Weezer: “Hurley”

The eighth Weezer album begins with “Memories,” a seemingly straight-faced slice of nostalgia; its shimmering, synth-fueled chorus is a feel-good chant, built to propel entire arenas into sing-along wistfulness for the good ol’ days. It’s sort of a strange sentiment, as nostalgia has never been Weezer’s friend. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo has always written songs like he was a sexually-frustrated, socially-inept fourteen year-old boy, a trait that was endearing at first but has become progressively hard to sell; fans, meanwhile, hold such cherished memories of Weezer’s glory days that, at this point, there’s probably nothing the band could do to earn the classic status afforded by the charmingly off-the-cuff power pop of the Blue Album or the scraping, blood-letting introspection of Pinkerton.

But I’ll go on record as saying that I don’t quite buy it. Blue may have been a seminal album in shaping an entire generation of power pop fans, but it remains nothing more or less than a stellar batch of power pop songs. There’s nothing particularly brainy or original about it, and that’s okay: When you’ve got singles as strong as “Buddy Holly,” that’s really all that counts. Pinkerton, meanwhile, is an uncommonly affecting album due to its sheer candor, and, because it drops Cuomo’s carefully-controlled persona and the band’s sonic polish in favor of something a little more rough and real, it remains the most fascinating anomaly in an otherwise very consistent catalog. But emotional directness is not the same thing as art or poetry, and Pinkerton is no Blood on the Tracks. And again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not overly romanticize things. And given that the album is generally credited as a prototype of the emo movement, can’t we agree that its legacy is a bit mixed?

Fifteen years later, Weezer releases an album called Hurley, with a photo of LOST‘s Jorge Garcia on the cover. Guess what: It isn’t an all-time classic album. And if you would even expect that kind of thing from Weezer– nor or ever– then I’d argue that you’re expecting far too much from a band whose central motivation, it seems to me, has never been much more than making fun, unpretentious rock music with soaring hooks and plenty of electric crunch. And on that front, it’s hard to hear Hurley as anything but a victory; particularly coming after the faux-artsy flourishes of the Red album and the pop dalliances and Lil’ Wayne hookups of Raditude, it’s streamlined, focused, and precise in a way that no Weezer album has been since, oh, let’s say the Green one.

But it might be a step above that album, and certainly above the polished, workmanlike Maladroit and Make Believe. That has little to do with Weezer’s decision to “go indie,” as the pre-release hype would have us believe; yes, they’re signed to the more punk- and emo-oriented Epitaph Records now, but the album is only marginally less polished than the ones that came before it. An orchestral warm-up begins the album, and there are synths, multi-tracked vocals, and even a flute sprinkled throughout the record.

So what’s different? Not much; it’s another Weezer album, with a character all its own but no gigantic stylistic change-ups. It just happens to be a really good Weezer album, a bang-up pop record disguised, in places, as glam-metal, and in others as acoustic singer-songwriterism. The songs here are just really great, almost across the board: The hooks are enormous, and, in the choral vocal chorus of “Hang On,” the arena-swelling emotional payoff is ample. “Memories” is a perfectly bright and snappy first single, “Ruling Me” is a power pop crushed, “Run Away” is an oversized rock anthem, and “Time Flies” is a lovely, rough-sounding acoustic cut that could basically pass for one of Cuomo’s demos, only it feels like a finished, single-worthy composition.

Cuomo, meanwhile, is Cuomo, and as much as critics love to psychoanalyze him, he’s changed little from album to album. He still responds to the demand for more Pinkerton-styled introspection by putting his true feelings out there but covering them with jokes, silly pop culture references, and a point of view that is, more often than not, adolescent. He writes a cheerfully absurd little joke-song here called “Where’s My Sex” that’s based on his daughter’s mispronunciation of the word “socks”– and if you think that sounds painfully off-putting, well, you probably jumped ship the second you saw the Raditude cover, if not sooner. Cuomo does seem to get open and honest on “Time Flies”– a sepia-toned paean to the passage of time that bookends nicely with “Memories”– and hearing the Harvard-educated rock and roller sing about the  pitfalls of dating “Smart Girls”… well, those who fret over whether it’s real or just a big act are missing the point. Cuomo is a pop craftsman, and he expresses himself through the act– and through the hooks. It’s not deep, but it’s Weezer, and it’s the same as it’s ever been– honest, unpretentious, and a lot of fun.

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