Rivers Cuomo – [Album]

Monday, 05 January 2009

Given the nature of Rivers Cuomo’s previous raid of his own vaults which yielded the first installment of Alone, fans probably had a good idea of what to expect from Alone II – another collection of embryonic Weezer songs. That isn’t what Alone II represents though; it’s a far more finessed collection than that. There are no false starts that would eventually appear on a proper studio album years later, these are ideas that were aborted by an incredibly prolific song writer. Why exactly they were cast aside is never made perfectly clear in the liner notes either (boredom maybe?), but one thing that can be said about the songs comprising Alone II is that they’re largely more complete and better-formed than those that got got expunged on Alone. Most are full-band performances and, really, they flow together better as an album than those on this record’s predecessor did.

To be fair, as if to conjoin the two albums, Alone II opens with a similarly produced (rough, generally dirty mixes and arrangements by Weezer’s compulsively adamantine standards) and unsure design in “Victory On The Hill” before migrating directly into “How’d this get left off of an album?” territory with “I Want To Take You Home Tonight.” In that song (as well as many that follow it), Cuomo appears right at about where the going got great for Weezer with The Blue Album. Heavy-as-hell guitars, Ringo Starr-esque “four/four and nothing more” drumming and Cuomo’s own stiff and yearning vocals characterize “The Purification Of Water,” “My Brain Is Working Overtime” and “I Don’t Want To Let You Go.” As with Weezer’s studio output (and unlike Alone), there is a tremendous amount of Cuomo in each of these songs; his hopes, his fears and his underlying, frazzled psychology dominate these songs where, on Alone, it was often more about posturing. In many ways, the entire middle third of II plays about like a reading of a high school kid’s diary and is interesting from that standpoint but, while better assembled than Alone, we’re not talking about lost classics here; they’re just fairly good songs that fit together.

Right around “Please Remember” is when the proceedings backslide in a southerly direction into throwaway, demo-lished territory. The sound quality (bad and/or mangled tape noise, mikes overloading and more) instantly begins to sound very “cheap four-track” again and detracts a lot from anything that might be going on in tracks including “Come To My Pod,” “The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide World” and “Can’t Stop Partying.” The cover of The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” doesn’t help either; again, it starts to painfully invoke the comparisons to Brian Wilson that (and fans will mangle me for this) are simply not deserved.

As the record progresses, it does try to recapture the earlier refinement of the first third of the record on “Walt Disney,” “Cold And Damp” and “I’ll Think About You” and, actually, if you start there rather than at the beginning of the album, you realize that they’re actually the best songs on II but, played in sequence, they don’t gain back much ground from the album’s train wreck mid-section.

To blurt it simply, II does show Cuomo at a songwriting point many levels above the one that Alone showcased but, realistically, it doesn’t have the same impact. Alone had a surprise value to it that II simply does not because listeners already know what to expect and it does not exceed that expectation at all. Diehard fans will love it of course, and they can have it; passing fans won’t find anything remarkable here though, regrettably.


Weezer website  
Rivers Cuomo myspace


Rivers Cuomo – [Album]

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Having come up through the indie rock tape-trading age synonymous with the 1980s and '90s, does it come as a surprise to anyone that Weezer was an avid home demo-makin' band? Anyone familiar with the band's unparalleled geekitude shouldn't be surprised, but no one could have guessed that the quality of Weezer's demos would be so good; immediately noticeable on Alone (where Cuomo is anything but—most of these tracks are full-band recordings) is the care and precision that Rivers Cuomo and company take even in the embryonic stages of the recording process and the sloppiest sounding songs here are often those that appeared on a proper full-length album (an early, slower and looser version of "Buddy Holly" surfaces here).

Inevitably, the further Alone gets from the band's beginnings (read: when everybody could afford homes of their own), the difference between multi-track tape and computer recording means that the demos get clearer in quality but sparer in arrangement. It still works as far as it gives a better impression of Rivers Cuomo as a songwriter ("Lover In The Snow" is one of the greatest songs ever to bear his name), but the aborted full-band tracks from later periods ("I Was Made For You") tend to be more interesting for the simple fact that they appear here fully-finished and gift wrapped; it may never be clear why these tracks were omitted from Weezer's catalogue (space constraints maybe), but thanks has to go to Rivers Cuomo for holding onto them for so long and finally letting them be heard.

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