Category: The Rock & Other Listening Material
Tracking the flood, part XXXIV
Tracking the Flood, part xxxiii
Weezer’s The Organ Player: What Rivers Was Saying All Along
When Weezer was making their fourth album Maladroit, Rivers Cuomo dropped a bad habit: he started writing songs that meant something again.
In response to the reaction to Pinkerton, Rivers decided to write songs without any personal meaning. It was a phase that lasted for a few years. And when Weezer had commercial success with the Green Album in 2001, it justified where Rivers’ head was at. But while a large number of fans liked Green, they also wanted songs with some personal meaning. So when Rivers was writing the songs for Maladroit (and songs for post-Maladroit albums written before Maladroit was even made), he started writing real again.
Some of these songs, like Private Message or 367 were literally about what was going on in Rivers’ (very online) life.
Other songs were metaphorical. Prodigy Lover and Mo Beats were about lawsuits facing the band and the ex-members that instigated them. And then there was the Organ Player.
The Organ Player is a laid-back song about a man performing music in public. He’s heckled by a bitter young man:
He can’t accept what the other ones can
That the song is greater than him
Spreading venom in the crowd
Laughing high horses are loud
The organ player keeps playing:
He won’t be swayed from the right melody
Because he knows its beauty
Things get worse when the bitter young man keeps at it:
He’s got to take on the source of his pain
At the cost of righteous thinking
Casting necromancer spells
Summoning demons from hell
But the organ player keeps playing. And the song gets better.
A perfect tune doesn’t need a disguise.
By the end of the song, the bitter young man is defeated and the organ player presumably goes off to make more music. It’s an interesting story, but it’s very autobiographical.
Rivers first wrote The Organ Player in June of 2002. The earliest demo of it was a relationship song recorded while he was in Korea for the World Cup. But sometime between then and when Weezer recorded it in early July, it took on the story.
At the time, Rivers frequented a few Weezer message boards. Both the official board on Weezer.com and a fan-run board called the Rivers Correspondence Board. As he said back then, Rivers lived a life where he was in a different city every day. Having an online community gave him stability. Although, as someone who was on both at the time, the RCB was definitely not a source of stability.
It seemed a prerequisite for most RCB members was to be the prototypical bitter young man. There was a very anti-Green, anti-Maladroit sentiment. People wanted songs that came from real experiences. Songs that evolved. And despite derision about his newest material, Rivers remained steadfast in his belief that he was on the right path. He was confident that his new approach would lead to even more success for the band. As he posted on the RCB in the spring of 2002:
here’s something you have to understand: “classic” weezer is going to be buried by a far more popular “new” style over the next few years. those 20 songs that you guys are so attached to are going to mean nothing to the millions and millions of new fans that are coming in.
What’s more, Rivers knew that he needed to get through this phase and use it to build what was next:
5 might contain:
from pink: emotional inspiration
from green: strophic form; 2.5 min. songs
from mala: natural playing, singing, and creative input from all 4 of us.
of course, i could be wrong.
Looking back on things now, he was right.
Throughout Weezer’s career, it’s been the case where each album was a departure from what came before it. And Rivers has grown with each phase.
Back in 2002, I don’t think anyone expected Weezer’s career would last another 20 plus years. Or that some of their best albums would be in the future. But that’s what happened. Weezer’s biggest commercial successes happened after 2002.
At the time, fans wanted a return to the band’s earliest years. Maybe because we didn’t know what was to come. I won’t be silly and say Rivers knew the future. But with the Organ Player, he was telling us he was sticking with the right melody. And things worked out fine.
Tracking the Flood, Part XXXII
Tracking the Flood, Part XXXI
Tracking the Flood, Part XXX
SZNZ Come and SZNZ Go, Weezer Rocks More Than Ever
Not even two years ago, Rivers Cuomo shared his plan for Weezer’s 2022.
Rivers wanted to release four albums (or EPs) in a year. Each coming out the first day of a season, with each record having a certain tone, feel and theme. Inspired by Vivaldi, the songs would (loosely) tell the stories of two angels who go to Earth for vacation and don’t go back to heaven.
Here we are, on the first day of winter 2022 and Weezer has done it. There were some stumbling blocks and things along the way that didn’t happen (a Broadway show and a Wrecking Crew-like group of backing magicians). But with the help of project producers Suzy Shinn, Jake Sinclair, the individual record producers and other musicians, engineers and technicians, Weezer has released four albums this year. That’s pretty incredible.
Even more incredible, and I don’t say this lightly, but overall, taking all four records into consideration, SZNZ is Weezer’s best album yet. I said a few months ago and stand by the fact that Weezer is making some of their best music ever. I’m not saying SZNS is perfect. There are weaknesses. Production quality varies from album to album. Because they’re EPs, each album is short. At times, you feel like there’s not enough variety or flavor on an album. But SZNZ overcomes this.
As a whole, there’s variation in SZNZ. Weezer explores different musical styles. There are songs that sound like Yacht Rock and songs that would sound like they belong on a Christmas-themed playlist. Rivers incorporates Vivaldi and other classical themes throughout the songs. These songs are clearly about something and mean something to Rivers. Most importantly, the songs are catchy with great melodies and dynamic structures.
These songs don’t replace any of Weezer’s earlier work. I’m still as big a fan of Buddy Holly, The Good Life and all their other early (and mid career) songs as I ever was. But the songs Weezer has made in these last few years stand right up there with those early favorites. In terms of songwriting and composition, this (SZNZ and OK Human from last year) material goes back to and builds on Weezer’s early albums. Rivers isn’t writing songs where the final chorus sounds cut-and-pasted from the first. These songs evolve. He’s not afraid of tempo/chord changes or even taking a song in a whole new direction. Those were things he stopped doing after the world’s reaction to Pinkerton. And he’s returned to it here and there in his songwriting since. But here he is, embracing those tactics and making the music better with them.
Twenty-one years ago, when Weezer returned from their first big hiatus with the Green Album, I was pumped that Weezer was back. I loved the album, even if it wasn’t exactly the kind of music I wanted. At the time I (and everyone else) didn’t have a clue how long Weezer’s career would be. But since then, they’ve put out more incredible music (or mostly incredible) of all different styles. They’ve had hits and misses. And they’ve grown.
Rivers has already started talking about Weezer’s next album (here’s a hint: it’s time for another color album). And some are talking about what they’d like it to sound like. As for me, I’m fine with whatever they want to do.