By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Seems there are two surefire ways to rile up a member of Weezer.
Approach No. 1: Mention the fact that the power-pop and geek rock outfit's latest self-titled effort, the June-released "red album," seems different from past Weezer records mainly because it's not just frontman Rivers Cuomo who tackles the role of lead singer. (Guitarist Brian Bell sings lead on "Thought I Knew," and bass player Scott Shriner fronts the band on "Cold Dark World.") The reaction you'll get there: "That makes me think people had a preconceived notion of how the band worked before," says an annoyed Bell, arguing that, despite the public's largely held belief, Cuomo isn't necessarily the sole brains behind Weezer's operations. "We all had a say in this."
Approach No. 2: Bring up the widespread commentary of how, to many, the red album seems a return to form for the band after three not-so-praised releases (2001's "the green album," 2002's Maladroit and 2005's Make Believe). The angered response that topic of conversation yields: "The first time I heard that phrase—'return to form'—was in the British press," Bell recalls. "And I think it's retarded." Again, Bell questions just how much people think they know about Weezer's behind-closed-doors creative process. "We didn't do anything different with this record," Bell explains. "If anything, we broke the form." He brings up the various timing measures and instrumentation experimentations and plenty of other things that, supposedly, make this record unique. None of that conversation, however, is especially interesting—well, not until Bell reveals the underlying pressures associated with being in Weezer: that, even to its most allegiant fans, the band's best works (1994's self-titled blue album debut, and 1996's rife-with-emotion Pinkerton) are more than 10 years old. Those records, Bell says, are long gone and the band has long accepted that fact.
"It's not like we went into the studio saying, 'We're gonna make a record just like the blue album and pretend we're teenagers again,'" he says, again slightly irked, although this time unprovoked. "We look back at what we've done and think about the keys and tempos, but that's it. I mean, I'm sure the record label would love to have another blue record"—the band's debut is also, by far, its best-selling release—"but it's not gonna happen."
Still, for a number of reasons (talk of the band returning to form notwithstanding) there are some indisputable connections between this latest Weezer release and its first.
For one, there's the self-titled aspect, although Bell, again, scoffs at the notion that such a move was made in an attempt to recreate some of the band's earlier magic. "We just couldn't all agree on a title," he explains. "Three of us agreed on one—The Pure Sounds of Weezer—but Scott [Shriner] didn't like it. He thought it harkened back to the '50s and '60s."
In some ways, though, this record is as pure as a Weezer album gets. It might not be as in-your-face angsty or emotional as the blue album or Pinkerton, but it certainly touches on those themes. And when it doesn't, it plays out like a fairly loyal re-imagination of Weezer's most commercially successful singles from the following releases.
Still, there's another similarity at play here: Though Weezer has always been revered as a highly creative outfit, especially when it comes to its songs' accompanying music video releases, for the first time since the band's blue album singles (and specifically, the song "Buddy Holly"), there's an honest-to-goodness buzz surrounding the act's new music video releases. First single "Pork and Beans" created a stir because it so gaudily included cameos from seemingly every YouTube celebrity of the past five years in its cast. Follow-up "Troublemaker," meanwhile, became a hit because of its running theme of attempting to break a number of Guinness World Records.
It's here where Bell finally seems comfortable discussing the critical reactions to the red album.
"We're back on track with good videos!" Bell excitedly says. "You never know how they're going to play out, but 'Pork and Beans' definitely had the same vibe as the 'Buddy Holly' video in that you just knew it was going to work."
Seems music video talk is the surefire way to lift a member of Weezer's spirits—so much so that, when talking about his band's recent successes on that front, Bell is also willing to reveal both the band's next single ("The Greatest Man That Ever Lived") and its video's likely director (Spike Jonze, who helped launch Weezer's career by directing the still incredible Happy Days-flavored "Buddy Holly").
"Yeah," Bell says. "We're really excited about that."