Spin Control

June 1, 2008


On the third self-titled release of its 15-year-career -- destined to be called "the Red Album" in the tradition of the band's classic 1994 debut ("the Blue Album") and the second "Weezer" a decade later ("the Green Album") -- bandleader Rivers Cuomo marks a welcome return to the more complicated but deeply heartfelt songwriting of the group's early days and the proto-emo "Pinkerton," veering away from the arena-rock epitomized by "Beverly Hills," the standout hit from its last album "Make Believe" (2005). The song that best captures the vibe here is a sort of sequel to the rock 'n' roll bildungsroman of "In the Garage" called "Heart Songs," in which the quartet's auteur recalls falling in love with pop music while listening to the AM radio in the backseat of his parents' car.

"Gordon Lightfoot sang a song about a boat that sank in a lake / At the break of the mornin' a Cat name Stevens found a faith he could believe in," the still-adenoidal, Harvard-educated Cuomo sings. "Eddie Rabbitt sang about how much he loved a rainy night / ABBA, Devo, Benatar were there the day John Lennon died ... These are my heart songs / They never feel wrong."

Scoff if you will, but at his best, Cuomo has always been able to turn cheese into gold, and he walks the tightrope in brilliant form through much of the band's sixth album, whether he's mocking hip-hop braggadocio ("The Greatest Man That Ever Lived"), mocking the inanity of lowest-common-denominator pop ("Pork and Beans") or daring to be the left-footed fool trying to get funky on the dance floor at a family wedding ("Everybody Get Dangerous"), all the while challenging conventional song structure with unexpected twists and turns that still produce unlikely hooks.

"The Red Album" isn't without flaws: Cuomo makes the well-intentioned gesture of allowing his bandmates to write or co-author one song each, and these turn out to be the album's least memorable. But the high points are as high as any these still essential alternative-era veterans have given us.