Having lived in Los Angeles from 1990 to 1996, I was around for the Weezer explosion. It was strange to be tipped to this young upstart quirky band and then find that mere weeks later, songs like “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Buddy Holly” were smothering the airwaves. With only five albums, I at first found it hard to justify a compilation of demos and rare tracks, but then I remembered that the band has been around for over fourteen years. By anyone’s rock and roll standards, that equals longevity. Alone: The Home Recordings is almost the holy grail for Weezer fans. It’s chock full of a whopping eighteen tracks that date from 1992 to the present. I say `almost’ the holy grail as that would mean a proper release of the scrapped theme albums, Songs From the Black Hole, the album that was replaced with fan favorite Pinkerton, including two of its best tracks, but we are at least treated to five more of the songs from that black hole on this collection.
Weezer, aka `the Blue Album,’ gave quirky smart ass kids everywhere a reason to enjoy alternative radio again, and even to enjoy MTV again by employing Spike Jonze to direct iconic videos. But it was Pinkerton that proved an emotional touchstone for Weezer’s die-hard fans. I think fans of Pinkerton will enjoy this collection more than the listeners who merely cursorily listen to their hits. Cuomo bares his soul on these demos, such as on the cover of Gregg Alexander’s (New Radicals) “The World We Loved So Much.” “Lemonade” is typical of the songs on the blue album, with silly lyrics and a really catchy Cars-like bass and guitar combo. These two songs alone make a great start to the journey in demos, but god only knows (to borrow from Rivers’ hero, Brian Wilson) why he included a cover of Ice Cube’s “The Bomb.”
The original version of the beloved “Buddy Holly” is present in this bunch for those not daring enough to purchase an album with songs unheard. It’s sludgy and slow, but still as entertaining as the original, at least in its cleverness. Not every song on a collection of demos and outtakes is going to be a winner, but they all have value as either artifacts or examples of songs that became something out of nothing. “Chess” is one of those songs that somewhat swings and misses, but according to the liner notes, it got his synapses firing to finish the blue album, so you can’t fault it too much. “Longtime Sunshine” has Rivers baring his soul and exposing his fear and trepidation about being in Los Angeles in a rock band, yearning to be back on the east coast with his family. As such, it’s one of the better realized songs on the album.
Then we get into the meat of the demos from Songs From the Black Hole, starting with “Blast Off!” All of the songs have a similarity to songs on Pinkerton, which shouldn’t be surprising, but what is surprising is how well the analogy of `rock band on tour’ and `astronauts on a space voyage’ really works. Rivers writes his bandmates as enjoying the ride while he goes along with complete reluctance. “Who You Callin’ Bitch?” really plays like an operatic interlude and goes to show that he really had this thing together. “Wanda (You’re My Only Love)” acts as a breather between `Black Hole’ songs, a much slower and subtler track and a nice reprieve from operatic mania. It was originally intended for the soundtrack to the movie Angus, but the studio rejected it, wanting something more like “Buddy Holly.” Welcome to Hollywood, Rivers. “Dude, We’re Finally Landing” and “Superfriend” round out the `Black Hole’ demos.
“Lover in the Snow” is a true outtake from Pinkerton, the album made after `Black Hole’ was scrapped. I can tell why this one was left off the final product, but it’s still a very good track. If it were filled out with the rest of the guys, it could have been great. “Crazy One” finds Rivers taking a more traditional Beatles-esque route to his writing. Then we get a real treat. “This is the Way” was originally intended for Weezer’s as yet unreleased sixth album. Rivers instead opted to replace it with “Daydreamer,” a six-minute symphonic art piece of a song. The rest of the band urged him to put it out somehow, and here it is. It has kind of a Hall & Oates feel, in other words, I love it. Another treat comes in the form of a collaboration with Sloan in a cover of Dion’s “Little Diane.” I would have never put these people together, but it came out absolutely rockin’. The album closes with one of Rivers’ finest pieces, “I Was Made For You,” a song he wrote for a woman from the L.A. Philharmonic.
Rivers Cuomo has a number of different `types’ of songs, including the quirky and humorous that made up most of their hits, the self-conscious and world weary that make up a lot of Pinkerton and most of these demos, and the straightforward love song. He is a master of all of these. I started to become disillusioned with Weezer upon the release of Maladroit. True, they had made a video with the Muppets, but it wasn’t quite enough to keep me interested. I longed for the days of songs like “El Scorcho” and “The Good Life.” With Alone, Rivers Cuomo has brought me back to some special places in this fan’s history, and I loved every minute of it.
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