The Genius of… Maladroit by Weezer

Weezer’s fourth long-player is often unfairly maligned as the start of Rivers Cuomo’s descent into navel-gazing irrelevance, but the truth is it might have been his final attempt at true sincerity.

Photo by J. Shearer/WireImage

If you’re a Weezer fan, you’ve probably engaged in some sort of discussion as to the moment the band ‘lost it’. For some it’s as early as the post-Pinkerton fallout, when a chastened Rivers Cuomo iced his band for half a decade and pivotal bassist Matt Sharp departed for good. For others its the nursery-rhyme simplicity of Make Believe’s lyrics, or the post-irony cringe of Radditude.

Some, generously, would argue that the band never lost it at all, while many others would argue that the reborn Weezer began to slide when they followed breezy, easy, summer-vibed comeback The Green Album with the darker, more melancholy Maladroit – those people are wrong.

There’s an argument that in its creation, Maladroit was ahead of its time – perhaps too far for its own good. Despite the Green Album spawning global megahit Hash Pipe and being a significant commercial and critical success, Cuomo and label Geffen were feuding in the lead-up to recording its follow-up, leading the band to self-fund the sessions. Cuomo took this lack of label oversight as an opportunity to explore another growing passion of his – the power of the internet to remove the barriers between artist and fanbase.

To do this, every day the band was in the studio, they would upload often unfinished demo versions of songs they had recorded that day to the Weezer website in newfangled mp3 format. Cuomo and the band would then consult various fan messageboards to get feedback on the songs and tweak them accordingly.

It was a radically open way of working that most artists would baulk at today – even in the modern share-everything world of social media – but one that was not without pitfalls. Over 30 different songs ended up in circulation (the final version of Maladroit contained just 13 tracks) with dozens of different versions of each muddying the waters of what exactly they were listening to.

Rivers didn’t exactly help matters when he personally mailed unfinished versions of eight of the final album’s tracks to various radio stations and press outlets, leading to Dope Nose becoming a Top 25 hit without even having been formally released. Geffen was not pleased.

Not that the radio reception meant a lot to the critics of the day either – Dusted called it “dull”, Village Voice claimed that Maladroit “picks up where the Green Album slacked off” while Weezer’s greatest 90s champions Pitchfork decried the album as proof that Weezer had abandoned the nerdy confessionalism of their debut to become “our generation’s version of Cheap Trick”.

There’s very little doubt that the latter accusation was not meant as a compliment, but perhaps its reflective of how enigmatic Rivers was at this point that it never crossed the writer’s mind that he might take it as one.

Indeed, what many at the time were so quick to dismiss as a clumsy lunge for a heavier sound at the height of nu metal, might have in fact been Cuomo embracing his true self.

The kid who had grown up worshipping KISS, Slayer, Maiden and Priest didn’t need to fake the ability to write massive hard-rock riffs and killer metal solos – in fact that closet virtuosity had been a big part of what set the Blue Album apart from the post-grunge crowd.

Image: John Shearer/WireImage

Maladroit then, is perhaps the final attempt by Rivers to meld the two sides of his musical personality in a sincere and heartfelt way. The Beach Boys veneration is still there in the sickly-sweet pop hooks of Burndt Jamb and Keep Fishin’, but here it’s alloyed with a darker tone that affords tracks like American Gigolo, Slob and Take Control some of the most monstrous guitar riffs Rivers has ever written.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the last time that Weezer embraced their heavier side – they made an album called Van Weezer for pity’s sake – but Malardoit would be arguably the last time that Rivers presented himself to the world without a protective shield of irony around everything he did, keeping fans and critics alike at arms length, never allowing us to spot sincerity without a hint of snark.

Songs like Death And Destruction don’t have any artifice about them – a plaintive and simple song about romantic rejection backed by guitars so heavy and saturated you think your speaker might be broken, and capped off with a fuckin’ sick palm-muted guitar solo. It was arguably the last time that one of the finest guitarists and songwriters of the 90s showed us his true self, and we should all appreciate this rare glimpse.

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