The past two years have been good to Weezer fans. Not only has the band released three albums (and counting), but lead singer Rivers Cuomo has shared thousands of his demos. As much as I could go on (and on and on) about Rivers’ demos, two thoughts that I’m convinced that are facts have been on my mind about the three Weezer albums we’ve gotten in the last 15 months:
- Weezer is making some of their best music ever
- For all those fans wanting a follow up to Pinkerton (or something like Weezer’s second album), the SZNZ project is that follow-up.
None of what I’m about to say should be construed as an attack on any other Weezer album. I love all of the band’s records, even the one that would be at the bottom of my list of albums (if I were to make such things). But there are quality differences between the albums.
Van Weezer, the second album to come out in 2021, was a solid effort featuring Weezer-brand power pop highlighted by some hair metal influences. The first 2021 album, OK Human, was a damn masterpiece. This was a bigger departure for Weezer, featuring a lot of orchestration. The songs were thematically deep and musically complex. And they sounded great.
SZNZ: Spring, which came out two months ago takes what OK Human started and continues it. The SZNZ project is pretty ambitious for Weezer: releasing four themed albums over the course of a year. This activity and the quality of the music makes it a great time to be a Weezer fan.
Twenty years ago, we were just a short time removed from a hiatus where it looked like Weezer may be finished. Weezer put out the Green Album and Maladroit, two albums that fared well commercially (well, at least Green did). But fans didn’t all get behind these two albums like they did Weezer’s first two. A lot of fans online were vocal about being let down by the band. Despite the whining of fans back then, it’s kind of funny to look back on. Because in the years since, we’ve gotten a number of albums, many of which have been proclaimed as the ‘best since Pinkerton,’ or a ‘return to form.’
The thing is (and yes, it’s easier to see now, but still); Weezer is going to do what Weezer wants to do. Or more accurately, Rivers is going to do what Rivers wants to do. Each of their albums sounds different. And that’s a good thing. Weezer can make many different types of music. And with the material they’ve released, there’s something that can make anybody happy. You just have to be okay with what doesn’t fit your taste and accept that other people do like it (a skill I hope the fans of 20 years ago have developed in this time).
These last three albums (although I’m focusing mostly on OK Human and Spring here) have contained some of the best music Weezer has ever made. These are songs that mean something. They sound great. They develop. They have structure. And yet they’re not airtight and devoid of life. Weezer fans are getting great music, and with three more SZNZ albums out this year, it looks like that’s only going to continue.
Speaking of SZNZ, it’s time I addressed something that I’m sure some will consider heresy: that it is the follow-up to Pinkerton that people have wanted.
When it came out in 1996, Pinkerton was groundbreaking. It’s this raw, emotional, rocking concept album with themes and operatic influences. Looking back on it today, it could be seen as a little too emotionally honest and chauvinistic, but it is where Rivers was at the time. People identified with Pinkerton. It meant something to them. Sure it’s natural that fans would have wanted more of the same. But we didn’t get a follow-up for a few reasons:
- It wasn’t commercially successful (at first); the reaction to it had Rivers questioning himself and exploring other musical directions (which is every artist’s right). Rivers immediately pursued impersonal, more structured, riff-based rock.
- Rivers realized (later) that to get to a place to write the type of material he did for Pinkerton, he would have had to experience pain. And no one should have to make themselves suffer for art.
Just because Rivers changed directions, does not mean the music he made after Pinkerton isn’t any good. He and Weezer have put out some incredible albums. And as a side note, some of the music he made in 1998, when he was working on the follow-up to Pinkerton, is great. Other albums contained parts of the Pinkerton formula. Make Believe and Red were a return to personal songwriting. Everything Will Be Alright in the End was kind of conceptual. But there was nothing that brought it all together until SZNZ.
SZNZ is a project with some major ideas behind it. Each Season has a theme. There are influences from classical music (the first track, Opening Night, contains a rock version of Vivaldi’s Spring) and religion. Lyrically, there’s a bending of time- the lyrics make pop culture references while being set in another time. The songs themselves contain the dynamic nature of the Pinkerton songs – there are random stops and starts and new sections. Or consider A Little Bit of Love, where the chorus changes each time. And like Pinkerton, SZNZ tells a story; the idea is about two angels who leave paradise to live with humankind. It’s an ambitious story, and so far, Rivers is pulling it off.
The one thing that SZNZ doesn’t have is the in-your-face personal nature Pinkerton had. But even then, the very first song is about Rivers’ love for Shakespeare. It might not be as emotionally honest, but that’s not a bad thing.
Weezer fans have it very good right now. We’re getting a lot of great music, both from the band and from Rivers. And those fans who wanted a follow up to Pinkerton are finally getting what they’ve wanted.
In 2007, not much was happening in the world of Weezer. The band was taking a break, with Rivers having finished college and getting married the year before. Some media articles from the time were prophesying doom for the band, but it was more of a case of the interviewers misreading Rivers’ focus on his new life.
There was talk that the band was going to hit the studio sometime that year. Then one day in April, a new song leaked on fan message boards. An acoustic demo featuring Rivers, Pig instantly generated excitement because of the subject matter and composition.
But even more exciting (and curious) was the MP3’s metadata. According to the tags, the Pig demo was part of a 17-track album called Deliverance at Hand! And yes, while it was exciting to know that there was a 17-track demo album, the exclamation point was part of the title.
A few years later, a scanned version of a DAH booklet hit fan sites, with a tracklist and lyrics. The Deliverance at Hand versions of My Day is Coming and I Don’t Wanna Let You Go appeared on Alone II. Some Full-band versions of some songs would be heard on 2008’s Weezer (the Red Album), 2009’s Raditude and 2010’s Death to False Metal. When Rivers started selling his demo bundles in his online store in 2020, the remaining tracks from Deliverance at Hand were finally available as part of the Red-Raditude-Hurley Years bundle.
Deliverance at Hand!
|3||Here Comes the Girl|
|4||I Don’t Wanna Let You Go|
|6||Everybody Get Dangerous|
|7||Leader of the Pack|
|9||My Bark Is Worse Than My Bite|
|10||My Day Is Coming|
|11||Piece of the Pie|
|14||Run Over by a Truck|
|15||Why Can’t You Shut Your Mouth?|
|16||The Odd Couple|
|17||These Things That You Do|
|18||The Angel and the One|
Overall, the songs are a mixed bag. Some are excellent. Others are okay. And there are a few that are not my thing.
The recording (and writing) is all Rivers. But because it’s a scaled back solo collection doesn’t mean that it’s a straight acoustic recording. Some songs have piano or organ in the back, as well as double-tracked vocals. It is a demo (and it does a really good job of establishing the feel of these songs), but you could tell that Rivers put some work into this collection. It definitely makes a good listen as its own album (which I’ve done with several of these demo collections in the bundles).
Standout songs include Here Comes the Girl, I Don’t Wanna Let You Go, King, Miss Sweeney, Piece of the Pie, Pig, Respect, Run Over By a Truck and The Angel and the One. The three that we don’t have Weezer versions of, HCTG, Piece of the Pie and Respect, would have made excellent additions to any Weezer album.
For the songs that did go on to have full-band versions, outside of instrumentation, these versions are lyrically and structurally similar to the attempts that made Weezer albums. Rivers knows what he’s doing.
Of course, this was put together and shared a while before Weezer began work on the Red album. That album has an excellent booklet detailing some of the song background and recording information (something that I wish Weezer did more frequently). This wasn’t the last demo collection Rivers would put together before Red (but that’s a story for another time).
It was exciting that spring day in 2007 to hear Pig for the first time. A new potential Weezer song – one that sounded great and had meaning (and I say that as a fan of Make Believe). I can only imagine how excited Rivers must have been putting this collection together. No wonder he gave the CD the titular exclamation mark.
- For a while, Piece of the Pie had a reputation among fans as a holy grail. It’s a great song, no doubt. I don’t know that I’d have it up among his finest songs (and there are several from this era that I enjoy more), but it is a highlight.
- As he was finishing out Harvard in 2005-2006, Rivers was still writing music. Many of those recordings are available in the Red-Rad-Hurley bundle. Despite the reports saying Weezer was done, or Rivers wasn’t interested in music, during that time he did talk up some of the songs that he was working on. One was about the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (My Day is Coming, on DaH). Another about songs that influenced him throughout his life (Heart Songs, on DaH). And the other one (and possibly most ambitious one) was an internal dialogue about whether he wanted to live on the East Coast or West Coast (East Coast or West Coast, not on DaH, but part of the EWBAITE bundle). ECWC sounded special, as he was going to have Brian sing the parts praising the East Coast and Scott sing the West Coast hype. And it came together very well. But not well enough for Weezer, apparently. The song eventually morphed into the (just as excellent) Up in the Clouds.
- If you’d like to check out Deliverance at Hand!, it’s part of the Red-Raditude-Hurley Years bundle on Rivers’ website.