Weezer experiments with new sounds

Ask most Weezer fans and they’ll draw a dividing line between the first two albums, Blue Album and Pinkerton, and their subsequent five albums.

The first records were sublime power-pop albums with catchy enough hooks to make the emotionally raw lyrics palatable. After the then-relative failure of Pinkerton, Weezer went into hibernation for five years, emerging once more as a new band, scrubbed clean of their grit, producing songs that retained the catchiness but without the pathos. Despite their cotton candy nature, these albums ultimately produced some of Weezer’s biggest hits like “Beverly Hills.”

Lying somewhere between these two extremes is Weezer’s occasionally experimental eighth album, Hurley. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo has signaled that this album would be a return to a raw sound, which has led many fans to hope for the second coming of Pinkerton.

Keep those hopes in check, folks, because this album actually follows the recent Weezer formula for the majority of its short 33 minute duration: big pop hooks, crunchy guitars and no guitar solos.

The production does have a rougher edge than their recent output, evident from the opening of “Memories,” the lead track on the album.

Starting strangely after an orchestral break, the song plows through Cuomo’s memories of the 1990s like a buzzsaw, hardly stopping to catch his breath. As has been the case of most of Weezer’s output, this is meant to be played loud, not through headphones. Drive your car while listening to this album and you’ll love it. Listen to it in a quiet space and its bombastic nature may drive you mad.

This straight-ahead rock feel continues through the first five songs of the album, save for the acoustic break of “Unspoken.” By the time the joke song “Where’s My Sex?” has concluded (a play on Cuomo’s son being unable to pronounce “socks” correctly), this album is beginning to feel like another Raditude: catchy, yet cotton candy disposable.

The second half of the album yields some surprises, likely fueled by the outside collaborators that Cuomo enlisted to help him write the songs, ones more renowned for their songwriting (Linda Perry) than their pop stardom (Lil’ Wayne on Raditude). It is with these outside collaborators that the songs start to come to life, as if Cuomo realized he could not phone it in with others involved. Coming sixth on the track order, the Ryan Adams’ collaboration “Run Away” is the most old-school Weezer song since the Pinkerton days.

The invention on the rest of the album is subtle, as if Cuomo is afraid to move too far away from the pop formula that has served him so well for the last ten years, but it is an encouraging sign compared to the pop stagnation of Weezer’s last album. The parts are recorded with a pop sheen, but there is rawness around the edges.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the album closer “Time Flies”, a foot-stomping acoustic number that sounds like it was recorded in a shoebox, something that may sound negative but is actually praise.

Collaborating with one of Elvis Presley’s songwriters, Weezer brings a satisfying finish to the album not by applying more of the same straight ahead power-pop, but by going outside of their recent comfort zone. The star rating for this album is quite variable. If you only enjoyed their first two albums, subtract a star. If you have enjoyed their recent albums, add a star. For non-fans, know that this is a satisfying recent Weezer record, but it will not likely convert you if you aren’t already a fan.