The relationship between Weezer and their fans is like none other in rock history. For almost a decade now, they have regularly disappointed the people who love them most: those who, at the age of 12 or 13, claimed The Blue Album their first favorite record; those who still know every word to "El Scorcho" and will occasionally get drunk at parties and sing it with friends; those who feel upset that Rivers Cuomo has abandoned his neurotic, confessional, nuanced songwriting in favor of mustaches and cowboy hats and macho-sounding, screwball arena-rock packaged in jewel cases plastered with the face of Hurley from Lost. It’s not just that his songwriting has drastically changed that irks us, but that it has deliberately changed.
At least this seems to be the general consensus: that Rivers is just effing with us. He’s too smart with his Harvard education and too talented to have written two of the defining albums of the 90s for Weezer’s decline to be an accident. His insistence on writing from the point of view of a horny 14-year-old, his deadpan rock star ambition, stuffing songs with pop culture references—it’s all either an attempt to play with irony and post modernism as rock’s version of Lady Gaga or just a lame joke. But Hurley, the band’s eighth studio album, suggests a different argument. Could it be that Weezer has actually been playing it straight all these years since Pinkerton? That Rivers has been penning songs so reflective of his experiences—so completely devoid of irony—that we can’t recognize their earnestness? That after being so embarrassed by Pinkerton’s critical panning he spent a year in seclusion and re-emerged just really wanting to be 14 again?
With aggro guitars and a pummeling melody, album opener "Memories" plows through lines reminiscing about the band’s early days: pissing in cups backstage, listening to techno music on the bus, messing with journalists. "All the memories make me want to go back there," Rivers sings. "I want to be there again." Then guess what? The band spends the bulk of the album looking backwards, not only peppering songs with references to the lunchroom and the school bus as they’ve done so many times in recent years, but also with embarrassing sex stories and I’m-a-loser sentiments. River’s obsession with heavy metal and rock stardom again manifests in amped-up guitars, skyscraping choruses, and his testosterone-fueled, syllable-stretching quaver, but there are times when the manufactured veneer peels away.
"Unspoken" begins with just him and an acoustic guitar. Sure, Michael Cera pops in on supporting vocals, a flute and strings follow, and there’s a neat tempo change three-quarters of the way through, but it’s the closest thing we’ve heard to "Butterfly" since 1996. "Time Flies," a spinning ballad anchored by a steady, foot-stomping backbeat, is an even better example. Here, the final minutes of Hurley see Rivers sounding like an adult, realizing that he’s an adult, and wondering how he got there. It’s an important coincidence that many of those first-generation 12-year-old Weezer diehards are now wondering the same thing.
What we thought was a heist—being denied immeasurable shared catharsis—might actually have been a matter of life experiences not matching up with our cult hero’s. The moments where we reconnect with him again, ever so briefly, make Hurley a crucial Weezer album.