I don’t want to write too much about Weezer this week.
One reason is that I do plan to spout off at length when the Black Album hits in a couple weeks. But another is that I am pretty sure that writers like me think about Weezer far more than the members of Weezer do. I’m the right age to be jaded about them – the Blue Album came out when I was a sophomore in college, and Pinkerton hit me just as I was taking those first steps into adulthood. I should idolize them both, and I should be one of those people decrying everything they’ve done since.
But I’m not, and in fact I find all the hand-wringing about Weezer’s post-Pinkerton output to be a little silly. (Not as silly as, like, “Heart Songs” or anything, but still.) A few of my friends gleefully pointed me to this little ditty from Pitchfork, titled “Will Weezer Ever Stop Being Disappointing?” And I mean, I guess they won’t, if what you want from them is anything more than the whimsical pop band they have always been.
The occasion of Pitchfork’s distress is the surprise release of the band’s fifth self-titled album, mere weeks before the scheduled release of its sixth. If you don’t pay attention to All Things Weezer, the content of the Teal Album (for that is what people are calling it) might surprise you. The story goes like this: some industrious fans on Twitter launched a campaign last year to get Weezer to cover Toto’s “Africa,” for reasons known only to them. After some period of cajoling, and one fake-out cover of “Rosanna,” the band relented, issuing its note-for-note rendition of what I think is one of the best songs of the ‘80s.
Apparently, people responded positively – the “Africa” cover (and its video, starring “Weird Al” Yankovic) was the talk of the internet for a few weeks. So in a classic case of giving the people what they want, we now have the Teal Album, a collection of ten covers, most of them aping the originals almost exactly. Nothing about this is meant to be taken seriously – the four Weezer boys are on the cover, like they have been for every self-titled album, but this time they’re dressed in neon Miami Vice attire. This is strictly meant in fun.
So why are people taking it so seriously? This is a record on which Rivers Cuomo pulls out his best and most ridiculous Ozzy Osbourne impression on a slam-through of “Paranoid,” and sings “No Scrubs” perfectly straight. It’s a laugh. So why has the reaction been so over the top? People are acting like this is the Death of Art, when expecting any kind of consistent artistic vision from Weezer seems like a fool’s game. They’re fun. Rivers writes catchy songs. Sometimes he sings about his own life. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he covers “Mr. Blue Sky.”
I dunno, man. I enjoyed the Teal Album for what it is. I have no idea if I will listen to it next week, let alone next year, but it made me happy for a couple spins. That was literally all it was designed to do. I hesitate to even say the Black Album will be the “real” Weezer album, because it will probably be poppy and fun too, and the arbiters of taste will hate it just as much as the Teal Album, and write just as many think pieces about the decline and fall of the voice of a generation or something.
Anyway. I don’t want to write too much about Weezer this week, for the reasons above, but mainly because I have another incredibly fun record to review, from a much less well-known artist, and I’d rather write about that.
I’ve been a David Mead fan for (checks notes, rubs eyes, confirms figure, shakes head) 15 years now. I first heard him thanks to my good friend Dr. Tony Shore, who recommended I buy Mead’s EP Wherever You Are. And I loved it, particularly “Astronaut,” and immediately sought out his previous three albums. And I loved those, especially the stripped-down and warm Indiana. And I bought his next three – the chamber-pop masterpiece Tangerine, the gentle Almost and Always, and the raucous Dudes– as they came out, and I loved those as well.
So when David asked for my money for a new one called Cobra Pumps, and unveiled a hilarious cover photo of his own legs wearing the titular pumps, I was absolutely in. And I was not disappointed in the slightest.
What’s so great about David Mead? Start with his voice, which is a high, strong, beautiful thing. He’s able to sing anything well, from the more glossy pop of his earlier records to the folksy delights (and the extraordinary Michael Jackson cover) of Indiana to the full-on guitar stomp of something like the great “King of the Crosswords” on Dudes. But a great voice is just a great voice without something to sing, and Mead is also a tremendous songwriter. He’s versatile, he’s funny, he’s poignant, he has an innate grasp of melody, and virtually everything he writes is a knockout.
His streak remains unbroken on Cobra Pumps, a 34-minute collection of self-aware cool guitar-rock gems you’ll be singing until the weather matches the album’s mood. From the first moment, Mead is in control – “Bedtime Story” is just awesome, an opening salvo full of innuendo. It is, in Mead’s words, “invigorating and kind of embarrassing,” embracing lines like “I’ve got a heart like a propane oven, I’ve got a mind like a sewer grate.”
It’s a strong tone-setter, and Mead works to stay in that mode, giving us the terrific feminist anthem “The Business,” the Prince-like anti-come-on “Head on Straight” and the rollicking family tune “She Walks Like a Grown Woman” one after another. All of these songs have big electric guitar lines and skipping drums and massive melodies, and Mead doesn’t let up. Even when he cools things down, as on the slinky song of reassurance “Poster Child,” you know there’s a song like “Big Balls” coming right up.
Yes, there’s a song called “Big Balls,” and it’s pretty much delightful. There are certainly more clever ways to describe someone “catching bullets and walking through walls” with sheer determination, but this is an album on which Mead went for broke, so why not? The song’s just killer, with a minimal, insistent bass line and a ringing chorus that won’t quit. It begins a stretch of three shimmying tunes that ends with the smooth “You Never Have to Play That Game,” another song about picking yourself up and moving on.
I’m tempted to read that as a theme here. This is a record of struts, of feeling one’s own power, and after eight years away, it reads as a way of kicking down the door and shouting through a megaphone. Mead is a fully independent artist, recording and releasing on his own schedule and his own budget, and a bold record like this one hopefully will get him noticed. Mead says he has two more albums in the pipeline, and given his track record for diversity, I doubt they’ll sound like Cobra Pumps.
But I’m glad this one sounds like Cobra Pumps, because it’s awesome. This record takes the swagger of Dudes and (ahem) pumps it up, putting the guitars and melodies front and center, announcing itself with every riff and groove. Mead has never made an album like it, and it’s thrilling to listen to him tear his way through it. If this truly is just the start of his comeback, sign me up. I am here for it.
You, too, can check out Cobra Pumps at David Mead’s website.
Next week, certainly the new Quiet Company EP and probably some of the things I’ve missed over the past couple weeks. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.