Last time: 2010 felt like the end times. While Hurley had some fans among Weezer’s listenership, it didn’t restore their reputation hugely after the critical and commercial failure of Raditude. The band retreated into near radio-silence, starting their longest effective hiatus since before The Red Album. Surely they couldn’t possibly return in a way that would recapture anything like their former glories…?
1. Ain’t Got Nobody. 2. Back To The Shack. 3. Eulogy For A Rock Band. 4. Lonely Girl. 5. I’ve Had It Up To Here. 6. The British Are Coming. 7. Da Vinci. 8. Go Away. 9. Cleopatra. 10. Foolish Father. 11. The Futurescope Trilogy I: The Waste Land. 12. The Futurescope Trilogy II: Anonymous. 13. The Futurescope Trilogy III: Return To Ithaka.
Recorded January-August 2014 by Cuomo, Bell, Wilson, Shriner. Produced by Ric Ocasek. Released October 2014.
If you happened to be one of the fans that made it on to the inaugural Weezer Cruise, then the band made their comeback from an extended post-Hurley silence in 2012. But for everyone else, it was in early 2014 – when footage of a new song performed on the latest of said cruises made it online – that the band made their latest attempt at winning back their old fanbase’s affections.
After Hurley’s “Memories” had made one attempt at invoking the mid-90s glory years, the new song “Back to the Shack” was an even more flagrant attempt at tuning in to that nostalgia. It’s far from the most inventive piece in the band’s back catalogue, but the back-to-basics approach was nevertheless welcomed by fans – as were self-deprecating lyrics such as “Maybe I should play the lead guitar and Pat should play the drums”.1
The most interesting thing about “Shack” is the middle section, beginning with the line “We belong in the rock world” – there’s a key change and driving riff that feel particularly reminiscent of 1990s Weezer, going beyond simply paying lip service in the lyrics the way the stylistically uninteresting “Memories” had.
Weezer went back into the studio in 2014 to record the new album, with the presence of Blue and Green producer Ric Ocasek (RIP) another reassuring detail for longtime fans. Perhaps mindful of the need to curry favour among the fanbase rather than simply unleashing another album out of the blue, the band were more open about the recording process than at any point since the ill-fated Album 5 demos.
Although tracks weren’t released online in full, a range of teaser videos – titled “Weezer Wednesdays” – were published on YouTube on a weekly basis. They began as little behind-the-scenes studio peeks, before beginning to include clips of the album-in-progress – and then finally moving on to a bizarre mini-narrative around the record’s concept itself, after its title and more detail about its content had been unveiled.
These snippets gave us promising hints of tracks such as “Ain’t Got Nobody”, which would go on to be the album’s pulsating opening track. This also was the leadoff for one of three “themes” that ran through the record – ostensibly (although frankly, in practice, not really very much) telling the story of the rise and fall of a fictional rock band named the Astronauts.2
The second of the album’s themes, nicknamed “Belladonna” (and described by Pitchfork’s review of the album as being about “powerful women who frighten and leave Rivers Cuomo”), was in evidence on the second track released to fans ahead of the album in full, “Cleopatra”. Part of a triptych of specifically romance-related songs that open the record’s back half – it sits after the irritatingly catchy “Da Vinci”, and “Go Away”, the first Weezer album track to feature a guest duet vocal in the shape of Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino – it was immediately a far more interesting proposition than “Back to the Shack”, with its off-kilter time signature in the chorus, and rousing “5, 10, 15, 20” refrain.
(The “Belladonna” theme was also present, along with the “Patriarchia” theme, on the alleged first attempt at writing a ninth album, Ecce Homo. Like the earlier Songs From The Black Hole, the lore around this version of the album is sketchy and may in some cases be apocryphal; but fan reporting outlined it as being based more clearly around three distinct sections – following in sequence rather than interspersed as EWBAITE’s tracks ended up being – and with a much stronger commitment to being an elaborate concept album. Hopefully, as with SFTBH, we’ll learn more about it in the years to come once more dust has settled.)
Although EWBAITE’s back-to-basics approach was encouraging, alarm bells were rung for some fans in the buildup as it emerged that several of the tracks had been co-written with external songwriters, rather than everything falling back to Rivers again. However, this time around, the names that were lined up to work on the album seemed far more suitable and complementary to Rivers’ strengths than some of the collaborators on previous efforts.
Justin Hawkins, of The Darkness, was perhaps a surprise choice to link up with Weezer, but his “I’ve Had It Up To Here” managed to blend the hallmarks of both bands without feeling awkward. A more obvious fit were Daniel Brummel and Ryen Slegr, of Pasadena-based power-pop cult heroes Ozma. Ozma had already toured with Weezer around the turn of the century, as well as being likened to them when first emerging, and so “Eulogy for a Rock Band” slotted seamlessly into the album.
Perhaps the most successful co-write, however – as well as being the track that gave the album its title, and quite possibly the best thing on it – was “Foolish Father”. The culmination of Rivers’ “Patriarchia” theme – songs that explored relationships with paternal and authority figures – it’s a heartfelt and personal call out to his own daughter, but given weight and heft by the contributions of Patrick Stickles, of the prodigiously good modern punk rock band Titus Andronicus.
While it’s not known exactly which songwriter contributed which part in any of the cases on the album, you have to imagine that “Foolish Father”’s epic, rousing crescendo – complete with grou-choir-vocals – comes from Stickles’ own particular playbook of catharsis. Comfortably one of the best things Weezer have recorded this century, it would stand as one of their all-time great album closers – except it doesn’t even sit at the very end.
Instead, EWBAITE is rounded off by a triptych, titled “The Futurescope Trilogy”, that stands as perhaps the strongest remaining indicator of the original concept-album plans for Ecce Homo. The opening and closing tracks, “The Wasteland” and “Return to Ithaka” are instrumental, and the latter was given an airing in a particularly exciting Weezer Wednesday video. At the centre, however, sits “Anonymous” – which was also first unveiled in a Weezer Wednesday, the one that actually also revealed the title of the album:
Back then it was known as “My Mystery”, but the titular lyric changed between then and the album’s release.3 Either way, it’s a beautiful and rousing piece, and with the two instrumentals either side of it, a great way to finish off the record.
That said, my personal favourite moment on EWBAITE isn’t one of the singles, isn’t part of the closing triptych, and isn’t even “Foolish Father”. Because from out of nowhere, Rivers decided to write a song themed around the American Civil War – not as an allegory, just straight up literally singing about Paul Revere4 – and “The British Are Coming” was the result.
Layered and textured with depth and hooks, “British…” is a masterpiece. It keeps you on your toes with a tempo change here and a falsetto vocal there, and at around the 2:50 mark it launches into maybe the best guitar solo Rivers had delivered since all the way back on the opening track of Pinkerton.
Given how down being a Weezer fan felt after the one-two punch of Raditude and Hurley, it’s tempting to feel that maybe the positive reception for EWBAITE was an overreaction, born out of simple relief that the album wasn’t utterly terrible. But I don’t believe it was – I felt then, and still feel now, that it’s an absolutely terrific album from start to finish. Even its weaker moments – “Da Vinci” and “Shack” – are perfectly fine and bearable, particularly by the standards of the band’s mid-late 2000s albums. It’s evocative of multiple different eras – not just the 1990s duo, but with the enjoyable “Lonely Girl” proving a nice nod back to The Green Album.
It’s got a clear point and a consistent sound, stronger-than-usual lyrics (the odd blip aside), well-judged and sympathetic collaborations, and all in all just felt like a modern-day Weezer album should – coherent, melodic, heavy when required, and all in all just downright enjoyable. Five years on from its release, I still feel that it’s firmly Weezer’s third-best album, only topped by the Big Two, and I’m still utterly delighted that it exists – and I would be even more delighted when the next album turned out to be almost as good again…
Weezerology will return with Part 9…
1 There’s a debate to be had, mind, over whether the line “I forgot that disco sucks” is a fair one; not only is it not actually reflective of the kind of genres Rivers was trying to move into around the Raditude era, but the old “disco sucks” strapline has an uncomfortable history and association with overtly rockist and, occasionally, even racist attitudes.
2 The only other track that really evinces this theme, in the end, is “Eulogy for a Rock Band”. According to fan lore, however, this was originally titled “Eulogy for a Rockstar”, and would have formed half of a two-song suite with an unheard song, “Flight Plans”, culminating in the death of the titular star.
3 An early mix of the album, leaked online in late 2017, featured the song in full with its original title.
4 Interestingly, the aforementioned early mix of the album revealed that the lyrics to “British” were originally less literal, and more of a metaphor for the narrator’s feelings.