The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
Ever since Rivers Cuomo’s sketchy space opera project Songs From The Black Hole begat Pinkerton, which reappropriated some songs but discarded several, followers of his band Weezer have had the tip of an iceberg in their sights. Happily they have been able to close in lately, and the great song-berg inevitably melted and receded a little. Some generic riffery and throwaway genre-hops slipped quietly into the cold waters. But the discoveries are proving interesting as we see those earlier boasts of a nebulous catalogue of tunes borne out by collections of rough home recordings. We had Alone at the end of last year, and now its sequel promises more unnecessary yet intriguing lo-fi gems.
This time, there are a few more germs of songs that apparently went nowhere, and no demos of songs that would go on to appear on Weezer albums. The opener ‘Victory On The Hill’ is a clatter of trumpets reaching clumsily for a promising harmony, and after a roll of drums and a cop-out climax, the collection settles into the deliciously guilty ‘I Want To Take You Home Tonight’, which is as Alone II means to go on – skilful songs captured as surprisingly layered compositions, but with enough quickly-dialled guitar sounds, placeholder lyrics and peaking four-track channels to remind you that this isn’t quite Weezer.
Of course, it has its own appeal for being less deliberate than some of their albums, recalling a strangeness Weezer perhaps hinted at more on their early records. One becomes desensitised to not just the sloppier sonic palette, but also to the idea that this music doesn’t matter much – it’s mostly long-forgotten and occasionally fragmentary. Releases like The Pet Sounds Sessions box set have arguably endangered the esteem their respective albums are held in, because they dilute the actual selection with the cut material, and expose the individual takes from which studio wizards then make up the whole. They strip away the ostensible mastery in the mastered, undo that art that is selecting your best hand. Alone II goes a step further than this, by being entirely, apologetically, made up of songs that did not make it into the studio, indeed did not make any kind of cut besides that of a demos album.
On the subject of myth-shattering, Alone II certainly topples the idea that Songs From The Black Hole was ‘one of the great lost albums’, or anything other than a fleeting framework, with three further songs from that featured. At these moments, Alone II it is at its most ‘for the fans’, because the inclusion is largely guided by public interest, as opposed to a sensical selection of Cuomo’s neglected songcraft. The Black Hole trio of ‘Oh Jonas’, ‘Please Remember’ and ‘Come To My Pod’ is rather undermined by the trio of highlights that follow. Firstly there’s a predictably Weezeresque but nonetheless enjoyable power-pop bash at the Beach Boys’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby’. Next, ‘The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide World’ is an unfussy song that echoes those fine b-sides Weezer once seemed to muster from nowhere, tenderly sung over a handful of extra-fuzzy power chords. It’s tellingly from 1997, just post-Pinkerton. But then there’s this year’s ‘I Can’t Stop Partying’ (written by Jermaine Dupri), a song whose elegiac but poppy feel fits Rivers’ current melodic box-of-tricks excellently – his singing burdens every lyric with a suitable shrug.
Elsewhere, a torch-song effort ‘My Day Is Coming’ is eclipsed by knowledge of Weezer’s recent ‘Pig’, which is more idiosyncratic and more excellent. ‘I Don’t Want To Let You Go’ slowly colours in its simple chords with vocal embellishments, ‘til it starts to resemble melancholic Supremes. ‘Walt Disney’ is gorgeously hooky and angsty in extremes that only Cuomo can nail. ‘The Purification Of Water’ and ‘Harvard Blues’ stray furthest from the beaten path, and remind you just how far some of Cuomo’s band work is from his weirder instincts. ‘I’ll Think About You’ finally ties up the mixed bag, in a merry, bouncy fashion that emulates McCartney but barely betrays the unhealthy nostalgia of its chorus lyrics ‘Everywhere I go/And everything I do/Ten years down the road/Ten girls under my shoe/No matter whose I am/I’ll think about you’.
Overall, Alone II is about as erratic, and as curious an ‘album’ as Alone was. From the most generous, filled-out songs here (‘I Want To Take You Home Tonight’, ‘My Brain’, ‘I’ll Think About You’) to even the hissiest, least detailed morsel of music (‘I Admire You So Much’), a root through this great songwriter’s brimming idea-dustbin can be enjoyed for always capturing those enthusiastic early throes of songwriting and arranging.