Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Mixed Emotions: Weezer – “Pork & Beans”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 16, 2008

You hate for the kids to think that you lost your cool

It ain’t easy beeing Weez. Not to say that it’s particularly hard–God forbid we should all be enormously rich beloved rock stars with Elisha Cuthbert on speed dial–but their fans always seem to be grouchy about something. You can’t please all the people all the time, and nobody knows that better than Weezer. Make Believe was a decided commercial succes but was met with mixed reviews at best, and likewise, lead single “Beverly Hills” marked their biggest hit in a decade, while being utterly reviled by much of the W faithful. Previous album Maladroit was met with lukewarm reviews but spawned no hits and has since been dismissed by much of the band’s fanbase as insubstantial. You’d have to go back to 2001’s Green for a Weez album that was both commercially and critically successful, you’d have to go back to Pinkerton for a Weez album that the entire fan base could get behind, and you’d probably have to go all the way back to the Blue album for the last Weezer album to be an unqualified, across-the-board success. I think it’s safe to say Weezer are due for a crowd-pleaser.

Unsurprising, then, that everything about the W’s upcoming 2008 album should scream back to basics. They’ve got the monochromatic album cover (already being semi-coloquially referred to as “The Red Album”), they’ve got Jacknife Lee, producer of R.E.M.’s “FINE YOU WANTED A RETURN TO FORM ALBUM HERE TAKE IT” effort Accelerate, behind the decks, and now they’ve got lead single “Pork & Beans”. Debuted on KRoq earlier this week, “Pork & Beans” is unmistakably old-school Weezer–listen to a single second of that chorus, and you’ll probably catch yourself thinking thoughts like “hm, I wonder when they’re releasing the CD single?” and “hey, maybe Matt Pinfield will debut the video for this on 120 Minutes this Sunday!” The multi-tracked vocals, the chugging drums and bass, that one-channel guitar crunch…there’s just no sound that’s quite parallel to it, and if it doesn’t make you smile at least a little bit, then you’ve probably never smiled at Weezer before, and the odds of you having smiled at anything ever in your life are not particularly high either.

So, good news, right? Time for Weezer to reclaim Band Everyone Loves Always status? Time to start counting down the days to Red‘s release? Time to punch yourself in the face for not admitting that “We Are All on Drugs” was the best song ever? Well, maybe that last part, but pity poor Weezer, ‘coz I’m just not quite ready to concede those first two. It’s catchy, sure–my head is so full of music and trivia that it usually takes me about a half-dozen listens to remember how any song goes, but I was singing this one to myself for an hour after listening to it the first time. Even in their darkest hours, though, catchiness has never been an issue for the Weez–you may love “Beverly Hills” and “Hash Pipe,” or you might have immolated your Rivers Cuomo action figures because they disgusted you so much, but you damn sure know how them choruses go. What really forms the disconnect between 90s-era Weezer isn’t the hooks, it isn’t the production–it’s the lyrics. And we might still have a problem them.

First things first–titling your lead single “Pork & Beans” is just straight up perverse, and not only in the way that it sounds like a sexual innuendo (which for all I know it actually is). It’s silly because it’s just not a title that a hit song can weather–it’s way too unspecific to the song, the mental image isn’t one you associate with any aspect of popular music, and it comes from maybe the weakest line in the song (“I’ll eat my candy with the pork and beans”–meant to be a statement of individuality and control over your destiny, I suppose, but much more logical as a total non sequitur). I mean, I guess Weezer has a history in this respect–“El Scorcho,” “Hash Pipe” and “Dope Nose” aren’t exactly top 40-ready titles either–but this one seems particularly weak and tossed off to me.

This would be a forgivable offense, and even arguably a good joke, if the rest of the lyrics weren’t so lame as well. I mean, more Weezer contemplating whether they should be concerned about being cool and popular and just deciding “well, fuck it, I’ll do what I want”? Didn’t they already do that in “Beverly Hills” (and wasn’t that kind of redundant to begin with?) Yes, Rivers, I understand that the kids are fickle these days, but proving that you know who Timbaland is while subsequently insisting that you don’t need to know who Timbaland is doesn’t make you sound either hip or lovably un-hip, it just makes you sound old. Legitimately secure people people shouldn’t have to sing about how legitimately secure they are, right? Can’t Weezer just sing about stuff anymore?

I’m probably making it sound like I dislike this song more than I do–really, it is pretty catchy, and if the rest of the album is this tuneful and well-produced, it bodes for a highly listenable Red at the very least. But the thing with Return to Form albums is that they’re never quite as satisfying as it should be, since all they end up doing is emphasizing how long and far it’s been since the band was there the first time around–you can never really repeat the past, especially not once you’ve graduated from Harvard, gone to cellibacy and back, and adopted Rick Rubin as your personal swami. But let’s hope some of the surprises Weezer have promised to have up their sleeve–“longer songs, non-traditional song forms, different people writing and singing, instrument switching, TR-80s, synths, Southern Rap, and Baroque counterpoint” among them–keep things a little new and interesting. I’m not ready for Weezer to be officially Old quite yet.

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