Rivers Cuomo Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo(Geffen Records (USA)) Buy it from Insound
I hate to read liner notes but sometimes, like homework, you just gotta sit down and do it. In this case, a collection of home/studio demos recorded over the years by Weezer's resident tortured genius, Rivers Cuomo, I quickly gathered I was in for an assignment. You can't just listen to one of these home demo sets without getting the backstory; why were some released, some not, what was he thinking, etc, etc. Reading the notes, we get very little insight into what actually interests me the most, namely what this seemingly privileged Harvard grad is so tortured about. It always seems to come down to striking out with chicks, but seriously Rivers, that can't be it, is it? Look, I'm sorry that your parents were hippies and your bro's name is Leaves, but please, stop whining.
Or at least cut back a little, because even I'll admit that you're self-pitying has yielded a shitload of brilliant pop tunes, filled with longing melodies and killer hooks. So not surprisingly, this cd has its fair share of those along with an unhealthy dose of woe-is-me. Not that we should be expecting anything deeper from our pop heroes, but ironically, Cuomo seems to have bucketfuls of unfulfilled grandiose plans; epic art songs, rock operas and experiments in what he terms a "romantic-minimalist" vein. And while the leftovers from the still unproduced "Songs from a Black Hole" don't sound incredibly promising, it's curious that Cuomo has consistently stifled his grander ambitions for the sake of straight-ahead, 3 minute pop rock. Maybe that's a good thing, and if so, Rivers needs to finally come to grips with it so we don't have to read about him being inspired by Smetana. Allright, I'm being snarky, but Cuomo is asking for it.
As for the songs, the previously unreleased ones anyway, I like Chess, not the first piece of music to use the grand old game as metaphor, but charming in its simplicity and lack of pretension. It was written to break a writers block and it has such an easy, unforced quality that you can understand why it worked. Similarly, Crazy One has an off the cuff sound that suggests Cuomo is best when he works quickly and without a grand master plan. The 'Black Hole' songs are interesting, but many of them are forced, typified by the self conscious use of counterpoint in Dude, We're Finally Landing. Contrast that with the straightforward approach of Lemonade which appears tossed off and is all the better for it, or the casual brilliance of Buddy Holly, which warrants inclusion probably because the demo has the final arrangement virtually intact (See? The whole thing was my idea! Right up to the fabulous guitar break!). Oddly, my favorite moment on the whole disc is the 36 second fragment of tape where a teenage Rivers and his buds long for an axe guitar because "we wanna look like Kiss". That one brought back my own memories of the tapes, long since lost, of my first band and the kind of hero worship you can only fully enjoy when you're 14.
Cuomo is talented enough a songwriter to make purchase of this set worthwhile to those outside the Weezer Army. It delivers exactly what we have come to expect from these projects - a couple of unknown gems interspersed with stuff that understandably hit the cutting room floor. Oh, and the one thing Rivers doesn't reveal in the liner notes - did the celibacy bit work?21 December, 2007 - 15:12 — Alan Shulman