There’s a scene in the 1981 hit comedy Arthur, where the film’s title character (portrayed gloriously by the late Dudley Moore) continues his endless drinking binge by having dinner at a high end restaurant with his destined bride-to-be. In his drunken stupor, he snags his waiter, hands him his half-full drink, and says, “My doctor has advised me that I must drink 10 of these an hour!” The waiter obliges and the film goes on. Nobody stops him. They try to, but they fail every time. Arguably, the movie wouldn’t be as entertaining if they enrolled him in a 12-step program. As a result, Arthur drinks when he wants to, says what’s on his mind, and stumbles around clumsily for our viewing pleasure. To give you some context, the film’s main protagonist sets out on this personal downward spiral because his father, a multi-millionaire, insists that he must marry a similarly wealthy woman in order to claim his inheritance. Of course, Arthur happens to love a girl from Queens, instead. You know where this goes. It’s all rather predictable and the story’s a bit trite. But the joy lies in watching Moore in his iconic role, as he destroys one situation after another, all in the name of anti-establishment. And love. Maybe.
Lately, it feels like Weezer‘s been dealt a similar fate.
Here are the facts: Nobody seems to have enjoyed 2005’s Make Believe, even though there were some gems (e.g. “Perfect Situation”, “Hold Me”), and both 2008’s Weezer (The Red Album) and 2009’s Raditude kept fans and critics mixed. Can you blame them? For every bonafide hit like “Pork & Beans” or “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” there were a slew of duds, like “Thought I Knew” and “The Girl Got Hot”. Let’s not get started on the experimental stuff (“Love is the Answer”) or the outright laugh riots (“Can’t Stop Partying”), either. Looking back, it’s all been a rather destructive, win some, lose some road trip since 2002’s exceptional, heavy-hitting Maladroit.
So, why are we still interested? Well, for one, it’s been highly entertaining. In addition to a handful of winning tracks, we’ve had one hell of a time following the crazy hi-jinks of frontman Rivers Cuomo. He’s attempted to bring the cowboy look back and shared rhymes with Lil’ Wayne. He’s tried to sell us on Snuggies and brought trampolines on-stage all for himself. He’s professed his love for Lady Gaga and MGMT a hundred times over, collaborated with rapper B.o.B., and broken countless records for the Guinness World Records. He even gave the finger to his longtime label DGC/Interscope by signing with Epitaph. Oh, he also survived a terrible bus crash, too. Now, he’s no Superman, but he’s sure as hell entertaining. So you have to respect that.
That’s why seeing the cover for Hurley didn’t come off as either disturbing or surprising. It just felt right – at least in light of everything else in the past three to four years. Whether it’s a nod to Lost‘s Hugo “Hurley” Reyes or a part of a “conspiracy” for the Hurley clothing line, who cares? It’s funny, it’s odd, and it’s…Weezer. The only thing that truly matters any more would be *gasp* the music. And, judging by the 10 tracks that make up the California nerd rockers’ eighth studio album, it’s quality.
From the get-go, Hurley feels more personal and at heart than anything on Raditude, even though Cuomo insists each album’s just as personal. On “Memories”, he fondly recalls discovering how “all the freaky Dutch kids vomit then have sex,” or how the band “had no idea what [they] were doing half the time.” It’s catchy, it’s even earnest, but it’s a little too hammy and a tad repetitive. But working off the song’s treadmill energy, they pummel straight into “Ruling Me”, which may be the band’s best track in years. The minute Cuomo reels off “Ring, ring…” a part of you shoots right back to Pinkerton, a time when he once let his heart take the wheel, surfing off chugging distortion and balmy melodies, instead of hand-me-down jokes and soon-to-be dated pop cultural references. Musically, it’s quaint, but a good sort of quaint. Cuomo and guitarist Brian Bell trade off some crunchy fuzz pop that works swimmingly with drummer Pat Wilson’s garage-friendly percussion. It doesn’t try to be a single, it just tries to be a really great song. It succeeds.
“Trainwrecks” slows down, feeling more like a schoolyard tune with an alt rock twist. Cuomo continues down this quasi-self-deprecating trip that seems geared toward his critics. When he says, “We’re still kicking ass, we’re trainwrecks,” he sounds slightly confused, as if he’s seeing if you agree, too. Kind of cool. “Unspoken” is an even lighter tune that delivers tenfold by the time you’re rounding out the end of the track. It would have felt more grounded without the violions, but when the distortion and drums pop out, you’ll likely smile and say, “Yeah, this is Weezer.”
But then there’s track five. Not surprisingly (just look at the title), “Where’s My Sex?” continues the band’s recent tongue-in-cheek tradition of including god-awful songs in the album’s tracklist. (See: “We Are All on Drugs”, “Thought I Knew”, “Can’t Stop Partying”.) These are songs that stick out like sore thumbs, where, upon re-listening, you can’t help but feel as if they should be ignored, stowed away, or incinerated in a steel box. What started as a family inside joke – apparently his daughter or wife had said “Where’s my sex” while looking for socks – has now become one of the most asinine songs in the band’s catalogue. That’s saying something, too. Here are a few lyrical golden nuggets: “Sex making is a family tradition,” “I can’t go out without my sex,” “Now I’m like a pre-historic screwball, walking ’round with no sex at all.” It’s all fun and stupid, but once the joke’s been had, it’s…yeah. Classic nerd rock, but that’s not saying much – or even a compliment, really.
The remainder plays out well. Cuomo’s collaboration with Ryan Adams on “Run Away” pays off, channeling some late ’70s balladry (“Is it us making love in the milky way?”). Instrumentally, “Hang On” sounds like a Roy Orbison tune with its chummy harmony-filled choruses. “Smart Girls”, well, sounds like a Postal Service tune, but just works. And if you can skip through “Brave New World,” which shouldn’t be hard considering the chorus is about as exciting as low fat butter on Melba toast, the real treat arrives with the oddball finale. “Time Flies” strips the band down to a scratchy acoustic, some (very) lo-fi recording, and warbled vocals. It’s a demo, essentially. No different than Cuomo’s Alone series. But it’s charming. It lets you know that, after nearly 20 years, the band can return to its basics and still make us happy.
So, on the whole, Hurley isn’t the catastrophe people probably expected. It’s pretty enjoyable. But that doesn’t matter much. For all the time and energy Cuomo gives to his critics, it’s sort of useless at this point. He has his fans. There are those who will always buy into the band, and there are those who will only enjoy their first two albums. And while that latter group once held out for another Pinketon, it’d be highly idealistic to believe they still do today. Maybe Cuomo knows this, which in hindsight would give a little more foundation to “Trainwrecks”. At the end of the day though, his trademark tomfoolery keeps both parties highly entertained, and because of that, he’ll always have them. Now who’s the smart guy?