WEEZER: Heart Songs

This manifested itself partly in Cuomo’s encouraging his bandmates to step forward with their own songwriting contributions to a greater degree than ever before. Wilson wrote “Automatic”; Bell contributed “Thought I Knew” and “Cold Dark World,” started with an idea from Shriner. “The last time I actually had writing credits on a Weezer record was on the first one, and for a long time I didn’t write in Weezer,” Wilson says. “This time, at the beginning of the record, we just went, ‘We’ve gotta make some changes; we have to be a little fresh in our approach,’ because you can’t do this for 15 years without falling into certain…I wouldn’t call it a rut, but the same patterns over and over. So it just seemed natural and smart to try to broaden the singing and writing palette a little bit so we could have a direction where we could grow.”

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“[Wilson] is one of the most supportive band members I’ve ever had,” adds Shriner. “It is intimidating to hand him something you wrote, but at the same time, the guy is so open and inviting to ideas and to criticism…he’s just a great guy to work with. And he leads by example; he shows that he can have a song, pick it apart, switch out parts and keep trying things until you come up with something that works.”

Indeed, by all accounts, Cuomo has always been open to feedback on works in progress. It’s one of the reasons he eagerly shares songs on the Web and demos like those compiled on Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo 1992-2007. “I never really know if the song is a keeper until I play it for the band and for the people that are close to us,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to tell when people are getting excited. Sometimes I’m really excited and other people aren’t, and maybe that means, ‘Alright, I have to go back and work on this more.’ Sometimes it just means that the demo I’ve created just doesn’t capture what I’m hearing, and I have to fight and say, ‘No, guys, we have to work on this because I know it’s going to turn out great.’

“That happened on this album with the songs ‘Dreamin” and ‘The Greatest Man that Ever Lived’,” a multi-part suite subtitled “Variations on a Shaker Hymn” and complete with a very strange martial-rhythm breakdown,” Cuomo continues. “Everyone was pretty perplexed when they heard those demos, but I was so excited by those songs that I actually called a meeting with the guys and said, ‘This is really important to me. If you trust me on this one, let’s go for it and see how it goes.’ And they did, because they felt how excited I was…eventually, they ended up being really excited about those songs, too.”

There is, indeed, plenty to get excited about in both of those tunes, as well as the intentionally inane mock-pop song and first single “Pork and Beans,” the hard-driving album-opener “Troublemaker” and the downright funky “Everybody Get Dangerous.” Because it is the most vivid example of a more circuitous and complex style of songwriting that characterizes much of “the Red Album” (returning to and updating the musical model of “Undone-The Sweater Song”), as well as a more direct style of lyric-writing (if not always in the style of Pinkerton, though “Heart Songs” does qualify for that), it’s worth examining the genesis of “The Greatest Man that Ever Lived” at greater length.

“I had heard this song called ‘Party Like a Rock Star’ [by the JT Experience], and I was really looking at those lyrics and the different themes,” Cuomo says, laughing. “Like, what sort of things you would talk about and how you would brag and what specific details you would talk about…so I started rapping over this first part of ‘The Greatest Man’ and just took it from there. Musically, there’s a variation to each [of the] 16 bars, and I wanted to do the same thing with the lyrics, so the first section would be a rap-type of character, rapping about a particular subject. And the next section was Slipknot, and I would sing a Slipknot take on the same lyrical material, and so on. It turned out that it didn’t work; it was too disjointed. Musically, I thought it flowed well enough, but lyrically, I thought it needed to be more consistent, so I just maintained the same persona pretty much from beginning to end.”

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