I've been a staunch defender of Weezer for a long, long time. After the five-year gap that preceded the Green Album, Maladroit and Make Believe, a lot of people lost faith in the band as gimmicky albeit catchy tracks like "Beverly Hills" were bookended with relatively forgettable material. But as I listen to the Red Album, I looked through my iPod and noticed that only the Blue Album and Pinkerton seem to merit placement, and that isn't far from an accurate assessment of their output this decade.
Those two albums are, in my estimation, flawless. Blue was a perfect union of Pixies-style guitar crunch and Beach Boys harmonies; Pinkerton was a sharp departure but was a wonderful experiment and an equally great album. Even the B-sides from that era were hard to top: "Jamie," "Devotion," "Waiting on You" and "You Gave Your Love to Me Softly" are as good as any album tracks from that time, and better than most of the output that followed. Of course, Weezer seemed somewhat aware of this criticism, with early promises from the band indicating a return to that era. Sadly, with rare exceptions like the terrific first single, "Pork & Beans," this is not really the case.
In spirit, the album is definitely closer to the unrefined chaos of Pinkerton than the surgical precision of the Blue Album, but other than a philosophical similarity, Red is a musically mixed up package of co-vocalists and plenty of self-indulgence. The opening three songs are fairly strong, with the extra-long and genre-hopping "Greatest Man Who Ever Lived" headed in a variety of interesting and catchy directions before laying on the band's trademark guitars. "Pork & Beans" is the one unquestionably great track on the album, harkening back to the band's first album and hoisted by a wonderful set of "fuck you" lyrics. Sadly, the album fails to maintain the pace of the first three songs with the namedrop-filled "Heart Songs" coming across a little too restrained for the band; while the band has had plenty of slower material, the complete lack of climax makes the song uneventful, melodramatic and overly long.
This record is also one of the first where the band members all contributed vocals and songwriting, and the result is quite clear, with songs like "Everybody Get Dangerous" coming off like a bad geek take on a macho rock song. As novelty, it's amusing, but it's not terribly memorable. Thankfully, "Dreamin'" comes in with the Beach Boys harmony and barre chords hitting hard and provides a bright spot in an otherwise nondescript second half. Guitarist Brian Bell sings "Thought I Knew," which is about as close to the AM radio sounds of bands like Matchbox 20 as one could admit, and bassist Scott Shriner's "Cold Dark World" is pretty much just bad. As for the deluxe edition's extra four tracks, they're interesting primarily for completists; with nary a rocker among them, the tracks simply blend into each other and were understandably cut from the proper version of the album.
It is refreshing to see Weezer embracing their experimental side, but part of what made Pinkerton so perfect was the genuine frustration and angst behind it; if anything is clear from the Red Album, it's that forced experimention just doesn't work.