I love me some Weezer, but even I’m finding it harder and harder to defend Rivers Cuomo. I’m not sure that the man was ever “cool,” exactly, but any hipster cred he may have had he’s been squandering ever since The Green Album. The angsty, scraping proto-emo of Pinkerton now firmly a relic, Cuomo led his Weezer gang through their what I assumed would be the goofiest, most unashamedly uncool album of their career with last year’s Red Album, what with its painfully silly lyrics, its preposterous rhyme schemes, its delightfully over-the-top stab at a “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the mallrat set. Cuomo was making the least fashionable music of his career, but also some of the most interesting: He was breaking his own rigid set of rules, pointing the way toward something– dare I say it?– as ballsy as Pinkerton.
And then he went and stuck a flying dog on the next Weezer album cover and called it Ratidude. And if that’s not enough to convince you that this is the least cool album Weezer has ever made, just check out the song titles: “I’m Your Daddy,” “The Girl Got Hot,” “Love is the Answer,” “In the Mall.” That last song seems almost like it might be a thinly-veiled reference to the band’s new demographic, for Raditude is nothing if not the kind of slick, unabashedly goofy and unpretentious rock you’d expect to hear playing in the food court.
But is that really that different from the kind of music Weezer has always made? The anomaly of Pinkerton not withstanding, Cuomo has always been a rock and roll geek, and Weezer a band that defies anything resembling irony, hipness, or pretense. They’re pop craftsmen in an age when “craft” isn’t cool; they’ve always been more interested in mixing big, crunching guitars and over-the-top hooks than in creating something textured or nuances; their brand of power pop has less Beatles or Who in it than it does Cheap Trick and Green Day.
They’ve always embraced the unhip sides of rock and roll, and Raditude takes Cuomo’s perpetual uncoolness to a new extreme, resulting in some of the most straighforwardly fun music he’s ever made. While he reined in his weirder tendencies for the more by-the-books– and, therefore, dull– power-pop of Maladroit and Make Believe, here he embraces teen pop production cliches, absorbs George Harrison’s Eastern-mystic tendencies into the bilingual, sitar-enhanced “Love is the Answer,” and even takes a stab at painfully whitebread hip-hop on “Can’t Stop Partying.” And you have to give Cuomo credit: Not only does he choose to emulate one of the least popular sides of the Beatles, but, on the latter song, he is able to make even Lil’ Wayne sound goofy, dropping ridiculous “Weezer meets Weezy” lyrics over a stupidly catchy synth beat.
All of this is par for the course for Cuomo, a geekish student of pop songcraft whose forays into different idioms, both with Weezer and on his Alone records, have lately yielded some of his quirkiest and most irresistible music: Certainly, opening track “(If You’re Wondering if I Want You To) I Want You Too,” which somehow apes both glossy teen pop and vintage Motown, is one of the catchiest, most joyfully rocking tracks Weezer has ever recorded, and it’s not hard to hear how the song grew out of Cuomo’s bookish fascination with melody and songwriting. That attention to craft carries over into his lyrics more than ever; those crossing their fingers for a return to Pinkerton‘s open-wound honesty will be sorely disappointed to find Cuomo disappearing into character (or is it caricature?) more than ever before, affecting a weird teenage motif that initially sounds odd coming from a fortysomething man, married with children, who hear sings about meeting a girlfriend’s parents for the first time and cruising the mall with buddies.
And yet, for all his affectation, Cuomo is oddly endearing, even in his lyrics: They may be simple, even childish, but they also bear a disarmingly sincere, almost naive purity of emotion. “Can’t Stop Partying” is a lyrically simplistic but morally upright song about the consequences of materialism, “The Girl Got Hot” far more compassionate than its title might suggest, the relationship songs revealing not arrested development such as innocence and tenderness. And that’s the ultimate charm of Weezer, circa Raditude in particular: Their music is devoid of pretension, bereft of irony, and completely sincere, which is, in its own totally stupid way, pretty cool.