With all of this talk lately of Weezer returning to their roots on their upcoming new album, no one seems to have noticed, let alone acknowledged, that a little band that could called The XYZ Affair have already beaten them to the punch with their self-released debut last year. With the all too aptly titled A Few More Published Studies, they started this whole Pinkerton party several months early, and managed to do so while incorporating more prolific, modern, and altogether interesting influences as well. The results alternate between wildly entertaining and mildly frustrating.
Things kick off in righteously rousing style with “Smile,” a suitably swelling opener that reaches even further back to pay respect to Weezer’s arena-rock forefathers: Queen. Beginning with a few naked notes, the song soon erupts into the kind of full-album swagger that both bands used to champion, right down to the squalling guitar melodies and guitarist/vocalist Alex Feder’s Freddie Mercurial falsetto. This is just one of the many personas that the band models throughout Studies. In fact, many of their best moments come when they mix and match. “Ideals” starts with Feder channeling Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart with a spare, slightly menacing verse before his band mates (bassist Chris Bonner and drummer Sam Rockwell) chime in to escalate the chorus to Arcade Fire proportions. Meanwhile, “The Professional” starts off at a brisk, Broken Social Scene-styled pace before hitting its healthy stride with a galloping crescendo worthy of New Pornographers, and “Little Fools” marries the kind of chorus Rivers Cuomo wishes he could still craft with the kind of Theremin that Frank Black used to love so much with Pixies.
No question, The XYZ Affair definitely know where to look for an engaging sound. The problem is that they can’t seem to establish one on their own. There’s a fine line between versatility and lack of identity, and one can’t help but get the nagging suspicion that these guys opted out of trying to find themselves musically by showing off their (admittedly impressive) ability to mimic others. Perhaps if they had committed to any one or two of the aforementioned sounds and went with it, Studies could have evolved into something more than a guilty pleasure. However, that may not have been such a good idea after all considering how XYZ’s more conventional numbers are their least engaging. “Academics” only evokes memories of the lesser, latter-day Weezer while the Shin-aping “Sideshow” wouldn’t even take a whole night to wince away.
Fortunately, even these more forgettable efforts are buoyed by choruses that one can’t help but sing along with. And, make no mistake, this is a sing-along album. Like Weezer’s best output, it begs to be played loud at parties where friends can shout the lyrics in drunken unison, even if they won’t resonate like the inevitable hangover will the morning after. In the end, however, there are currently a few too many studies at play here to make XYZ into a truly satisfying affair. While they have undoubted crafted a fun and diverting album, they’ve still fallen short of making a Blue Album.