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Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo 

CD by Rivers Cuomo

Geffen Records

Rivers Cuomo, the frontman of Weezer, once famously remarked that to be a true fan of his band, you have to hate it. Weezer injected a much-needed sense of playfulness to the grunge era with Weezer ("the Blue Album")(1994) and Pinkerton (1996). In fact, the fresh-faced earnestness of those records spawned a generation of bands that play a kind of rock music whose hallmarks are awkward outpourings of emotion delivered in the most wounded of croons.

Most people who loved the first two Weezer albums, who came of age with them, have in fact hated Weezer for the entire 21st century, a century in which, so far, Cuomo seems to be bent on using to destroying everything that gave his band a sizeable cult following: systematically stripping away his confessional lyrics, dumbing down his complicated guitar-melody counterpoint, alienating his bass players until he ended up with a dude who used to play in Vanilla Ice's band.

But finally, Cuomo has thrown fans a bone: Alone, a collection of home demos, is mostly songs he wrote before Weezer started sucking. The real treat here is the handful of tracks Cuomo wrote for Songs From the Black Hole, a rock opera intended to be Weezer's second album but abandoned in favor of the equally high-concept Pinkerton (itself based loosely on Puccini's Madama Butterfly). These songs are Cuomo at his most ambitious and impassioned: "Longtime Sunshine" is piano ballad longing for the comforts of domesticity, prettier than almost anything released by Weezer, and "Superfriend" is almost orchestral, a duet about the conflicted romance that was, presumably, to be the storyline of the album.

But it's "Blast Off," a tortured rocker that somehow expresses Cuomo's own disillusionment with rock stardom by telling the story of a futuristic spaceship crew, that steals the show here. It's the perfect blend of brashness and self-doubt, as Cuomo throat-shreddingly cries, "Somebody's givin' me a whole lotta money to do what I think I want to, so why am I still feelin' blue?" His rudimentary drumming lends just the right amount of brutality, and the end of the song even foreshadows the quirky acoustic guitar riff that would become "El Scorcho," Pinkerton's underrated first single. "Blast Off" may have been the high point of Cuomo's creativity, and it's a joy to behold.

Honestly, though, a lot of the other songs on this record are terrible — particularly Cuomo's experiments with R&B and rap — and many others are puzzling: Why didn't the brilliantly catchy "Crazy One" end up on a Weezer album? Why did Cuomo bother releasing unlistenable Gregg Alexander and Ice Cube covers? You probably won't want to buy Alone unless you're an OG Weezer fan. Which means you already hate Weezer anyway. So what are you waiting for?

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Joel Hartse

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