Here we have Weezer’s third album, their first since 1996’s rather excellent, perceived-as-a failure-but-now-hailed-as-a-classic Pinkerton. Let’s leave “the geek ascendant” angle to every other publication in the free world, shall we?
Instead, Weezer, a.k.a. The Green Album (Interscope), should be lauded as a bang-up summer record. As of this writing, it has just debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard album chart. The other big rock album released last week, Tool’s Lateralus, is a dank, ponderous affair that would have been better suited to a December release, when the suicide rate is higher. Lateralus, currently the No. 1 album in the land, could summon storm clouds to a magnificent day at the beach. (Perhaps the band’s performance at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Sunday, May 20, was responsible for the following week’s unseasonable drizzle and chill.) Weezer, on the other hand, is the only loud guitar record of the season that would sound terrific on the boom box next to your beach towel, right between spins of Daft Punk’s Discovery and Janet Jackson’s All for You.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Rivers Cuomo is nothing less than a gifted songwriter. While he lets his slip show as an 80’s metal devotee (his vocal melody in the verse of the first single, “Hash Pipe,” echoes the keening central guitar signature of Aldo Nova’s “Fantasy”), his technique is as old as the hills: Take a simple, ebullient verse, append a soaring chorus (or pre-chorus) and away we go!
“Photograph” is saved from being a mere confluence of the Badfinger songs “No Matter What” and “Come and Get It” by a splendid chorus unrelated to either of those tunes. Nothing on The Green Album really tops the one-two punch of that song and the record’s opener, “Don’t Let Go”: A one-two-three-four snare crack launches a faultless single brimming with “ooh-whoa-whoa’s” and lovely harmonies. Most of the record is homogenous, but what poignant, rocking homogeneity!
Exceptions to this would be “O Girlfriend,” which finds Mr. Cuomo pining after said object of affection like Heathcliff with a Stratocaster, and “Smile,” the only guitar song of the current era you can slow-dance to. He sounds positively noble in these tunes. Ladies, forget about the fact that he’s a shrimpy guy with a gimp leg: Rivers Cuomo is the man you’ve been waiting for!
The fact that he weds such luscious melodies to his band’s massive instrumental firepower cements the sense that Weezer is the only real power-pop outfit to truly matter since the Knack. A shut-in hasn’t composed such romantically unsettled, guitar-based pop music tailor-made for the beach since Brian Wilson was at his peak.
You have your instructions: During the next three months, Weezer is as necessary as sunblock.
Air: Laugh Till It Hertz
One had to be a little wary of Moon Safari, the first album by Air, that French duo of 1970’s apologists. While evoking the uncanny ping of the unicorn that was 70’s AM radio, it also seemed born of a nostalgic impulse to replace emotion with narcissistic sentimentalism. A little nostalgia can be pleasantly banal, but if you craved the hot fudge sundae that was Moon Safari, odds were you would never be weaned onto more solid foods.
But it turns out that “Ween” might be the better word. For while the John-Lennon-on-The-Dark-Side-of-the-Moon atmospherics they created for the film The Virgin Suicides were in the same ambiguous vein as Moon Safari, 10,000 Hz Legend (Astralwerks) lifts the flowery robes to show us what Air was all along: a comedy troupe, a French Ween-and a pretty good one.
Like their countrymen Daft Punk on their latest, Discovery, Air have stitched together a patchwork of 70’s and early-80’s styles, but this time they’ve left enough of the threads exposed to enable us to appreciate the critique they’re making of their own backward-looking tendencies. Not only is it a fine record, a listen to it will improve Moon Safari as well. For 10,000 Hz Legend displays a depth that Ween hasn’t shown us in a decade, teasing a melancholy resignation out of what could have just been another Beck or Beta Band album, filled with genre parodies and gassy jokes. In fact, it’s almost as if Air leached everything interesting out of what should have been in the lamentable new Beta Band album-particularly on “The Vagabond” (featuring a Beck vocal, of course)-and used it to transform their style into something more likably hodgepodge.
The myriad regurgitated influences are too numerous to list, from Roxy Music through Popol Vuh to Prince. Most importantly, it’s how they use this coming-of-age material to underline the failures of adulthood, as well as the increasingly popular robot metaphor to illustrate alienation. “People in the City,” a millennial take on the Godfathers’ “Birth School Work Death,” features the refrain “Moving, watching, working, sleeping, driving, walking, talking, smiling.” Mood music doesn’t get much bleaker than that.
“Sex Born Poison” starts off delicately, in Moon Safari fashion, then veers into a sort of madness as the vocodered vocals repeat “Shoot, use your gun of life” so that it sounds like “shit” (very Ween, that) before shifting into incomprehensible Japanese vocals sung by guests Buffalo Daughter (another couple of jesters) that seem to be about some sort of AIDS-electronics merger. Most of the love-oriented lyrics are vocodered, underlining ardor’s perceived impossibility. The question “How does it make you feel?” (again mechanically distorted) is finally answered with “Well, I really think you should quit smoking.”
From a French group, I suppose there could be no reply more tender. The entire album is like that: gags in the name of sadness, an infantilism put to the use of growing up. Those looking for more makeout E-Z listening along the lines of Moon Safari should not be surprised if, nine months later, they give birth to a leaky cyborg wearing Groucho glasses.
Music From Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge: Quel Fromage
A simple rule of thumb: If you’re a Sting fan, you’re no bohemian. And only a ne’er-do-well with a notable lack of joie de vivre is going to want to listen to the new soundtrack to the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge, certainly an early qualifier for the year’s most heinous album.
I’m willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt (based on others’ testimony), though I fear it may be a Hollywood rat trap set upon the true innovation of the breakthrough bricolage musical Dancer in the Dark. Taken on its own accord, the Moulin Rouge soundtrack (Interscope) attempts to establish a modern canon of adult-contemporary blandness and then sell it back to us through the mouths of phony turn-of-the- century ragamuffin hipsters.
And so we get Ewan McGregor as a lovestruck poet singing Elton John with an opera singer wailing away, Bocelli-style, in a manner the tastefulness of which is rivaled only by Christina Aguilera’s undulations during the tag-team hit cover of Crewe and Nolan’s “Lady Marmalade.” Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? Jamais!
In interviews, director Baz Luhrmann has admitted to a highly camp sensibility-this is, after all, the man who released the hit spoken-word single, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” in 1999-but he doesn’t seem to understand that the Bollywood musicals Moulin Rouge imitates mean it. It’s this sincerity that generates the profound emotional friction between the spectacle and the kitsch in the best examples of Indian films.
And so we get pastiches of popular songs, such as “Elephant Love Medley,” in which Mr. McGregor and co-star Nicole Kidman sing tunes by U2, Kiss, Phil Collins and at least seven others. What is Mr. Luhrmann’s opinion of this music? Is it a put-on, an attempt to flatter a middlebrow audience or an honest display of bad taste that may have some redeeming value? There is no courage to Mr. Luhrmann’s conviction (on this record, anyway), and it doesn’t help that the few collaborations that may have looked good on paper-David Bowie and Massive Attack on Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy,” Beck and Timbaland doing Mr. Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs”-come off as little more than half-executed ideas, recorded in different time zones. Massive Attack’s backing track is likable enough-but then again, who’s going to buy this record for the music? C’est la vie.
Speaking of Bohemia …
A corrective to the Ken Burns orthodoxy of jazzy ignorance will be on display at Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Avenue, 505-5181) June 2 and 3 for the Vision Film Series, part of the Sixth Annual Vision Festival (www.visionfestival.org), guaranteed to sprinkle a little dirt on your top hat and tails. Look out for Spaceways, a rarely screened Sun Ra short, and the world premiere of Patrick A. Gaucher’s Continuum: Why the Jazz Establishment Can’t Hold Down Matthew Shipp. What jazz establishment?
This One Goes to 11
On June 4, 17 years after Marty Di- Bergi’s infamous hatchetmentary This Is Spinal Tap, the troika may finally regain some dignity by playing Carnegie Hall. The show promises to answer such nagging questions as: Why is a rock band headlining the Toyota Comedy Festival? And: What do Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins-auteurs of “Big Bottom” and “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”-have to do with fuel-efficient automobiles? And (especially): What does Toyota have to do with comedy and-or classic rock? Mr. St. Hubbins, for his own part, has a surprise in store: “We’re going to start on time,” he said during an April 17 press conference.
· Legendary Texas songwriter, naïf, schizophrenic and Manhattan Music mascot Daniel Johnston has been making the rounds with encouraging frequency. He’ll be at Tonic (107 Norfolk Street) on May 30 “celebrating” his latest CD. There will be other bands, including one with a member of Clem Snide.
· Bo (The Bo Diddley Beat) Diddley, legendary rock minimalist, does three nights at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill (237 West 42nd Street) May 31 through June 2. He will play “Hey, Bo Diddley,” “Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger,” “Bo Diddley” and “Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley.” These songs are all very similar-sounding.
· Two days before taking in Harry Smith’s Mirror Animations at the Vision Festival (see above), you can catch David Johansen and the Harry Smiths at the Bottom Line (15 West Fourth Street) on June 1. Harry Smith will not be there. He is dead.
Stephen Malkmus, David Letterman, May 31
VH1 All Access: 25 Years of Punk, June 1, 3 p.m.
Weezer, Conan O’Brien, June 5