As an eighth grader in Southern California, I recall the impression by others that it was painfully uncool to listen to music that wasn’t “punk” in some manner or other. What “punk” was had a fair amount of elasticity, whether it included hardcore, ska or even the occasional speed metal record, but 75 percent of the time it meant the Epitaph Records catalog. Yet, a special exception was made for Weezer, a band that, from 1994 to 1996, at least, personified SoCal better than any other band at the time (save for maybe No Doubt, whose pop sheen was highly suspect, mind you). Fast forward 15 years, however, and the inevitable has finally happened: Weezer signed with Epitaph Records, thereby fulfilling a prophecy implicitly laid out by the skateboarding hooligans I knew at age 14.
Yet the Weezer of the ’00s bears only passing resemblance to the crunchy pop foursome of the Blue Album and Pinkerton. Rivers Cuomo’s vulnerable lyrics and outstanding melodies have been traded for the stadium flatulence of “Beverly Hills,” the bizarre indulgence of “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” and the baffling Lil Wayne feature on “Can’t Stop Partying,” not to mention the fact that they named an album Raditude (okay, the skaters I knew might actually appreciate that). But with the announcement of Weezer’s eighth album Hurley came the promise of a return to the classic Weezer that has been in absentia for nearly a decade. Then they released the cover art, a portrait of Lost actor Jorge Garcia, who portrayed, that’s right, Hurley! And all of a sudden a return to form didn’t seem all that likely.
Hurley is, however, a vast improvement over the band’s prior three records, and about on par with Maladroit. That’s not the highest bar to clear, perhaps, but following Cuomo’s perpetual series of questionable to embarrassing artistic choices, it’s at least something. In fact, Hurley has a handful of really good songs, most notably “Unspoken,” an acoustic breezer that erupts into a massive rock song with the emotional heft of “Say It Ain’t So” or “In the Garage.” And “Hang On” has the kind of chorus that demands to be played endlessly on commercial radio (and I’m fully aware that I’m tempting fate with that statement).
But a track like “Unspoken” or “Hang On” just isn’t enough to save Hurley from being at best, gleefully dumb, and at worst, a complete disaster. The truth is that it falls somewhere between these not-so-distant poles, as exemplified by the catchy but lyrically clunky “Trainwrecks” and “Memories” (sample lyric: “Playing hacky sack back when Audioslave was still Rage“). But Cuomo’s uncanny knack for finding mind-boggling new depths of lowbrow gives us such head-scratching zingers as “Where’s My Sex?” and “Smart Girls.” In the former, Cuomo uses “sex” in place of “socks” in order to make a banal story exponentially more idiotic, while the latter forces the listener to question just what, exactly is so “smart” about these girls and what bearing that has on Cuomo’s vapid infatuation.
While Hurley certainly boasts a handful of songs worth keeping, they aren’t nearly enough to salvage the album from its overwhelming number of generic throwaways or sub-mental bafflers. It’s hard to know whether the band just plain stopped giving a shit, or whether they’re just having a good time and not allowing the pretense of an album like Pinkerton get in the way. Either way, they seem so good natured about it that it’s hard to hold animosity against them, despite how frustrating they come across from a listener standpoint. And that’s a strange pill to swallow.
Weezer – Maladroit
Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet
Jimmy Eat World – Futures
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.