We’re now three albums into a yearlong season-themed album cycle by Weezer, loosely based off Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” So far, the results of frontman River Cuomo’s self-imposed prolificacy have been hampered by overly elaborate musical metaphors and allusions. But a new season has dawned, and not only is SZNZ: Autumn the best of the three albums, the stripped-down and overdriven ennui takes a significant step toward recapturing the magic of Cuomo at his most endearingly despondent.
From the very first overdriven guitar and cheeseball synth of the album’s opener, “Can’t Dance Don’t Ask Me,” SZNZ: Autumn feels like deja vu all over again. It’s a return to the heart-on-his-sleeve earnestness that made Cuomo an unlikely role model for sensitive wallflowers who also liked banging their heads and tripping out on guitar feedback.
“Doctor, doctor, give it to me/ I’ve got a bad case of not loving me,” Cuomo implores as the song shifts into second gear for the pre-chorus. “I wish I was doing/ What everybody else was doing/ But I can’t dance/ Don’t ask me,” he sings as the song hits its anthemic stride at the chorus.
Cuomo’s lyrical life is again laid bare. The album’s opener acts like an echo of Pinkerton‘s “The Good Life,” where Cuomo summed up his troubles thusly: “I don’t wanna be an old man anymore/ It’s been a year or two since I was out on the floor/ Shaking booty, making sweet love all the night/ It’s time I got back to the good life.” But in this new revision, the return to the pleasure of yesteryear is no longer possible for Cuomo.
The sadomasochistic enjoyment of Cuomo’s desperation continues on “Get Off On the Pain.” The galloping guitar chunk is filigreed by the kind of tasty synths offered up by former band member Matt Sharp on Weezer’s earliest fare. The music becomes ominous with elaborate interplay between sustained guitar notes and synthesizer.
“I get off on the pain/ It’s in my DNA,” Cuomo sings. “What’s wrong with me?/ I count to three/ I screwed it up to the Judas Tree/ I bow my head.” “The Judas Tree” is a 1961 novel by A.J. Cronin, in case you don’t have a lit degree from Harvard like Cuomo.
Cuomo’s masochism is complicated by the fact that his fans eat it up with a big spoon. The sparse guitar that begins “Francesca” builds to an emotional crescendo where Cuomo exclaims, “Ooh Francesca, I need you/ No matter what you do/ You are my Waterloo.” There are few places in all of Cuomo’s lyrics where he better captures the inexplicable desire to seek out our own doom, especially in the stormy eyes of a romantic partner.
On “Tastes Like Pain,” guitar noise and string samples accompany his self-recrimination as he sings, “I should be castrated and mutilated.” Of course it sounds bad, but with Cuomo, we know it’s his wonderful hyperbole and his melodramatic exaggeration that lies at the center of his charm as a lyricist. There’s a bit in this short little tune where they blast out an overdriven riff from somewhere in Vivaldi’s symphony, but here the reference is coated in enough angry noise that it works. “What Happens After You” manages to sound like a contemporary Top-40 tune while still retaining a cutting edge as Cuomo sums up life in 2022: “Life is unfamiliar and everything is written in code.”
“Run Raven Run,” the album’s closer and its longest song, feels cinematic during its slow build in intensity. Like “Only in Dreams,” from the band’s self-titled debut, the song develops into a galloping wall of sound that splits the difference between head banging and navel gazing.
The quality of this autumnal offering offers hope for a wonderfully depressing winter album to follow.
Follow writer David Gill at Twitter.com/saxum_paternus.