Pretty much since the beginning, but even more glaringly so in the new millennium, frontman Rivers Cuomo has had a hard time figuring out what exactly Weezer should be. They’ve been though it all: Pinkerton had the darker alternative rock; The Green Album was pure pop; Maladroit showed ill-conceived metal leanings; and Make Believe was pandering to the masses. The Red Album is really not all that different from any of the above, often taking bits and pieces from those and many other (often baffling) sources and creating an experimental set of, well, dreck. By releasing this as their third eponymous album, the band is attempting to recast themselves as an earlier incarnation, when in fact there is little here that differentiates them from any overproduced ’90s radio fodder. The Red Album is a sad portrait of a band that has been totally destroyed by fame and the pressures that come along with it; Weezer believe they’ve risen above expectations by snarling at them.
Pre-release single “Pork and Beans” might lead one to believe that the band has indeed recaptured some of its more youthful stadium rock glory, but that’s hardly the case considering the rest of The Red Album. On “Heart Songs,” Cuomo chooses to compose a song dedicated to the records that inspired him as a youth through tacky, sub-Jason Mraz level wordplay and a mindless soft composition that goes nowhere. “Everybody Gets Dangerous” sounds like Limp Bizkit after a late night Maroon 5 binge. The introductory rap section of “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” also brings forth an unpleasant memory of Fred Durst. All throughout, the band is experimenting with disparaging sounds, and the only thing that ties them together is Rick Rubin and Jacknife Lee’s glossy production.
Thankfully, this renewed sense of freedom doesn’t always lead to missteps. “Pork and Beans” is pretty good. “Dreamin’” is even better, if a little on the long and underdeveloped side. “Troublemaker” is fine, although its jumpy chorus brings to mind a bit too much of the “Beverly Hills” shame. About 1:30 into “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn),” after the ridiculous Durst aping, the epic anthem markedly improves. Ultimately, the song is a total mess, failing to realize that just because you can switch genres like you’re trying on funny hats doesn’t mean you should. But the bulk of the middle portion is really pretty okay, so we’ll concede this one as a success.
After “Dreamin’,” the album tries alternating lead vocal and songwriting duties between Weezer’s three other members. Drummer Patrick Wilson’s “Automatic” is the best of the trio with its straight-up alt rock structure and guitar work, although it hardly sounds recognizable as a Weezer song (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Guitarist Brian Bell’s Southern rock ballad “Thought I Knew” is totally inoffensive, though just not that exciting. Bassist Scott Shriner's song, “Cold Dark World,” manages to be not only horrible and boring but also sort of disgusting, with the lovely, gentlemanly line “But if you need love/ Then I’ll be here to sex you.”
Cuomo, despite his pleas to the contrary across this record, is entirely consumed by his appearance and Weezer’s viability as a rock band. The Red Album is knowingly self-conscious (Cuomo attempts several times to render the album critic-proof by stating in his lyrics how little he cares what anyone thinks, but at this point we know better). We again see Weezer plundering most of their musical integrity by trying to emulate new (old) sounds, nearly all of which fall short of being interesting or inventive. The only difference between the Weezer who shat out Make Believe and the Weezer of today is that the band isn’t so obviously gunning for the Warped Tour crowd anymore, but instead attempting to lure back the attentions of an older crowd, maybe those who vaguely remember hearing “Buddy Holly” on the radio or aging rockers who also shun Rogaine. It’s music for insecurities: brash, crass, repugnant, and very small. Despite what they’d like us to think, The Red Album sounds like every one of Weezer’s misfires since The Green Album: a few songs that work and a whole slew that flounder completely.
Will diehard Weezer fans dig it? Undoubtedly. And they should, because nothing has changed.