Fourteen years ago, the musical landscape of America was saturated with grunge bands. There were so many mindless Nirvana clones floating around the music scene that grunge had seemingly become just as vapid and corporate as the kind of music it had replaced three years ago. Then, along comes Weezer. With their first self-titled album, Weezer shot through the mopey atmosphere of the music at the time and went platinum with an album full of catchy, addictive pop-rock. While grunge had been meant to replace what was known to be cool at the time, grunge itself had become too cool for Rivers and Co. so, like Nirvana did to hair metal, Weezer did to grunge. Two years later, the poppy geeks of the music world not only released an album that wasn’t happy, it was filled with more misery than the majority of the grunge bands they had killed two years before. Although the album didn’t sell well at the time, it holds it’s own place as one of the defining albums of the nineties and, arguably, the greatest emo record ever recorded. Fast forward twelve years. Weezer have had three albums in a row that have failed to live up to the ground-breaking affects of their first two. With their new self-titled record (their third), can Weezer recapture the essence of their first two albums and return to form? The answer is no and Rivers has absolutely no problem with that.

For once, it seems, Rivers Cuomo is satisfied with himself as a musician. Anyone who’s listened to any of the post-Pinkerton albums knows that Rivers has spent the last twelve years trying to prove to everyone that he can still write the catchy powerpop of the Blue Album or the emotional rawness of Pinkerton. With the Red Album, Rivers has finally found comfort with himself. The result is an album that takes risks and tries things that Weezer has never gone for before. The songs are getting longer and the genre is getting harder and harder to define. It’s still powerpop at times and it’s still emo at other times but there’s so much more to this album than what we’ve seen from Weezer before.

Rivers new attitude is obvious. For example, on the Pinkerton track “The Good Life”, Rivers says he’s a pig and a dog. On the Red Album, Rivers claims that he is “The Great Man That Ever Lived”. The song title isn’t the only boastful thing about the track. At nearly six-minutes in length, the song explores ten different genres of music, not allowing itself to rest for more than four bars before switching to a new genre. The opening line “You try to play cool like you just don’t care/But soon I’ll be playing in your underwear” comes off as arrogant for a guy who couldn’t even talk to his crush back at Harvard. Whether or not you believer Rivers truly is the greatest man who ever lived, you’d be hard pressed not to find yourself singing along with his soaring (yes, Rivers soars) vocals as he makes his claim.

With so many changes, you may wonder if there’s any of the good ol’ nerd rock left in Cuomo. Well, there is but it’s different now. It’s not a 15 year-old playing Dungeons and Dragons kind of nerdy. It’s more like your dad kind of nerdy. In “Pork and Beans”, Rivers sings of his receding hairline, his need to work out, and his worries that he’s no longer cool (was he ever supposed to be?). In the chorus, however, Rivers does something he’s never done before; accepts himself and his band. He sings, “I don’t got a thing to prove to you” and “I’m fine and dandy with the me inside”. It’s the best song of the year so far and it’s music video features all your favorite youtube celebrities include afro ninja, Chris Crocker, and Tay Zonday.

He’s so comfortable with where he is in his life right now, that he even let Scott (bass), Brian (guitar), and Pat (drums) help out with writing and singing on the album with varying degrees of success. Actually, it never succeeds. No offense to the other members of the band but Rivers Cuomo is the only voice that fits with the chug-chug beat of a Weezer song. In fact, Pat Wilson’s “Automatic” and Brian Bell’s “Thought I Knew” are among the low points of the album. Scott helped to co-write the track “Cold Dark World” and proved that even with semi-assistance from Rivers, the other members of the band can’t seem to write a Weezer song. Matt Sharp, the former bassist for the band, and Rivers Cuomo remain the only people in the world capable of writing the kind of nerdy rock Weezer fans are looking for.

Besides those near abominations, Rivers’ contributions to album are very nice, most of the time. “Troublemaker”, the album opener, contains some of the worst lyrics you’ll ever hear. He rhymes “school” with “fool”. Lame, right? The music seems to be designed specifically to be played in live venues where people will ignore the songs lyrics and just dance to it’s beat. In fact, “Troublemaker” reminds me of another song on the Red Album; “Everybody Get Dangerous”. Just like “Troublemaker” this song is reflective in nature and seems to have written just for concerts. The lyrics tell stories about all the stupid things Rivers did as a youth that could’ve got him killed. It’s an exciting songs but the lyrics are lacking. At one point he sings, “When I was younger I used to go and tip cows for fun, yeah/Actually, I didn’t do that”.  On “Heart Songs”, we’re basically treated to Rivers listing some of his favorite songs and artists. It’s a fun listen but ultimately empty of any real meaning until the last verse when Rivers talks about how Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album “Broke the chains” on his life. That one verse saved “Heart Songs” from being a lost cause.

Overall, the Red Album is the most unique Weezer album since Pinkerton. While The Green Album, Maladroit, and Make Believe all seemed to exhibit signs of Rivers trying to prove something to critics, fans, and himself, the Red Album shows a much more comfortable Rivers Cuomo than we’ve seen in quite awhile. The awkward kid we all loved from Blue and Pinkerton is gone and, quite frankly, we all should move on and stop expecting him to make an appearance on every new Weezer album that ever comes out. The Red Album has it’s strong points and, had it been the debut album from an unknown band, it may not be getting the kind of heat it has right now. However, we should all take note that, clearly, Rivers is no longer seeking the acceptance of music world. As he sings in “Pork and Beans”, “I don’t care”. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing is for each fan to decide for themselves.

Note: Shell out an extra dollar and pick up the Deluxe Edition. “Pig” and “Miss Sweeny” are two of the best tracks on the album.

Overall rating: 7.5/10