By all logic, Weezer’s musical pileups should end up in a drawer somewhere. Rivers Cuomo — the maladjusted, misanthropic mind behind the band — scribbles muddled diatribes about life and love’s utter futility, and splatters the lyrics against a wall of classic-rock quotations. He then adds more disorder via vocal parts that suggest a crazed postal worker doing a Beatles tribute. But somehow, Cuomo turns the jumble into chart-topping cheddar. After a few career bumps, the nasty little fella has ascended to the throne previously held by improbables such as Joey Ramone, Elvis Costello and old Buddy Holly himself: He’s this era’s model of a most unlikely rock star.
What makes Weezer so appealing? Artistically, Cuomo is more of a mess than his predecessors; he doesn’t possess Costello’s meticulousness, Holly’s modesty or Ramone’s heart. But his distracted creativity is his strength in this age of severe information overload. Maladroit, the latest grouping of songs from Cuomo’s manically prolific pen, follows barely a year after the band’s long-awaited Green Album and signals the complete emergence of Cuomo the Song Machine, a man with a brain so full of music that he has to drain it regularly to stay alive. If words alone meant anything, Maladroit would be just another chapter in Cuomo’s sorry tale of self-loathing and sexual alienation, intensified by a new preoccupation with the perplexities of fame. (This theme is all over pop culture now, and it’s getting tired; lighten up, celebs!) But, like all things Weezer, Maladroit adds up to more.
The music’s shift from trivial to memorable dominates Maladroit; this is Cuomo’s attempt to make his voice and guitar move as quick as his mind. Cuomo finds the exact spot where rock & roll and his body connect: The leaps and hiccups in his voice, the jerkiness of his guitar lines (seconded by the very empathetic Brian Bell) and the strangely organic way these seemingly disjointed songs unfold wholly express how the electricity of rock can turn one nervous loser’s frustrations into poetry.
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This magic happens all over Maladroit and is more pronounced for the songs being rough around the edges. Like Weezer’s other albums, this one shows the band just absolutely in love with rock and dedicated to upholding its form and spirit. Given that, it’s embarrassing for the music industry that Maladroit‘s birth has been fraught with controversy. It was self-financed, and its tracks were first released as downloads on the band’s Web site and distributed for promotion to radio and the press; Weezer’s label tried to shut all this freewheeling down to regain control of the distribution process. Major labels and the Internet have yet to amicably mix, and maybe Geffen’s reaction was all about the downloading and not reflective of any displeasure with the album’s content. Yet it’s worth noting that like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the other outstanding rock disc recently caught within the Santa Ana winds of the music industry, the supposedly difficult Maladroit is weird in the most palatable, respectful way possible.
Cuomo doesn’t want to wreck rock or even push too hard against its boundaries — the three-minute single is his favorite playground. Maladroit has a more disturbed edge than did the Green Album. Careening guitar solos stretch out the waistband on rockers such as “Fall Together,” while the teakettle harmonies on “Space Rock” recall Weezer’s forebears in hyperactivity, the Pixies. But these painfully romantic accounts of the post-collegiate struggle to make peace with society (and girls, society’s stand-in throughout literature as well as pop) invite listeners in, in that patented Weezer way: by being relentlessly singable, even when the lyrics don’t quite make sense, and tight as a drum, even when the band seems about to lose it.
Speaking of drums, Patrick Wilson is a monster behind the kit. Cuomo relies on his rhythm section, rounded out by new bassist Scott Shriner, to anchor Cuomo’s melodic flights of fancy. The band’s best trick on Maladroit is combining glam-rock riffs with doo-wop vocals — “Keep Fishin’ ” starts with Bowie’s “Jean Genie” shuffle, while “Take Control” nods at T. Rex’s “Children of the Revolution.” Wilson and Shriner maintain the tension as Cuomo’s singing veers into woo-woo land.
Solid musicianship allows for quick leaps across genres: ersatz jazz, punk and Southern boogie compete for attention within Weezer’s base of power pop. “Possibilities” is the closest the album comes to a genre exercise, an ideal version of Cali beach-town hardcore. That little purist moment seems slightly odd, given that most of Maladroit is classic Weezer — that is, every kind of rock at once. Sometimes even Cuomo needs a rest, apparently. But despite the damage his mood swings might inflict on him personally, it’s hard not to hope that this professional Ritalin kid never learns to sit still.