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Weezer Burn

 

Weezer: Maladroit

Interscope, 2002

Rating: 3.5

 

 

Posted: May 20, 2002

By Laurence Station

Weezer's self-produced fourth full-length, Maladroit, is an odd mix of old Weezer, even older '70s hard rock, and an semi-successful attempt to broaden the overall sound of the band. Weezer borrows from the alterna-pop sound of its 1994 debut and the breezier, more laid back vibe evident on last year's self-titled Green Album. The hard rock debt is definitely the wild card, working well at points, but ultimately sending mixed signals as to just what sort of record the group intended to make.

Lead singer/lyricist Rivers Cuomo is at his most inspired when he's being miserable. Bad for Rivers, but rewarding for fans, as evidenced by the band's peak achievement to date, 1996's dark well of pain Pinkerton. What made Pinkerton so impressive was the sheer lack of artifice; other than the ironically titled "Good Life," there was nary a radio friendly hit to be found on the album. Rather, borrowing from the less than cheery framework of Puccini's Madame Butterfly opera, with its tragic tale of Butterfly and the two-timing Captain Pinkerton, Cuomo railed against ex-lovers, unattainable women, and the hopelessness of all things, romantic and otherwise. Pinkerton was raw, emotionally stripped bare, and near painful to listen to, elevated by the fact that there wasn't a weak track in the bunch. It rocked while never feeling contrived or built for anyone other than the band and as a cathartic outlet for Cuomo's genuinely articulated discontent.

2001's Green Album was the anti-Pinkerton, 30-odd minutes of clean, concise and straightforward pop rock. Maladroit hearkens back to a bit of the darkness of Pinkerton and almost appears a conscious attempt to explode the lightheartedness of the Green Album in favor of a tougher, ballsier Weezer; a group with teeth, capable of blowing the amps out and bringing down the house.

"American Gigolo" kicks things off with a pounding beat and heavy, crunching guitars, establishing a dense tone that permeates the rest of the album. "Dope Nose," with some excellent backing vocals from guitarist Brian Bell, thunders along confidently, illustrating the foursome at its tightest. "Slob" is the most pissed-off track on the record, closest in spirit to Pinkerton. "Burndt Jamb" seems a continuation of the Green Album's effervescent "Island In The Sun," albeit with added meat in the middle, compliments of potent stickwork by Patrick Wilson and the notable presence of current bassist Scott Shriner.

The hard rock element shines brightest on the thumping "Take Control" and punchy "Fall Together." Yet on "Take Control," in particular, the album's core conflict surfaces dramatically, as the band begins heavy, before succumbing to classic Weezer power pop chords, as if the group lost steam midway through and returned to what it does best, rather than attempt to compete in an arena it's not fully comfortable with.

The general theme of Maladroit is one of road weariness, like a travelogue of a quartet that's played too many dates and simply craves a little time off from the press and the fans. Regarding fans, there's a definite love-hate aspect present, as on the opening track, where Cuomo sings: "If you want me/You can't have me/Please accept me." "Space Rock" attacks gossipers with the scathing line "It's a game/And you'll play/But you can't have fun when all they do is say lies." "Love Explosion" echoes that sentiment, offering the annoyed verse "And all the bull that most people sling/It doesn't matter what they sing."

But despite tackling a potentially interesting subject (i.e., the ups and downs of a band on tour), Maladroit comes off more as a successful group complaining about the intrusiveness of its fans than an appreciative ode to the rock on which its members were raised, or a tribute to the very people who make its living possible. Given that Weezer is known for its laudable collaboration with fans (allowing them to vote on songs to be included on its albums), there's a definite undercurrent of resentment throughout the album, as if Cuomo were fed up with all the attention his band's been getting lately, regarding success as an ill-fitting suit. In the end, Maladroit, while an intriguingly conflicted work, falters with a batch of songs that lack the staying power of the band's earlier albums. It may be as angry as Pinkerton, but it simply doesn't convey its sentiments in as nakedly forthright or well-executed a fashion.

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