"I am so unlike the singers in the other bands... There isn't anybody else exactly quite like me."
So sings Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo on the opening track of the band's sixth (and third self-titled) album. Truth be told, there isn't a rock star out there quite as interesting as Cuomo. Famously he once sold all his possessions and moved into a one-roomed flat in LA with just a mattress and a guitar. He's also into meditating and fasting while locked in a wardrobe for days. Generally, Cuomo is what many would term 'something of an eccentric'.
In keeping with his unconventional behaviour (for a rock star), earlier this year Cuomo embarked on a songwriting project with fans via YouTube, called 'Let's Write a Sawng'. As you might guess, the ongoing process involves him taking onboard ideas submitted by fans and writing a song over the coming weeks.
Collaborating hasn't always been the Cuomo way. Early in Weezer's career he's said to have insisted on his name being tacked on as the sole songwriting credit, despite other members having contributed to various songs. Rolling Stone reported that this was one of the reasons original bassist Matt Sharp jumped ship. Sharp is said to have allegedly co-written much of the band's second album, 'Pinkerton'. Only Cuomo was credited.
His YouTube project aside, Cuomo has been making amends. On Weezer's 2005 album, 'Make Believe', he penned a track entitled 'Pardon Me', which was meant as an apology for his supposed dictator-like ways in not letting his bandmates contribute. True to his word, he's loosened the reins.
All four Weezer members contribute songs to this, 'The Red Album' (like the previous self-titled albums, this record has become known by its colour). Guitarist Brian Bell contributes acoustic slacker-track 'Thought It Knew', a fairly pedestrian though inoffensive tune. Bassist Scott Shriner rolls in with 'Cold Dark World', again nothing special, while drummer Pat Wilson's 'Automatic' is a pretty poor, lumbering track and undoubtedly one of the worst to grace a Weezer album.
All three come together in one decidedly mediocre patch on 'The Red Album' and, notably, all are self-produced by the band rather than given the big expensive producer treatment afforded Cuomo's superior tracks (Jacknife Lee and Rick Rubin look after his tunes).
As a songwriter, Cuomo is light-years ahead of his bandmates and, really, they should leave that side of things in his trustworthy hands. Certainly when he's penning songs as mind-bogglingly brilliant, geeky, fun and epic as 'The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)', which is like a power-pop take on 'Bohemian Rhapsody' complete with piano, police sirens, choral sections, rap, punk and pop thrown into the mix. It's undoubtedly the most bizarre, ambitious track the band have attempted... and they pull it off. One can only picture the band in rehearsal, playing each other their new songs, and Cuomo going 'well here's my one...'
Elsewhere, lead single 'Pork and Beans' is another vintage Weezer track, though it's out-of-step with the rest of the album. While 'The Greatest Man That Ever Lived', marks a step away from the three-minute power-pop-geek-punk formula that has served them so well in the past, so too does 'The Red Album' mark the dawn of a new Weezer.
While 'The Blue Album' marked the band's birth and 'The Green Album' their return after a five-year hiatus, 'The Red Album' finds Cuomo trying out new styles and moving more into the realm of experimenting with other sounds.
The mellow 'Heart Songs' has a light hip-pop feel to it and could be easily adapted to fit the needs of a boyband or pop singer. Another classic Cuomo moment, the lyrics serve as a bio of Cuomo's musical journey from listening to Springsteen, Stevens and Joan Baez as a boy before moving on to Metallica, Judas Priest and Michael Jackson right up until the recording of Weezer's debut. It's a great song, and another future single.
'Dreamin'', meanwhile, harks back to the band's early days, it's updated Sixties-feel sounding like a distant relation to 'In The Garage' or 'Surf Wax America'. The dull 'give the others a chance' section dilutes the power of the ten-track LP before Cuomo comes roaring back in fine form with the beautifully hushed 'The Angel and the One', one of the most beautiful and mature tracks he's had a hand in. It completes the huge step-forward Cuomo has moved in as a songwriter.
The Weezer formula is still intact, though the canvas has been widened. While 2005's 'Make Believe' pointed to a band running out of ideas, 'The Red Album' sees them re-energised and positively brimming with the joys of ripping-up their own rule book. Let's hope that their next album, tentatively pencilled in for release at the end of this year, sees Cuomo reengage with his inner-dictator.
Not Weezer's best album then, but it nonetheless houses some of their best songs.