By: Eric Greenwood
Weezer's speedy follow-up to last year's self-titled "Green" album signals a new found sense of purpose for bandleader, Rivers Cuomo. The dark, five-year period following what still stands as the band's best album, 1996's Pinkerton, is ancient history, as Cuomo has been accepted once again in the commercial arena. The multi-platinum success of the "Green" album – a slick, thirty-minute re-introduction to Weezer's offbeat brand of emotionally charged power pop – convinced Cuomo that, hey, maybe Weezer's not so bad after all. However, he still doesn't know how to handle the fact that hardcore fans adore what he considers Weezer's worst album, the aforementioned Pinkerton.
So, Maladroit is Cuomo's attempt to meet Weezer fans halfway. And on that level it succeeds as an inside acknowledgment. However, Cuomo still has his guard up, as he continues to hide behind a wall of crunching guitars and ironic posturing. What makes it all ok is his undeniable skill as a songwriter. Even churning out cookie-cutter pop punk, Cuomo outshines all of his peers. It's true, though, Maladroit does open up more than the emotionally frigid "Green" album did do. The band certainly shows more energy and versatility, especially on the rocking opener, "American Gigolo", and the first single, the Cheap Trick-ish "Dope Nose", but it still feels like something is being held back.
The "Green" album suffered from too much "sameness." Every single song followed the verse/chorus/verse format far too strictly with a guitar solo that also followed the verse. It was stifling to listen to, and things tended to blur together. There were some memorable melodies and sing-along choruses, for certain, and the noisy standout, "Hash Pipe", hinted at the direction of this album. But, overall, the "Green" album failed to fill the gap left by Pinkerton. For one thing it was only thirty minutes long. Fans waited five years for thirty lousy minutes??? For another, Ric Ocasek's production was way too slick. It washed any personality right out of the mix. Weezer sounded Like A BIG FUCKING CORPORATE BAND, which certainly wasn't its forte.
Thankfully, Maladroit showcases the band's inherent charm, as on the early albums. Cuomo is starting once again to understand that his band can be commercially viable and have a personality, too. The jaunty strut of "Keep Fishin'" single-handedly outdoes the whole of the "Green" album with its unexpected, left-field chorus and playful demeanor. Cuomo's heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics have also returned. The metal-ish "Take Control" is a dark rocker that bridges the anonymous melodies of the "Green" album with Weezer's early infatuation with Kiss riffs and confident machismo. Cuomo lets his guard down briefly on the woe-is-me ballad "Death And Destruction", but it's good to hear Weezer mixing things up a bit, even if it is on a ballad.
"Slob" is a bona-fide future Weezer classic. Cuomo sounds desperate and almost angry, as the guitars and drums pound expectantly. Now this is more like it. Anger sounds good on Weezer (remember "Getchoo?"). When the drums pick up in the final few verses, Cuomo genuinely sounds like he's into it. No more running through the motions, I guess. The loose, white-boy funk of "Burnt Jamb" explodes into a cheesy metal crescendo that slips right back into the pseudo-funk, and it's all catchy as hell. "Space Rock" starts off as a silly rock song complete with "ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh" backing vocals, but the dark, pounding climax of the chorus lives up to its title. The "Big Balls" rock of "Fall Together" catches Weezer in the midst of what it does best- making knuckelheaded metal sound clever.
The insanely catchy burst of energy of "Possibilities" sounds like it could have been lifted straight off the "Blue" album. It's a fun, pogo-in-place rocker with an inevitably catchy chorus to boot, and at two minutes and two seconds you couldn't ask for more from a pop punk song. "Love Explosion" and the album's closer, "December", are less exciting but still reveal more panache than the bulk of songs off the "Green" album did. Maladroit is a welcome – halfway – return to form. Perhaps, if this album receives as strong a reaction as did the "Green" album, then Cuomo will experiment even more in the future. It's too bad that he places so much stock in commercial success, but we'll take what we can get when we can get it. Maladroit is definitely on the right track, though, and Cuomo can rest easy knowing that Weezer is in no danger of being replaced by any of its minions if it keeps putting albums like this on the table.