Rivers Cuomo's Expert Opinion: Weezer Leader on Rush, Nirvana, Hozier Songs

We asked Weezer's frontman to tell us what he thinks of six tracks, old and new

River Cuomo of Weezer performs at the Bowery Ballroom in New York on October 27th, 2014. Credit: Dana (distortion) Yavin; Homepage Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty

"By this point, I've learned that what I do onstage may have no relation to what the audience is experiencing," Rivers Cuomo says. "But that was probably the longest musical high I've ever had." Weezer's frontman is calling a couple of days after the band's show at New York's intimate Bowery Ballroom, where they played their entire new album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End, for about 500 very excited fans. It was a riot of riffs, a festival of feelings, and it ended with a lot of confetti. Cuomo particularly enjoyed the last part of the set, which built up to the album's three-part instrumental coda: "From 'Foolish Father' all the way through the end of the trilogy, it was basically 11 and a half minutes of what I imagine it feels like to be on heroin or a morphine drip or something," he says. "I've never had it last that long."

The singer-guitarist called on an off day from the tour to take part in Rolling Stone's Expert Opinion column. Here's what he thought about the six old and new songs we asked him to listen to.

Rush, "Limelight"

This song was huge on the radio when I was a teenager, but at the time I actually wasn't into Rush. It sounded to me like music that bass players and drummers loved, and I was a guitar player. The guitar didn't have enough distortion for me. But now this is one of my favorite Rush songs. The solo is incredibly sad, and the emotion of the song just builds and builds. It's an odd track – this singer with a really high-pitched voice, and these intellectual-sounding lyrics. It's amazing how popular something like that could be back then. I'd also like to point out that this song makes reference to the same Shakespeare quote that we did in "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived": "All the world's a stage." It's also in an Elvis Presley song.

Nirvana, "Aneurysm"

Weezer played this song as part of our all-Nirvana set in 1998 under the name Goat Punishment. It's my very favorite Nirvana song to play as a performer – to me it has the best balance of the Bleach-era guitar riffage and the melodic catchiness and chord simplicity of Nevermind. You get the best of both worlds. All the parts are super-catchy and grinding, and it has that trademark soft-loud-soft-loud Nirvana dynamic. Then there's bonus hook at the end of the song, where he starts singing, "She came to pump it straight to my heart." When it gets to that point and he gives you this bonus hook that presses any emotional buttons in you that haven't been pressed yet – I mean, that completely wipes out the possibility of anyone else being able to have written this song. It just takes it over the top. I do need to point out that I think the live version is the definitive version. The version on Incesticide with the "beat it! beat it!" background vocal in the chorus is a tad cheesy, even for me. I think they wisely revised it out by the time they did the live version.

Hozier, "Take Me to Church"

Hozier's record came out the very same day as ours, so I feel some kind of brotherhood with him. One thing that struck me about this song is that his voice is bathed in reverb. I never use any reverb on my voice at all. I also noticed that not only are the chord progressions very unusual in the verse and chorus, but the verse and chorus progressions are different to each other, which is increasingly rare. I really like the religious language. But as a singer, when I listen to this, I start to feel anxiety in the chorus, because it's very wordy, and there's not a lot of room to breathe, and it's kind of in a high range. I just start to feel very tense. It would be tough for me to sing.

Eric Church, "Cold One"

New country music comprises about five percent of what I hear per year. I enjoy it, but I don't really take note of who's singing it or writing it. Never heard this one before. I noticed that it has an incredibly slow tempo – I clocked it at 35 beats per minute. It's rare that you hear a song that slow, and the vocal performance is kind of low-energy and laid-back. That totally would not work in rock music. Then, after the second chorus, it goes into quadruple time. The only song I've ever heard do that was "El Scorcho," where it goes [sings] "How stupid is it? I can't talk about it…" That's also a very slow song. So I was thinking that must be a real fun moment live.

Priests, "Doctor"

There's a lot of guitar riffage without a real chord progression – but there's also super-interesting and unique counterpoint between the instruments. And the lyric "You put your fingers in other people's mouths" is super-provocative. With the sound of her very raw, unpolished vocal performance, the net result is very charming and attractive to me. It seems like they're not super-interested in melodies, and I was wondering if they came up with the lyrics on paper first, before she sang them. That would be my guess. I also wonder how Morrissey wrote with the Smiths – it's almost like there were pages of writing and he almost talked them over the music.

Alex G, "Harvey"

I immediately started paying attention to the chord progression: 4-5-1-4-2-3-2-3. It's a very long pattern, which makes it kind of hard to latch on to at first, and then it just repeats that pattern something like five or six times, the drums fade out, there's some nice piano over the acoustics – and then suddenly it's over! It's quite shocking. I wondered if it was written on acoustic as a song fragment, and then maybe he couldn't figure out how to develop it, so instead he just started writing other instruments on top of it. For me, the net result is really nice and intriguing. It's something you could listen to over and over again. And perhaps when he matures a little more he'll learn the old Abbey Road trick and stick a bunch of the fragments together and call it a master work.