Last time (nearly two years ago, sorry about that) Weezer’s sixth album, and third self-titled, The Red Album, was an inconsistent but often fascinating bag of ideas. It struggled for sales, but arguably found the 21st Century iteration of the band at their most defined. It also saw them enter their most prolific period of releases, with three main albums and three rarities compilations released between 2008 and 2010. But did quantity equal quality? Well…
1. If You’re Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To). 2. I’m Your Daddy. 3. The Girl Got Hot. 4. Can’t Stop Partying. 5. Put Me Back Together. 6. Tripping Down The Freeway. 7. Love Is The Answer. 8. Let It All Hang Out. 9. In The Mall. 10. I Don’t Want To Let You Go.
Recorded November 2008-January 2009 by Cuomo, Bell, Wilson, Shriner. Produced by Butch Walker, Dr. Luke, Polow da Don and Jacknife Lee. Released November 2009.
Make Believe was released in May 2005. The Red Album in June 2008. Raditude in November 2009. It would be wrong to say that Weezer rushed into their next album immediately after Red, but it was certainly a quicker schedule than we’d been used to since the days when the Maladroit demos were floating around concurrently with The Green Album’s belated release.
In advance of Raditude’s release, there was little indication of the direction the band were moving in – but it was a new direction. The first major change was that, for the first time, Rivers would work with external songwriters – including producers Jacknife Lee and Butch Walker, and All American Rejects members Tyson Ritter and Nick Wheeler. This in turn tied into the second change, which was a conscious effort to widen the band’s style, and in the process appeal to a more mainstream pop market.
This might have seemed like an odd strategy to take given that The Red Album was hardly noted for its commercial appeal – but the band had been picking up new, and younger fans ever since Make Believe, and while they would never again successfully capitalise on that album’s sales figures, it did seem to inspire Rivers to reach out to a younger and more diverse audience.
Unfortunately, he did so with a batch of songs that were, and let’s not beat around the bush here, largely absolutely rotten. There are so few redeeming features to Raditude – it’s a grossly cynical, heartless, charmless grab at commerciality, that sacrifices almost everything that Weezer had going for them up to that point, and ignores everything that had ever made them commercially successful in previous years. It’s almost entirely vapid, and I can barely even bring myself to discuss tracks like “Tripping Down the Freeway” or “In the Mall” (the latter another Pat Wilson effort) in anything resembling detail. They are instantly forgettable, not even holding any worth as disposable pop songs.
Leadoff single “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” is perhaps the most successful stab at producing an accessible, catchy radio-pop effort – it’s hard to deny that it’s got the most Cuomo-ish hook of anything on the record, even if it pales into comparison with the likes of “Buddy Holly” or even “Keep Fishin’”. But where Cuomo had in past years shown a knack for capturing identifiable teenage aches and frustrations, here his approaching-40-year-old-man-pretending-to-be-a-kid schtick is grating in the extreme. In later years, as we’ll see, he would successfully mix “pretending to be stupid” with “accidentally revealing that he’s clever” to great effect – but here, he just comes off as stupid.1
The two tracks that are arguably the most of interest are the ones that we’d already heard in advance of the album, courtesy of their release in raw demo form on the Alone II compilation. “I Don’t Want To Let You Go” is the one true, unequivocal success on the album – even though it possibly sounded a bit better in its stripped back demo form – a yearning love song of the kind Cuomo excels at, reminiscent of (if not quite as good as) Alone I’s “I Was Made For You”.
“Can’t Stop Partying” is certainly one of the most fascinating things Cuomo has ever done, although you’d be hard pushed to call the Raditude version entirely successful. The original demo version saw him take a lyric by rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri and give it an unexpected slant by allying it to a sombre, acoustic performance that infused the lyrics with a (seemingly absent in the writing) sense of regret and remorse. It was exactly the sort of thing that a true collaboration is supposed to produce – something that would simply not have existed out of the mind of either party individually – and if included on any Weezer album in that original form (even without any additional production) would have been one of its undoubted highlights.
Unfortunately, the Raditude version pushes back to something you suspect is far closer to what Dupri had originally intended when writing it. Although Cuomo strips out some of the specific drugs references (replacing “I gotta have the E” with “I gotta have the beat”) there’s far less of a sense of weariness thanks to a more pulsing and heavily produced backing track.
In fact, the section that comes the closest to the mood that Rivers had established on the acoustic version comes with the track’s most contentious addition: a rapped insert by guest star Lil Wayne, who manages to sound just as tired as Cuomo does on the original, albeit this time possibly not to the enhancement of the song. While there’s fun to be had in the juxtaposition of his nickname (“Weezy”) with the band’s, for the most part he feels out of place, especially with straight-up explicit swearing of a kind not usually heard on Weezer records.
That said, the original version is undoubtedly one-note, with a single stance on what’s being sung about; on the album version, it veers between perspectives in a dizzying and confusing fashion that aptly reflects the state of mind of the vocalist(s). So it’s not that the Raditude version has nothing going for it at all – simply that it doesn’t fully commit to what it was originally setting out to.
Nevertheless, an interesting failure such as “Can’t Stop Partying” is still a far more worthwhile proposition than almost anything else the album has to offer. “Put Me Back Together” has earned a reasonably well-liked reputation among certain groups of Weezer fans in the years since, but it’s a mawkish sludge that chugs along for three utterly forgettable minutes.
“Love Is The Answer”, meanwhile, was apparently deemed good enough to be recorded for Raditude even after Rivers had already given it to Sugar Ray to include on their July 2009 album Music For Cougars. Weezer’s version adds sitars (one would suspect, given some of his work outside Weezer, that Brian Bell was responsible for the tone given to this recording) so it’s at least less generically bland than the Sugar Ray version, but neither requires more than one listen in your life.
The two tracks that most straightforwardly point towards Weezer’s new “pop single” direction line up second and third on the album after the leadoff single: “I’m Your Daddy” and “The Girl Got Hot”. Both have, it’s hard to deny, catchy hooks to them – especially in their respective choruses. But they’re coupled up with such excruciatingly cringeworthy lyrics that it’s hard to take either one in any way seriously.
And this isn’t the sort of endearing cringe that Rivers can sometimes get away with, either. “I’m Your Daddy” is just plain weird – Rivers was apparently inspired to write it while his infant daughter was in hospital, which is lovely and cute; but the song as written isn’t about his daughter, it’s about fancying a girl at a nightclub (and if anyone can tell me what “I will ape a goomba” is meant to mean that would be great, as nearly ten years later I’m still to figure it out). And “The Girl Got Hot”, meanwhile, is every bit the piece of borderline-misogynist trash you’d expect from the title.
Indeed, it’s the particularly egregious moments on Raditude – not to mention the sense of unearned confidence that runs through it from the title outwards – that means that even its positive moments are easy to overlook. It’s not a completely worthless record – no Weezer album ever is – but it reaches confusedly for something it has no chance of ever actually successfully achieving, and instead lands us headfirst in a pile of shit.
But it does still at least have “I Don’t Want To Let You Go” on it.
1. Get Me Some. 2. Run Over By A Truck. 3. The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide World. 4. The Underdogs. 5. I Want To Be Something. 6. Represent.
Recorded November 2008-January 2009 by Cuomo, Bell, Wilson, Shriner.
As was becoming customary, Raditude expanded its standard 10-track length with bonus tracks for a “Deluxe” physical and digital release. The digital editions were largely supplemented with covers, live versions and remixes (and the thoroughly pleasant Green era offcut “I Hear Bells”), but there were four wholly original tracks on the physical deluxe edition.
“Get Me Some” is a Raditude-era co-write with Dr. Luke, and is largely forgettable. “Run Over By A Truck” dates from pre-Red Album, but wouldn’t have really strengthened either album by being included. Where things get mildly interesting is with “The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide World” – one of the oldest songs Weezer would officially record in the 2000s, it goes all the way back to 1997, and was played by Rivers solo in the late ‘90s as well as being demoed (a version that remains unreleased) when the band first reconvened after the Matt Sharp split in 1998. It’s pleasant enough, but also not particularly attention-grabbing – and it’s only really its provenance that makes its inclusion on Raditude of note.
The best of the Raditude bonus tracks, oddly, is the one that pushes its sound far more into a clean, overly-produced pop sound than anything else on the album itself. “The Underdogs”, co-written with Kazuhiro Hara, would sound utterly jarring to a fan of 1990s Weezer, and has some pretty facile lyrics; but it’s also blessed with an absolute belter of a chorus that makes it one of the best things on the record.
A fifth additional recording from the Raditude era, “I Want To Be Something”, was actually released as a bonus track on Hurley; it’s a mournful Rivers solo acoustic demo, and it’s certainly stronger than almost anything else on the album it was eventually a part of; but it’s easy to see why it wasn’t considered for full recording for Raditude, since it doesn’t remotely fit with that album’s tone.
Finally, in 2010 – prior to Hurley – the band released a standalone digital-only single. Titled “Represent”, it was an “unofficial anthem” for the US Men’s National Soccer Team ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Rivers’ second attempt to write a song based around the US football team – the first being “My Day Is Coming” – it amusingly opens with commentary on the equalising goal that took the side to the tournament in the first place, in slightly Three Lions-ish fashion. The rest of it is… well, a fairly generic cruncher about sporting aspiration, with a very American slant to the lyrics (by which I mean there’s basically no humility or apology).2
1. Memories. 2. Ruling Me. 3. Trainwrecks. 4. Unspoken. 5. Where’s My Sex? 6. Run Away. 7. Hang On. 8. Smart Girls. 9. Brave New World. 10. Time Flies.
Recorded 2009-2010 by Cuomo, Bell, Wilson, Shriner. Produced by Rivers Cuomo and Shawn Everett. Released September 2010.
If Raditude had been a gamble on attempting to grasp for greater commercial success and a wider, more mainstream appeal, then it failed spectacularly. Aside from the negative critical reception the album got, sales performance was poor, charting lower than The Red Album across the board.
It made sense, then, that the band would go for a “back to basics” approach with the next record, but the speed with which they did this was surprising – the next album, Hurley (named after the photograph of Lost actor Jorge Garcia on the cover but with persistent rumours of a commercial tie-up with the clothing label of the same name) was released in September 2010, the first time a Weezer album had come out less than a year after its predecessor.
The speed of this release was also surprising given that Raditude saw the end of the band’s long-term association with DGC/Geffen/Interscope – instead signing a short term deal with punk label Epitaph. But while noises out of the band suggested a break with the style of Raditude, many of the problems that dogged that album still remained.
One of only two Cuomo solo compositions on the album, lead-off single “Memories” (which lent its name to a nostalgia-heavy touring of the band’s first two albums) is the first, but not the last, Weezer single to declare in its lyrics a desire to go back to what made the band beloved and successful. Unfortunately, the track comes nowhere near achieving that – it’s a plodding cruncher with an unmemorable chorus and largely forgettable lyrics.
Significantly better is the second track, “Ruling Me”, which is a far more successful attempt to belt out a straightforward slice of upbeat guitar-pop, co-written with Dan Wilson of Semisonic. It also effectively strikes the balance between the “dumb high school” type lyrics that characterised Raditude and some of Red, and Rivers’ own oft-buried internal smartness, with “When we first met in the lunch room / My ocular nerve went pop-zoom” something of an archetypal line.
The problem that “Ruling Me” has is that among an album of meatier substance it would be a nice, enjoyable palette cleanser – but on Hurley, so much of which is otherwise forgettable dross, it’s not strong enough to elevate proceedings. The same goes for comfortably the album’s strongest effort – and the only other non-co-written track – “Unspoken”.
But where “Ruling Me” is the most successful attempt at the disposable but fun pop that the album is attempting, “Unspoken” simply feels out of place. One of the strongest tracks of the post-Make Believe era, it’s got more character and depth than anything else on the record, and would be better suited to a place on The Red Album than here. It also sits oddly early on the album, before things have really had a chance to get going – and between two of its weakest tracks. It may seem churlish to criticise something for being too good for the album on which it sits, but that’s certainly what it feels like.
Of the two that bookend “Unspoken”, “Trainwrecks” is merely another plodding dirge; but the real problems kick in with “Where’s My Sex?”, which somehow manages to out-awful anything on Raditude, competing with “We Are All On Drugs” to be one of the most unlistenably dumb things the band have ever produced. If you don’t know the context that “sex” was Rivers’ accidental childhood pronunciation of the word “socks” then it’s just baffling, and if you do… well, then it’s still baffling, frankly.
The rest of the album passes by on a wave of wispy nothingness – listening back to “Run Away” (a co-write with Ryan Adams) for this writeup I could have sworn I’d never heard the thing before in my life, while “Hang On” is only notable for featuring actor Michael Cera on mandolin but does absolutely nothing of note with it or him. And then there’s “Smart Girls”, in which Harvard-educated Cuomo whines “Where did all these smart girls come from?”3
After the equally forgettable “Brave New World” comes “Time Flies”, perhaps the only vaguely interesting thing the album does sonically – with scratchy and echoey production, it sounds like it was just recorded in a single live take, but has a likeable authenticity for that reason. The song doesn’t really go anywhere (and ends abruptly), but it’s a pleasant enough listen.
And then… that’s it. Ten tracks, thirty-three minutes, but nothing like the return to taut pop simplicity that that length (and past form such as The Green Album) implies. It’s just… there. Apart from “Where’s My Sex?”, nothing on it is as bad as the low points of Raditude, but it’s a record you could happily forget exists. Indeed, its most interesting moment arguably comes in the bonus tracks, which feature an absolutely belting live cover of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”.
There’s a context in which Hurley might have been a perfectly acceptable middling Weezer album – but coming so soon off the back of Raditude certainly wasn’t it. And nor was the fact that after it, the band seemed to head immediately into semi-retirement – with what would ultimately be a four year wait until the next album. It’s an unsatisfying conclusion to what had been a messy, difficult and largely unedifying half-decade of activity.
Indeed, at the time that I started these blogs (which shows you how slow I’ve been at doing them) it was their last album to date, and stood a real chance of being their last album full stop. Thankfully, although we didn’t know it at the time, that four-year break would see the band have another stab at recapturing old glories – and making a rather better fist of it.
Weezerology continues with Part Eight, Futurescope.
1Incidentally, I have a friend whose knowledge of and taste in music is deep and varied, who once told me that “If You’re Wondering…” was the first Weezer single that had ever really clicked with him. I found that difficult to get my head around – you didn’t get on with “Buddy Holly”, but you’ll take this?
2What’s weird is that despite being “unofficial”, it had a video that cut together Rivers and Weezer performing with clips of the team playing, which is hosted on the official US Soccer Youtube channel. Figure that one out.
3Apparently the song, co-written by Tony Kanal of No Doubt and Jimmy Harry, was originally titled “Hot Girls” and was about the challenge of being surrounded by women but, as a married man, being unable to do anything. Just in case you wondered whether Rivers had lost any of his charming relatability, there.