Monthly Archives: October 2014
Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Few bands occasion so much intense love and flippant dismissal (often from the same people, often at the same time) as Weezer. For over 10 years, since the release of the so-called Green Album, critics and fans held out their hopes for a new Weezer album to match the quality of the first two records, but really most of whom just wanted the band to get back to that early sound, an increasingly odd request for a band now decades older. (Even more ironically, the subtext for some of those reviews is that the famously uncool band wasn’t being cool enough, or, rather, that they weren’t being uncool in a cool enough way.) For their part, Rivers Cuomo and the rest of Weezer took a lot of this criticism in stride, just ignoring what they could and following their muse, releasing record after record of varying quality while experimenting with different styles and sorts of jokes. (Remember when they did a song with Lil Wayne?) But Cuomo’s always been the self-conscious type, keenly aware of what his audience expects from him, and after jumping back in with his core audience with a series of tours focusing on their early work, Weezer took the time to craft a new record that would ostensibly get back to their roots. On its face, it seems like all that badgering finally got to the band.
In actuality, Everything Will Be Alright In The End, Weezer’s ninth album, isn’t really a return to form by any means. It certainly talks like it—”Back To The Shack” blatantly apologizes to the fans and promises to get back to “rockin’ out like it’s ’94″—but nothing on here remotely apes the Blue Album or Pinkerton. Even the heartache of the rousing opener “Ain’t Got Nobody,” which on the surface seems like a kissing cousin to their lovelorn early days, is gussied up with crowd-pleasing hooks and big, arena-rock ambition that marked their post-millennial work. Instead, EWBAITE shrewdly attempts to court Weezer’s hardcore audience, not by tracing over their older work, but by marrying the game-for-anything creativity of their recent music and the weight and quirk of the early records. By and large, it succeeds wonderfully. The songs are consistently tight, catchy and memorable, generally falling on the right side of the funny/hokey divide, eccentric without veering into novelty. To be clear, this is a more calculated, occasionally fan-service-y album than we’re used to—with a wife and kids waiting for him at home, he doesn’t really “got nobody to kiss and hug me”—but this doesn’t really matter since the band’s playing to their strengths and working on the most solid set of songs they have in over a decade.
Cuomo once again shares songwriting credit on a couple tracks here, but they feel entirely in his voice, which lends EWBAITE a bit more personality and urgency no matter if he’s writing about himself, a character or how “The British Are Coming.” “Eulogy Of A Rock Band” is a small-scale epic more successful than the similarly minded “Heart Songs” from Red; the time-signature shifts lend “Cleopatra” a surprisingly effective twist, and “Go Away” puts Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino’s easygoing sincerity to good use in a duet. Meanwhile “Foolish Father” and “Anonymous” both end with those sorts of euphoric, reassuring crowd chants that indie bands are so fond of (the former’s reminds me of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” oddly enough). If that sounds like a lot to squeeze into a 42 minute album, it is. In fact, most of the album finds Weezer more ambitious than they’ve ever been, but here it works because there’s a sense they’ve put a lot of effort into seeing all their ideas through. In other words, this is an album where a song called “The British Are Coming” is literally about Paul Revere, and it might be one of their best singles in years. Plus, it has the nerve to culminate in something called the “Futurescope Trilogy,” a near-proggy mini-suite that closes out the record, bookended with interlocking guitar-shredding instrumentals that surround “Anonymous,” a multi-segmented barn-burner that has little competition for Weezer’s most theatrical moment. Holding it all together though is Ric Ocasek, once again proving to be Weezer’s best and most natural production partner, just as he was on Blue and Green. He reigns in Cuomo’s whimsy and plays up his hooks (and his quirks), giving the album bite even when the band gets silly and letting the left turns bristle against the slick pop confections. If EWBAITE doesn’t come close to their best albums, it’s a reassuring reset button—their best since The Green Album or maybe even Pinkerton—and a hopeful push to a bold, new future. When Weezer are good, there’s no one quite like them, and Everything Will Be Alright In The End finds them better than they’ve been in quite a while.
I have a new feature up in the “Features” section. It’s called “Weezer and the Problem with Fan Expectations” and deals with what happens when an artist feels like they owe something to their audience.
UPDATE: It turns out this article was published in Popmatters. Here’s the link: http://www.popmatters.com/post/186936-weezer-and-the-problem-of-fan-expectation/
To be clear, I think EWBAITE is a very good record (review will be up shortly, sorry about that–been busy), their best in a decade, and this sort of uncomfortable tension between doing what they’ve always done and apologizing to their fan base I think helps fuel the record instead of drag it down, even if the fan-service aspects result in it feeling much more calculated than the average Weezer record.
Thanks for reading. I hope you are okay.
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Like Radiohead’s last few releases, the actuality of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Thom Yorke’s second solo album, is somewhat overshadowed by its unconventional release. Announced and dropped on the same day via BitTorrent, with only a few vague hints of a release in the preceding days, it almost seemed as if Yorke was intentionally passing off the record with as little hype as possible, burying it within the news of his main band being back in the studio. That assumption’s unfair to this record, which is much better than a tossed-off collection of experiments, but it also highlights Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes as an unquestionably minor statement. The Eraser, his debut solo record, preceded this record by eight years, and that’s an album of similarly small-scale gems, a deliberate breather from the hullabaloo that surrounds a new Radiohead release. What’s exemplary about The Eraser is how it had emotional directness on its side, with Yorke’s imagery and delivery more intimate and forthright and, in the case of the terrified, urgent “Harrowdown Hill,” explicitly political.
Boxes, conversely, eludes that sort of easy analysis. It certainly sounds like a Thom Yorke record: the dour tone, the hop-skip rhythms, the layered drones and haunting (and haunted) vocals all make their way here in some form or another. Some critics (including me) considered Atoms For Peace’s record to essentially be Yorke’s follow-up to The Eraser, but Boxes really does feels more aligned with its predecessor. The difference is that Boxes showcases Yorke at his least song-oriented, which is both its greatest asset and its greatest liability. In the near-decade since The Eraser, Yorke has spent quite a lot of time in the electronic community, buddying up with Flying Lotus and Actress, calling on the likes of Four Tet and Mark Pritchard to remix Radiohead tracks, and all the while indulging his love of nimble rhythms with The King Of Limbs and Atoms For Peace. It follows, then, that he and producer/collaborator Nigel Godrich have become more versatile, confident DJs in the meantime. So confident, in fact, that Boxes plays as Yorke’s bid for credibility as a serious electronic artist.
Now, of course, electronics and all manner of synthesized effects have made up a great portion of Yorke’s music for over a decade, and he’s helped to cultivate an influential, distinct style of his own (so much so that “Radiohead-esque electronica” makes its way into reviews for other artists from time to time). Yet he also hasn’t made something like the nine-and-a-half minute house-n-glitch of “There Is No Ice (For My Drink)” and “Pink Section,” which only feature his voice in chopped, intelligible snippets. (Unless I’m missing something, this is the longest stretch of any Yorke-related music to go instrumental on us.) And even on the more conventional tracks like “A Brain In A Bottle” and “Guess Again!,” he’s rarely eschewed conventional structure so readily throughout a whole record, letting it work entirely off the atmosphere. Much of it works. The music here, if not truly forward-thinking or unpredictable, is frequently attractive and well-crafted, finding a couple new wrinkles in his sound and, as always, using his voice as a counterpoint to the digital detritus that surrounds it. The piano pulse that underscores “The Mother Lode” is sleek and inventive; “Truth Ray”‘s quivering “Oh my God” refrain is surprisingly poignant, and the revelatory closer “Nose Grows Some” might be one Yorke’s most overtly gorgeous works ever.
The problem lies where Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes differs from The Eraser. This album may be more eclectic and sharply produced in some ways, but while the prettiness of the arrangements surface among repeated listens, there isn’t much else here to return to. Any of the intimacy and vitality of its predecessor is replaced by something that’s simply a great mood-setter, but not much more than that. Abstract and intermittently evocative it may be, Boxes doesn’t possess the originality or depth to get by without something more substantial to grab onto, which leaves it a finely sculpted, but not entirely compelling, curiosity. Weirdly, though not completely unsurprisingly, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes shares a similar vibe to Damon Albarn’s first solo record, Everyday Robots, released earlier in 2014—the aching melancholy, the reliance on elliptical structure, the looping tracks. And while both records have moments as beautiful as any of each artist’s best work, they also both feel like missed opportunities, precisely because they don’t dig deep enough to stick. The Eraser was a minor classic because it placed Yorke’s voice and songwriting in a more personal context. Here, we have what amounts to a master musician showing us what he’s been up to lately, and though there’s plenty here to marvel at, it feels more like the work of a hobbyist than an artist.