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Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009

"Weezer Is Right and the Critics Are Wrong"

The Rivers Cuomo interview

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Rivers Cuomo cannot stress this enough: He’s not trying to piss anybody off. Of all the criticism leveled at the Weezer frontman for the band’s new album, Raditude, it’s that suggestion that bothers him the most.

“I get particularly frustrated when—and this has happened quite a lot—the press insinuates that I am intentionally trying to piss off our audience, that Weezer is creating music that it knows is bad and is putting it out there to make people angry,” Cuomo vents. “That’s totally opposite from the truth. We love what we’re doing, and we hope that other people love it—and we thought that other people would love it.”

But Weezer’s fans are a fickle lot, dedicated to an ideal of the band that no longer exists. Their core following bonded to the band with 1996’s Pinkerton, a trenchant, bitingly personal record that a generation of teenagers grew up listening to alone in their bedrooms, believing they were the only ones hearing it. For those fans, none of Weezer’s new albums could live up to Pinkerton’s impossible standard, but they’ve become especially disillusioned with the group over recent albums, as Cuomo stopped recording his diary entries and succumbed to the carefree allure of modern pop music.

As the first Weezer album that owes more to Top 40 than it does alternative rock, Raditude may be the group’s most divisive yet. It was recorded with a spate of pop producers like Kelly Clarkson/Katy Perry hit-maker Dr. Luke. Its lead single, “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To,” earned instant comparisons to the Jonas Brothers. Another track, “Can’t Stop Partying,” paired Cuomo with producer Jermaine Dupri and rapper Lil Wayne. To Weezer fans disinclined toward commercial pop, the whole album seems like some kind of cruel joke, but it’s not. This is the music that genuinely makes Cuomo most excited right now.

“The radio station that I listen to out here in L.A. is KIIS-FM, a pop station, and it’s constantly blowing my mind with amazing sounds and productions,” Cuomo explains. “With the development of music recording technology and processing, there are so many crazy new sounds now, and those sounds of course influence new compositions. I’m constantly hearing things I’ve never even imagined before.”

Cuomo says he knew that adopting these pop sounds would make him a minority in the rock scene, though he never intended Raditude to land like a grenade.

“I didn’t expect that it was going to cause as much of an uproar as it has in the rock music press, but I’m willing to stick up for Weezer and Raditude and explain our position,” he says. “I really think there is a lot of artistic value in what we’re doing, even though it may at first seem overly simplistic.

“I just love the record so much,” he adds. “Whenever we go to do these in-store signings and they’re playing the record in the background I’m still just blown away by it. I just feel that, in this situation, Weezer is right and the critics are wrong. I’m sorry.”

To Cuomo, the themes on Raditude—young romance, independence, partying—are part of a pop tradition that dates back to The Beatles and the Beach Boys. The album’s nods to rap culture aren’t new territory for Weezer, either. Cuomo has been proudly parroting hip-hop slang since Weezer’s 1994 self-titled debut. Even the sacred Pinkerton made room for a couple clumsy raps on “El Scorcho.”

“From the very beginning of Weezer, we thought of ourselves as a pop band, and we totally stuck out in the L.A. grunge scene, where a lot of people looked down on us for being a pop band,” Cuomo says. “That’s just where our taste was at, and that’s where it’s always been at. It’s always felt to me that it’s actually rebellious to be a fan of pop music.”

Cuomo says he’s carefully considering the response to Raditude, and hopes to integrate some of the feedback into future songs, which he suggests may mark a return to more personal songwriting. He maintains, however, that there’s no pleasing critics who dismissed the album simply out of a fundamental bias against pop.

“There’s a certain crowd out there that wants to listen to a kind of music that can’t be widely appreciated, and they want to feel elite,” Cuomo posits. “I’ve never felt that way about music. Music is about reaching out to people and communicating to people and not feeling better than other people. It’s about looking for common ground. So if you’re looking to feel artistically or intellectually superior to others, then you probably can’t be a Weezer fan.”

Weezer plays the Eagles Ballroom on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 8 p.m. with openers Jack’s Mannequin and Motion City Soundtrack.