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Rivers Cuomo cooks up his own “American Pie,” and music dies all over again.
There was a point during this decade when Weezer became little more than a meme-vehicle, wrangling YouTube stars to appear in videos, taking the Guinness Book of Records seriously, and elbowing listeners in the ribs with every cheeky video and message-board-ready album cover. After all, in these tough times, even those bands who’d been launched to stardom by the old major-label system had to stand out from the pack somehow. In a way, it was admirable: here was a band that was completely uninterested in the “we will dazzle you with our business models” sleight-of-Web that took Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails to the front page of Digg. Instead, they focused on the lulz that came from showing up next to the “Chocolate Rain” guy and trying to break world records.
So what happened when the 21st-century incarnation of Weezer turned off its caps lock and started getting real? “I just think ‘Heart Songs’ is a song that is very particular to me, and that someone who is a few years older or few years younger might not react to these songs the same way,” head Weez Rivers Cuomo told Jim DeRogatis around the release of this turgid ode to the musicians who brought Cuomo and his fellow travelers to their current station. For a song that was apparently written at a Japanese mini-mall, “Heart Songs” is an alarmingly sludgy swamp of post-post-grunge. It’s supposed to track Cuomo’s shape-shifting tastes from Gordon Lightfoot on; name-drops of Debbie Gibson and Michael Jackson, Joan Baez and Cat Stevens — and, of course, No. 1 Internet Joke Rick Astley – are tossed onto the ground in a way that makes Madonna’s “American Pie” cover seem like a vital document of this country’s musical past. Sitting through the leaden “remember this?” references that make up the first two-thirds of “Heart Songs” (not an easy task) is like listening to an endless recitation of rejected “Chris Farley Show” intros.
“I’m just really writing in my own little world, writing the song to myself pretty much. I’m sure those names are going to mean something different to younger people than they are to me,” Cuomo said of the song’s endless parade of citations. And so we have a “Nirvana changed my life” bit taking up the song’s final act, which must be quite the trip for the kids who only now Kurt Cobain as a guy on the wall of t-shirts at Hot Topic. Sure, the Nirvana name-drop isn’t completely cheap in context — it’s in keeping with Weezer lore, after all — but it only serves to remind the listener of how both Cobain and Cuomo could do things like write hooks and employ humor. Perhaps “Heart Songs”‘ po-faced reference-mining is some sort of goof on the endless parade of memory-prodding that’s supposed to serve as “culture” these days, but Cuomo’s shenanigans would have been a lot better served had he, y’know, actually written a song around them.