Album Review: Weezer (The Red Album) by Weezer
4 out of 5 stars
So I realize it's been three weeks since the official release of the Red Album, and this review is not exactly timely. But that's what happens when an awesome CD comes out during finals week, and the next week your internet fails, rendering you cut off from the wonderful world of blogging. On the bright side, I have listened to it so much that this opinion is relatively solid, and not likely to change or have any nostalgic first time listen sympathy. Now on to the review!
The follow-up to mediocre Make Believe, the Red Album is a refreshing change of pace for Weezer. Here, they acknowledge their aging rock star status while trying to reconnect with what made them great in the first place. Rivers' solo project, Alone, a compilation of his personal recordings through the years, might be responsible for this shift in mood. By going back and looking at his past works, Rivers regained some musical perspective. Instead of wandering through the mire of pop acceptance, as Make Believe and Weezer (the Green Album) did, struggling to appeal the masses, the Red Album throws convention out the window and does what it wants. Screw the masses, Weezer is making music. Again. Finally.
That is not to say this is the perfect album. By trying to experiment, Weezer has made a few missteps. One of the most glaring and distracting is the decision to have the other members of Weezer sing. Let's get one thing straight here. Rivers Cuomo, and only Rivers Cuomo, is the singer for Weezer. There is a reason this is so. As much as I love Pat and Brian, please don't sing. And don't even get me started on Scott, whose vocal foray "Cold Dark World" is by far the worst song on the album. When Rivers does his faux rap style, we can accept it. Rivers does it recognizing how ludicrous, how white, he sounds, and this gives his tone a nice tongue-in-cheek sensation. When Scott gives rap a try in "Cold Dark World", he takes himself seriously, truly believing he pulls it off. He doesn't. Add a Peter Frampton-robot-burp effect as a bass beat, and you've got a boring and ridiculous song. Lose the attitude Scott. And lose the robotics (that goes for you too, "Automatic").
"Thought I Knew", sung by Brian Bell, is the best of the bandmate vocalist experiment. Even though he affects a drawl similar to Tom Petty, a sound I don't usually go for, the tune is pretty catchy and not too annoying when it gets stuck in your head. Despite this, once again, Rivers is the singer for a legitimate reason. He rocks. Plain and simple. Especially with this album.
I've heard a lot of complaints about the lyrical quality of the Red Album. True, the lyrics aren't great, but they aren't bad either. And what we need to realize is that lyrics are not the focus, the purpose of the Red Album. Here, Rivers delves into the complexity of pure sound, playing with the tone and melodics of the singing, pushing his voice to see what it can do. How he does this is simple, from the vocal slide in "Troublemaker" ("Marrying a beyyoootch/ Having seven keyyiiids) to the contrast of a single sustained sung note versus instrumental melody at the beginning of "The Angel and the One".
His vocal prowess is most obviously displayed on what is the single most impressive song on the album, "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived". With a musical ADD that makes the listener almost feel like they are flipping through radio stations, the building upon a theme with vastly different variations gives Rivers a chance to strut his stuff. Starting with a rap segment, "TGMTEL" soon evolves into power guitar, crooning, choral work (including an a capella counterpoint section that is mind-blowing) and a rock ballad featuring Rivers in falsetto that sends chills down my spine every time.
Practically anytime Rivers is singing, this album is pure gold. Some exceptions are the disappointing "Heart Songs", which had a promising premise but disintegrated into an easily forgettable and, quite frankly, cheesy melody. If it wasn't for Rivers voice, this would be laughable. And "Everybody Get Dangerous" has a ridiculous chorus and sounds like a bad ripoff of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But once again, when Rivers sings, you listen, regardless of content. His voice is magical.
If you're going to get this, you HAVE to get the Deluxe Edition. Within the bonus material are three of the best songs: "Pig", "Spider", and my favorite, "Ms. Sweeney". "Spider" is ethereal and heartbreaking, and "Pig" is a hilarious yet touching account of a pigs life, completely humanized. And "Ms. Sweeney" contains all of the repressed and frustrated longing that peppered Weezer's earlier works. Pure beauty.