In the past decade, Weezer have made only three albums, each one catchy and memorable -- despite the long gap between numbers two and three -- and each one with its own distinct formula. The band's eponymous debut (the blue album) melded pop hooks to the polite sounds of mid-'90s alternative radio. The follow-up, 1996's Pinkerton, welded similar pop hooks to punk snottiness, its looser yet more accomplished sound almost unanimously maligned by critics. And the much-hyped, long-awaited, eponymous third album (the green album) took Rivers Cuomo's by-now signature pop hooks and pasted them onto heavy-metal riffs, raising eyebrows and sending those very same critics down to the corner used-CD store to find out what those meddling emo fans had known all along.
So Maladroit, Weezer's fourth album but only its second with a damn title, marks a momentous point in the group's career: Not only is it the first time the band has used the same formula to make two albums, it's also the first album on which pop is not the foundation.
Like its bright-green predecessor, Maladroit is full of hard-rock riffage and angsty snarl, but there's little here that is memorable. Cuomo & Co. seem to have used most of the good riffs and all the catchy hooks on the green album. Songs like "Take Control," "Dope Nose," and the strangely aggressive "Slob" rock without any real urgency and fall out of memory with the final strained chord. Slower numbers like "Death and Destruction" and the lame "December," which even Cuomo's unrelenting irony can't redeem, slow to a crawl before anything memorable happens. "Burnt Jamb" attempts to re-create the idyllic offhandedness of "Island In the Sun," but Cuomo inserts an uninspired, unrelated guitar riff in place of a chorus.
Without pop hooks as anchors, Cuomo's emotionally unraveled persona is surprisingly hard to take. It was endearing on blue and green, and on Pinkerton, his emotional pain was well-matched only by his candid expressiveness. But on Maladroit, his lyrics are whiny, self-absorbed, grating, and not the least bit sympathetic.
By now, Weezer's rock-and-roll equations have been recalculated by scores of artists, often with better results. Compared to Maladroit, Phantom Planet's The Guest is catchier, and Andrew W.K.'s debut is loads more fun. Too bad nothing on this ho-hum album adds up so well.
Then again, maybe time will be good to this one too. Give Maladroit five years to marinate and it could become another cult fave. But not for now. -- Stephen Deusner
(Oh Boy Records)
The problem with most singer-songwriters is that one side of the hyphen always outweighs the other: They're either gifted singers who can't write an honest, original song to save their lives or they're fluent lyricists who can't sing their own songs persuasively. With his insightful lyrics and well-meaning but white-bread voice, former Memphian Todd Snider once landed squarely in the latter camp, but on his fifth album, New Connection, he unexpectedly blurs the line between his strengths and weaknesses.
The best moments on New Connection are those when his voice -- which has assumed an evocative rasp over time -- contains enough emotion to match his lyrics. On "Rose City," for instance, he inflects the last note of each line to perfectly capture his feelings of dislocation and longing.
In this regard, "Anywhere" might just be the highlight of his career. He builds the song around what would be a throwaway line for most other singer-songwriters: "Let's get out of here/I'll go anywhere/With you." But he sings it in a fragile, broken whisper, his understated delivery making the words all the more direct and startling.
Alas, Snider the songwriter is also clever -- too clever. On "Vinyl Records" (note the redundancy), he rambles on and on about the artists in his record collection, sounding like Billy Joel teaching American history. Snider's keen enough to poke fun at himself for having "piles and piles and piiiles of Tom Petty," but there's little point to the song beyond revealing his own cleverness. And on "Beer Run," which is set at a Robert Earl Keen concert, he tells us about "a couple of frat guys from Abilene" who get duped with a marijuana cigarette. Not to generalize, but I find that really hard to believe.
Despite his tenure as a singer-songwriter, Snider still sounds like he's learning the ropes and paying his dues, which aren't necessarily bad things. Once he gets a better grasp of his own strengths and weaknesses, he'll give us his breakthrough album full of heartbreakers. --SD
Girls Against Boys
Yes, but who is really looking? I don't think anyone was too jarred when Girls Against Boys' last album, the inappropriately named Freak*on*ica (if it's a joke, GVSB, try to make your next one funny) failed as both major-label debut and artistic statement. Bidding war + a now-defunct major label + previously established indie band = Surprise! The album sucked! The music biz has boiled this particular equation into vapors for the past 10 years, and GVSB have spent the past four removing themselves from it and reentering the world of the independent label. The label in question is Jade Tree, the imprint that has literally birthed, nurtured, and destroyed the "emo" genre.
GVSB are relocated stalwarts of DisChord Records, with three of the static members coming out of DisChord's overlooked band Soul Side. Because I like to do my research, I exhumed GVSB's 1995 release Cruise Yourself from my record shelf and immediately understood why this 7-year-old piece maintains its mint condition. GVSB have always been good at one thing that is not a good thing. They mix three variables to poor ends: the Fall, the thankfully forgotten swagger of the Cocktail Nation movement, and the early '90s aggro-rock usually associated with their onetime label Touch and Go. That combo sounds just as ill-conceived coming out of the speakers as it looks on paper. After the major-label jaunt that produced the Garbage-flavored (no jokes, please) electro-metal of the record I refuse to mention again, GVSB 2002 are making some middle-of-the-road, post-wallet-chain rock that should appeal to the cerebral Queens of the Stone Age fan who's not afraid to let the term "badass" enter his/her vernacular every so often. A top-down, crotch-grabbing summertime ride for the sensitive, aging indie rocker, You Can't Fight has GVSB falling out of the unoriginality tree and finally hitting every branch. -- Andrew Earles