From Weezer ("The Red Album") (Geffen Records; 2008)
The iconic “W” spinning on the landing page of Weezer.com is so mesmerizing it almost makes me believe. Rivers Cuomo—late of moustachioed eccentric collaborative new-media democratized music makings—and his merry band of clap-alongs have written a radio-friendly comeback single about not caring whether they have a radio-friendly comeback. This cut from Weezer (The Red Album), currently streaming from Weezer’s website, is chock full of such contradictions, and I’d wager much of your listening pleasure is predicated upon whether they strike you as brilliant irony or dubious bullshit.
But before we get into all that, it’s worth noting that there’s a big chorus hook backed by an even bigger guitar crunch. This should go a long way for people interested in some sort of “return to form.” Even if the version of a Weezer comeback offered by “Pork and Beans” seems to be The Blue Album as filtered through The Green Album, there is still, after all these years, much to be said for this patented hybrid of power-pop and pop-metal. The song could easily be enjoyed just on this genuinely ass-kicking radio-rock tip, but that’s exactly the problem with all the other conceptual baggage here.
If the song was indeed written in reaction to Geffen instructions to write more commercial material, then its seditious lyrics are either voided by the wholesale capitulation involved in going home and writing said commercial material, or worse, they’re a calculated attempt to boost record sales by wrapping faux-defiance in pretty paper. This dynamic is extended into many of the sonic features of the song that are purported to recall Pinkerton or be an example of Weezer’s new “weird” direction. Presumably the “Scorcho”-y acoustic guitar off the top, the various squeals and squeaks, the little keyboard twinkles, and the string dissonance in the second verse represent strangeness, but are all mixed so meekly in comparison to the big beat, lead vocals, and power chords that they barely register, much less disrupt the song’s relentless forward progress.
Meanwhile Rivers’ intimate dorkiness is much less charming now that he’s writing about being an established rock star fighting with his mega label. We’re not in the garage anymore, and the song’s frequent declarations of indifference to the opinion of fans and execs, made in a song that so clearly panders to both, doth protest too much. Witness, too, how fist-pumpingly anthemic the first lines of the chorus are: “I’mma do the things that I want to do / I ain’t got a thing to prove to you.” This sentiment, a fairly staid statement of defiance, is the key thrust here; all the “quirky” references to Timbaland and Rogain are just window-dressing.
That is, unless Weezer is finally pulling it all together. Every other listen I think this song is everything it wants to be: conservative and ambitious, conciliatory and defiant, Blue Album and Pinkerton. It’s the return of Rivers songwriting instincts and his deprecatingly dark self-parody. It’s the anti-anthem anthem, opening up a broad space for critical exploration of what it means to be an aging band in the major label system. In this scenario the sonic quirks are ironic nods to the sorts of things with which Timbaland would embellish his beats (except transposed into a big-rock context), thus functioning as simultaneously arty, commercial, insolent, and hilarious. The tensions and contradictions are all knowingly deployed to highlight a meta-level on which this song gestures toward and away from everything that everyone wants it to be.
The central experience of listening to “Pork and Beans,” then, depends on whether you fall into one camp, the other, or both. This in turn is likely predicated as much on what you bring to the song as what it brings to you. If you’ve never bought into the Rivers-as-genius concept, I can hardly imagine this convincing you. Ditto if you once obsessed over Songs from the Black Hole character names but the last three albums have made you callous. If, however, you’ve been able to shield a small shred of teenage tenderness from the cruel march of time, you may find that the long and torturous tale of Weezer has found its apotheosis here, in the triumphant return of all that was great about one bespectacled nerd and his Marshall stack.
David Ritter :: 19 April 2008 |