Weezer - those riff-loving, hook-hurling, inner-geek-embracing wags - has become the most reliable band in rock. Sixteen years in, the group continues to churn out crunchy anthems for misfits, nerds, and anyone with a soft spot for quirky, heavy power-pop. The songs are consistently vibrant, catchy, and well-built. Occasional stabs at earnestness notwithstanding, Weezer's lyrics probe frontman Rivers Cuomo's cosmic outsiderness in smart, sarcastic stanzas that come off like self-deprecating goofs but always leave you wondering: Is he laughing at us? Is he sadder than he seems? The chorus is righteous, so why should we even care?
Not much has changed on the group's sixth album, a self-titled collection dubbed the Red Album. (Weezer's previous two self-titled projects were anointed the Blue Album and the Green Album.) In fact, one wishes that less had changed upon arriving at the disc's back end, which features token contributions from guitarist Brian Bell, bassist Scott Shriner, and drummer Patrick Wilson that sound like they were mistakenly grafted onto a Weezer album from some other, more forgettable, alt-rock band.
Cuomo, newly mustachioed, has started playing around a bit with song structure, pushing beyond rock's usual verse-chorus-bridge pattern and into headier, linear territory. "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" is a sprawling folk-metal chorale that squashes wildly assorted references (Shakespeare, sex, and stardom) into epic musical settings (elegant harmonies, suite-like movements) and winds up sounding simply, fabulously faux.
But that seems to be what Cuomo is going for. The Red Album is filled with the sunny musings and petulant posturing of a boy, or a slacker, not a 37-year-old, Harvard-educated, multiple-platinum rocker, husband, and father. "Who needs stupid books," he sneers in the gleeful pop-rocker "Troublemaker." "Everybody get dangerous," he counsels over stiff, filthy licks in the song of the same name. "Daddy says I've got to pay some bills/ So I can learn to be responsible," he moans in "Dreamin'," a blissed-out paean to escapism.
Forget those middle-age lotharios in skin-tight leather and feathered hair; Cuomo is rock's Peter Pan, and there's enough stunted growth on the Red Album to fill a case study. A famously reluctant pop star, Cuomo is dreaming the same dreams even after they've come true. "Pork and Beans" is vintage stuff: wall of guitars, heap of hooks, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the chart/ Maybe if I work with him I can perfect the art," he cracks, going on to claim "Imma do the things that I want to do/ I ain't got a thing to prove to you."
Of course, all Cuomo has ever tried to do is perfect the art. To crow about his maverick attitude in a song that was so clearly built for maximum appeal is just so . . . Weezer.