Some things never change: On Hurley — streaming in full at MySpace, so play along — Rivers Cuomo still inhabits the mind and awkward body of a 14-year-old boy, alternately frustrated by, and in awe of the opposite sex. But some things do change, and for the better. Hurley is the best Weezer album in a while (maybe since Pinkerton, maybe since Maladroit, maybe somewhere in between), and it helps eliminate the bad taste that The Red Album and Raditude left behind.
It’s hard to understand how Cuomo, a married father (and who once wrote an essay about how he was having too much meaningless sex), could still act as if he’s never left high school (see joyous, harmony-filled second track “Ruling Me,” co-written by Semisonic’s Dan Wilson), Weezer still convincingly play the underdog, or at least the voice of the underdog. “Trainwrecks” is a great loser’s anthem. “Where’s My Sex?” is more embarrassing (and, according to Cuomo interviews, was originally about socks, which makes it more embarrassing), while “Smart Girls” paints women as mysteries or simple stereotypes. But the latter also has a very Cars-like (and in that way, early Weezer-like) locomotion to the verses — and a list of names that’ll remind you of the parade of anonymous ass Cuomo lists in “Tired Of Sex.”
Cuomo wrote more of Hurley’s songs on his own — check the band’s ASCAP page to see how many cooks were in the kitchen for The Red Album and Raditude. The Ryan Adams song, “Run Away” doesn’t stand out, but the guitar progression has a pleasantly nostalgic, ’90s feel. The two best tracks on the album, “Hang On” and “Unspoken” were written by Cuomo alone, both are first person, both use strings and little touches to warm up what could have started as Pinkerton-era demos. “Unspoken” is acoustic as first, then bursts into classic Weezer feedback, and with Cuomo’s classic mix of desire and resentment (chorus: “Our life will be broken / Our hate will be unspoken”). “Hang On,” another memorable track, is still simple, maybe a little too simple, lyrically, but its sentiments aren’t too young or bro-ish, as is the case with many late Weezer tracks. (Young bro Michael Cera added guitar and backing vocals.) There’s something really sweet and sweeping about the violin over the feedback verses. And “Just like I’m solar / You warm up to me” is kind of hilarious.
After all the pre-album press, it’s a relief that Hurley is much better than the cover, or Weezer, let on. Who knows if self-doubt was responsible for the years between Pinkerton and The Green Album, or if self-doubt made Cuomo hook up with so many disparate songwriters and desperate ideas for the band’s last two records. (Also, it’s funny how self-doubt can, on the surface, look like insanity). But the biggest relief here is the hints here that Cuomo trusts his own skills and own voice once again.
Hurley is out 9/14 via Epitaph.