“SZNZ: Spring”: Not Peak Weezer, But Still Catchy and Fun

April 8, 2022

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Weezer’s self-titled debut from 1994 (The Blue Album) is a regular offering from the little School of Rock I run out of my car for my kids every morning. The Blue Album contains hits including “The Sweater Song,” “Buddy Holly,” and my personal favorite, “Say it Ain’t So” and is considered a classic by most accounts. My kids love it; and I am particularly attached to it because it came out in the prime of my teenage music obsession. I can’t even tell you how many hours I spent figuring out the simple chord progressions on my guitar—all of which I’ve long forgotten. The lyrics are quirky and clean, and the music is a 90s homage to a purer era of rock and roll—power chords, drum fills, and lyrics about surfing, teenage angst, and playing music in a garage.

The Blue Album also happens to be one of those debut albums that—like Pearl Jam’s Ten and Coldplay’s Parachutes—the band never came close to topping with any subsequent releases. And yet, Rivers Cuomo, the middle-aged founder and frontman of Weezer, keeps churning out songs and albums that now fall into two categories for me: “Not interested” (like “Beverly Hills”) and “That’s fun!” (like “Islands in the Sun” or even their cover of Toto’s “Africa”).

In February 2021, Weezer released OK Human, featuring a lot of uncharacteristic orchestration and lyrics inspired entirely by the mundane experience of the COVID lockdown. Cuomo recommends books, tells us what his family members are doing, describes his lack of personal grooming, and explains his avoidance of Zoom interviews. It’s a bummer, and weird, and I’m not interested.

I find myself caught up every time in Cuomo’s optimism, ready to share “all this love that I’ve been saving up.”

Later the same year, the band released its delayed homage to 80s hard rock, Van Weezer. Clocking in at around thirty minutes, it is a little nostalgia trip designed to correspond with Weezer’s stadium concert tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy. It’s no Blue Album, but I am happy to include it on car trips and declare, “That’s fun!”

Also in the “fun” category, I now include Weezer’s new project, SZNZ: Spring, the first of a set of four EPs based on Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Appropriately released on March 20, Spring is an easy draft of rock and roll refreshment after a dry time in the life of the world. In some ways, it almost seems like a kids’ album; and no surprise, my kids love it. But I enjoy it too. There is nothing profound about Spring, but there are some themes in the lyrics that will be particularly noteworthy, if a little perplexing, to Christians—a new development for Cuomo’s songwriting that I will be monitoring closely from now on, perhaps opening a new avenue of appreciation.

The melody to the first track, “Opening Night,” borrows from the Vivaldi piece that inspired the album project, and the flutes and percussion on the song evoke a schlocky Renaissance fair. Some listeners may hear a hastily composed mishmash of old-fashioned music and classic rock, but again, my kids have helped me just to shut up, smile, and get into it. The lyrics are a straightforward paean to Shakespeare, with lines including “We may be quite ordinary / But we can step inside of his immortal mind / We gain some empathy some perspicacity.” Elsewhere, Cuomo sings more simply, “Hamlet makes me happy” and “Falstaff makes me happy.” Like the characters in Shakespeare for Cuomo, this song makes me happy. I can’t help it.

“Angels on Vacation” begins as a hymn, with a string of “Alleluias” that then give way to power chords. A far cry from orthodox angelology, Cuomo’s lyrics imagine two angels taking off for some fun. Cuomo sings, “Halos off, just two folks living life. No need for Dead Sea Scrolls.” Cuomo has proven that even at his weirdest, he is being sincere. If he is throwing around the “A” word, therefore, it means something. And the melodic changes are classic Weezer—simply infectious.

“Garden of Eden” opens with a dreamy, prelapsarian mood before transitioning to the catchiest song on the record, with acoustic guitars, bass, and drums, and the 51-year-old Cuomo’s still youthful voice. The theological vision in the lyrics is again noteworthy, if messy. Cuomo tells us about a “Goddess” who “really cares,” and a return to the Garden of Eden, where “we’ll all be strumming guitars.” There is also a universalist sentiment in the line “there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance.” Doctrinal concerns aside, it is fascinating that Cuomo, who grew up on an ashram, is interested here and elsewhere on the album in variations on traditional Judeo-Christian themes. At the same time, Cuomo gives us silly lines like “I haven’t felt this good since Velcro sneakers came along.” Silly, but not phony. I’m listening to the questions this seeker is asking.

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“The Sound of Drums” again calls to mind the child-friendly feel of the opening track, but also includes the jocular theological exploration of the subsequent songs. The song opens with a clear reference to the Resurrection, if (again) not an altogether orthodox one. Cuomo sings, “Underneath that pretty shroud / You’re too distressed to speak / Weighed down by the sad events / That some call Holy Week.” Things then get a little weirder with the line, “We’ll sing your spirit back to life,” before ending in a pantheistic jumble, “Back to the river / Back to the sea / Back to the ocean / One with thee.” Perhaps the song winds up in the category of “spiritual but not religious,” but I’ll take it any day over the inane consumerism, sex, and vanity of most pop music.

“All This Love” is similar to but better than the third track, “A Little Bit of Love,” which is too saccharine. The key change alone is worth it on this one. And in contrast to the dreary, Pandemic-inspired lyrics of OK Human, “All This Love” reflects on our recent unpleasantness with hope and humor. Cuomo sings, “I forgot how to live, how to love, how to give / How to sing with a mask on my mouth.” By the end of this one, I find myself caught up every time in Cuomo’s optimism, ready to share “all this love that I’ve been saving up.”

The album ends with “Wild at Heart,” which would have fit well on Van Weezer. Like all the songs on Spring, “Wild at Heart” is not peak Weezer, and not peak rock and roll. But it’s darn catchy, and useful in my little rock and roll formation program with my children. This one is perfect for rolling down the windows and singing along, and it even has a little hat tip to Metallica at the end.

Sometimes a few simple chords in a major key is all you need to come alive a little bit more to the joy of music. In this way, SZNZ: Spring delivers. Here’s hoping the next three installments are as refreshing as the first. I’ll be on the lookout for any new spiritual developments too.

Until then, back to the Blue Album.

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