from the BBC session in particular) it may have suffered from the same sort of vague, nonsensical lyricism as many of its fellows, but its incredibly catchy chorus hook made it an obvious choice for a single. But Rivers, unhappy with a still slightly plodding album version, elected to re-record it yet again.
Accompanied by one of the band’s best videos (gimmicky it might have been, but it’s hard to get annoyed at a collaboration with the Muppets), the single version of “Keep Fishin'” is obviously poppier – perhaps, even, a shameless grab at commerciality – but it’s also significantly punchier, with an embellished intro, additional guitar licks, and improved vocal performance.
There’s a spark about that single version of “Keep Fishin'” that’s just lacking from most of Maladroit. It’s not that any of it’s particularly bad, just that in its second half it really starts to become somewhat samey – and where that was bearable on the more consistent and polished Green Album, here it just doesn’t feel like enough of a progression. By this point, we’re fully two years into the Weezer “comeback”, but there’s very little that distinguishes it as particularly exciting. Perhaps some of the ennui many fans feel towards this album is rooted in the fact that, when it was released, it was a set of tracks that we were already pretty familiar with – and so there was nothing surprising on the finished album.2 But that would have been less of a problem if any of them were especially spectacular.
Maybe the only exception to this is the closer,3 “December”. It’s another break into both a slower pace and a 6/8 time signature, like “Death and Destruction” before it, but with a far more memorable hook. It’s also striking just how well the rockier guitar sound (something that had been absent from the gentler version recorded during the mid-2001 demos) actually goes with a slowed down piece, and feels like a refinement of a type of song Rivers had been trying ever since “The Christmas Song” but, up to this point, had never really nailed.
“December” is one of the few tracks from the early 2000s that really feels like an attempt to progress the more emotional brand of songwriting heard on Pinkerton, while also pushing the band’s rockier new sound into somewhere more interesting. For the most part, though, Maladroit feels like an album of playing it safe – and the throwaway nature of much of its content is perhaps well reflected by the fact that, once again, by the time it came to be released (to sales of less than half those of The Green Album – with 600,000 US sales it was their lowest-selling album at that point, although it did outperform Pinkerton‘s initial release period) the band had already moved on to working on new material.4
The “Album 5 demos”, as they would come to be known, would see the band taking the step forwards in their style that many felt had been lacking from Maladroit – and as they started to filter out online throughout the latter half of 2002, there was a sense that something really special could be on the cards.
And yet Weezer’s next album wouldn’t be released until 2005 – and when it was, Make Believe contained not a single song from the batch of demos recorded and released online in 2002.
What happened? Find out next time…
Weezerology continues with Part Five, Beyond Belief.
2 Save perhaps for the lyrics of “Space Rock”, which turned out to be a mini-diatribe from Rivers against the nitpicking nature of online fandom – the relationship having turned sour over the course of the “posting demos online and seeking feedback” period.
4 Not to mention the fact that, for the first time, there were no new B-sides recorded for the singles – “Dope Nose” never actually received a proper retail release, while “Keep Fishin'” was padded out with live tracks.