Another couple months, another Evil Arrows review.
Bryan Scary has never been anything less than impressive, but his ongoing Evil Arrows project is turning into his magnum opus. The fourth in a series of EPs is now available and brings the total to 24 songs over roughly 75 minutes, without a single stinker. Scary is a pop songsmith with few peers, and Evil Arrows has been his attempt to streamline his work into bite-sized chunks. It’s been a phenomenal success.
EP4 is the longest so far, at 22 minutes, and all six songs break the three-minute mark. For Evil Arrows, these are epics. Most of these six songs have slower tempos and more subtle melodies – “Broken Heart Police” is a strummy acoustic wonder, while opener “The Bad Things Are Back Again” floats in on a supple piano melody before soaring with a falsetto chorus (complete with some wonderful “doo-doo-doos”). Songs like “Staring Into Space” and “In Clover” are less manic than previous Evil Arrows tunes, but no less hummable and insanely catchy.
The only one here that sounds caffeinated is “For Love Instead,” which plays up Scary’s love for ‘60s psych-rock. It’s pretty awesome, with its herky-jerky acoustic rhythm and underpinning fuzz guitar, and Scary pulls off the sing-speak vocal brilliantly. This EP ends with “Stereo Slumber,” a fragile and pretty piano ballad – it is one of the loveliest things Scary has ever written, and my only complaint about it is the same one I have had about every one of these damn EPs – it’s too short. I’m looking forward to the next one already.
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I have a complicated relationship with Weezer.
At least, that’s probably how it seems from the outside. I’ve always liked them – it’s hard to be a power pop fan and not respond to Rivers Cuomo’s penchant for catchy, catchy tunes. But I find myself having two sets of competing arguments with Weezer fans. I think the band has been fairly consistent, aside from that Make Believe–Red Album period when I was sure Cuomo had suffered a stroke. That means that while I like the Blue Album and Pinkerton, I don’t think they’re life-changing works of genius. And likewise, I very much enjoyed later efforts like Raditude and Hurley. I am often defending them on one hand and knocking them down a couple pegs on the other.
So when I say that Weezer’s 10th album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End, is the band’s best and most consistent since the 1990s, it’s not coming from someone who thinks they’ve done nothing worthwhile since Pinkerton. Nor is it coming from a rosy, nostalgic mindset – I’m not pining for the days when “Buddy Holly” was on MTV, although I did prefer it when MTV played any music videos at all. Taking the Weezer catalog as a 10-record burst of fun, hummable power pop, this new record is the most fun, the most hummable, the most power-poppy that they have made since their early days.
Some of that is probably Ric Ocasek, the former lead singer of the Cars, who is back behind the boards for the third time. The band is obviously aiming for that Blue Album sound throughout, with thick, layered guitars and thumping drums and 1970s synthesizers snaking in and out. If you’ve missed that sound, and you can’t understand why Cuomo has been collaborating with the likes of Jermaine Dupri, you’re gonna love this record. This is the sound Weezer tribute bands are aiming for, the Weezer Classic.
But you can only credit Ocasek so much. (He did produce the Green Album, remember, and people don’t seem to like that one.) The reason this album works better than the last few Weezer records is Cuomo. He buckled down and wrote some fantastic songs here, the type of songs his longtime fans have been praying he still had in him. The record simply explodes to life with “Ain’t Got Nobody,” which rides a thunderous riff straight back to 1994. It’s like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, that sound, especially in service of songs like “Lonely Girl” and “Da Vinci.” Remarkably, the songs actually get better as the album goes along – the closing volley of “Cleopatra,” “Foolish Father” and “The Futurescope Trilogy” may be the best things here.
They’re certainly better than “Back to the Shack,” the ill-advised first single and the song that best illustrates my one and only problem with this record. “Shack” is an apology with a beat, Cuomo begging forgiveness for the last 10 years of Weezer records. “Sorry, guys, I didn’t realize I needed you so much, I thought I’d get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks,” Cuomo spits out, before declaring, “We belong in the rock world, there is so much left to do.” Along the way he expresses a desire to get “back to the Strat with the lightning strap” and swears he’s “letting all these feelings out even if it means I fail.”
That’s fascinating stuff, if a bit troubling. As I said before, I don’t think records like Raditude and Hurley require apologies. But “Shack” also sets a weird tone for this new record, which ends up largely being about making a great new Weezer album. “Eulogy for a Rock Band” is pretty much what it appears to be: Cuomo’s fantasy epigraph for his own band, once he reclaims its glory. The awesome “Had It Up to Here” is about not allowing one’s ideas to be “polluted by mediocrity.” “Don’t want to find myself homogenized,” Cuomo sings, and later, “Don’t wanna end with as much edge as a balloon.”
It’s like listening to him psyche himself up to write a great Weezer album. And Everything Will Be Alright works a lot better when he just gets down to it. “The British Are Coming” is awesomely nuts – it’s literally about the Revolutionary War, and it has a stunning falsetto chorus. “Da Vinci” starts off like “El Scorcho,” all acoustics and whistling, but ends up rocking like an avalanche – that low, rumbling chord that kicks off the chorus is tremendous. “Go Away” is a pristine pop song with guest vocals by Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast. And “Cleopatra” is amazing, from the extra beat in the choruses to the stomping “five, ten, fifteen, twenty” section, to the big, thick, harmonized solo. It’s just a great, great Weezer song.
And one thing you have to say for Everything Will Be Alright – it ends better than any Weezer album in recent memory. “Foolish Father” is a wonderful epic about forgiveness, and just when you think it can’t get more epic, the band brings in a children’s choir to sing the album title. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, like the worst excesses of the Red Album period, but it does. And then comes the seven-minute, three-part, mostly instrumental “Futurescope Trilogy,” which is mainly about the band, playing their little hearts out. It’s mad, it’s all over the place, it’s a delight.
Seriously, if you abandoned the Weezer ship any time in the last 20 years, you should make it a point to hear this one. They’re still just a power pop band, no more and no less, but on Everything Will Be Alright in the End, they’re a better power pop band than they’ve been in some time. I’m not sure if this record will be enough to erase the embarrassments of the past – “Beverly Hills” would take a lot of erasing all by itself – but it’s pretty damn good, in ways that I wasn’t sure Weezer would ever be again. Everything is all right, but despite the title, I certainly hope this is not the end.
See you in line Tuesday morning.