It’s worth noting that Hurley, like last year’s Raditude, is less a Weezer record than a Rivers Cuomo solo project. After the deeply collaborative (and hit-or-miss) The Red Album failed to charm critics or earn the band another platinum plaque, the writing was on the wall. Cuomo has always had a dictatorial streak, but Raditude marked the first time he made his bandmates play second fiddle to session men and outside songwriters. These hired hands included drummer Josh Freese (who now tours with the group), and Cuomo’s fantasy league lineup of hitmakers: Dr. Luke tried to help the 40-year-old rocker hide his bald spot with “I’m Your Daddy,” a saccharine paean to teen-pop; the cash-money triumvirate of Lil Wayne, Jermaine Dupri, and Polow da Don afforded the band a misguided shot at club playlists; and Amrita Sen, of Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack fame, helped take the trend-chasing to a new level with a Bollywood love song.
Hurley, named after the tragicomic Lost character (who also adorns the cover), continues this recent trend with no less than nine co-writers (for 10 songs), and an even longer list of featured musicians, including Michael Cera, who is enlisted to lay down some mandolin and harmonies for no discernible reason beyond his being Michael Cera. Unsurprisingly, the record repeats Raditude‘s central mistake of favoring scripted wackiness and blog fodder over the depth and sincerity that have made Weezer’s best work so endearing.
By far the worst of the lot is the noxious “Where’s My Sex?,” wherein Cuomo creepily perverts one of his toddler daughter’s Freudian slips (she meant to say “socks”) into a woefully stupid rocker. Far less offensive but equally disposable is the Dr. Luke-aping “Smart Girls,” a horny paean to Cuomo’s female followers on Twitter, featuring contributions from No Doubt’s Tony Kanal and former RuPaul muse Jimmy Harry. Cuomo even tracks down Desmond Child to help write and play on “Trainwrecks,” an overwrought ballad that takes a unique perspective on failure (“I can’t keep a job/We don’t update our blogs”) and redemption (“Someday we’ll cut our critics down to size/And crash a Diddy party in disguise”).
Along with the meme-aspiring cover art, there’s enough tomfoolery on display to make one think that Cuomo’s artistic decisions have become largely guided by how ridiculous they’ll sound on paper. The twist, however, is that this potluck approach to songcraft has finally yielded some tasteful results—the difference likely being the strength of some of Hurley‘s invitees. Seventies country star and Elvis collaborator Mac Davis assists the wonderful, lo-fi folk of “Time Flies,” while Ryan Adams’s lovely guitar leads and basslines help make “Runaway” one of the finest Weezer songs in over a decade. Cuomo’s obsession with high school themes and scenes wore thin long ago, but ex-Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson ably fills out the cafeteria power-pop of “Ruling Me” with a few big hooks and swooning harmonies. Even smooth jazz saxophonist Greg Vail brings something to the table, his flute flourishes nicely offsetting the ample angst of “Unspoken.”
Considering the decreased role of Cuomo’s actual bandmates, it’s not too surprising that Hurley feels more like one of his Alone home demo compilations than anything Weezer’s ever released. Like those demos, the recording quality here varies greatly, and there’s a wide spectrum of ideas and styles at play—providing both a refreshing sense of excitement (Cuomo’s vocals haven’t sounded this lively since Pinkerton) and a frustrating lack of overall cohesion and purpose (something the band’s stellar first two albums had in spades). The trick for the next record, presuming the band doesn’t fracture by then, will be to retain that energy for a batch of songs that truly work together—something Cuomo likely won’t be able to achieve if he continues to use songwriting as an excuse to socialize.