Even if he had never written a decent song in his life, Rivers Cuomo would qualify as a rock hero for being a thorn in the side of the record industry's suffocating bureaucracy.
Maladroit , the band's exceptional fourth album, is a home-grown masterpiece that Cuomo created with an intensely protective attitude toward Weezer's autonomy and vision.
As the band's de facto manager for the past year, Cuomo took the initiative to mail unauthorized samplers to radio stations and media outlets (the CD was officially released yesterday), an action that inspired grass-roots media support as it simultaneously infuriated his suddenly less powerful corporate bosses.
Kids, don't try this at home.
It takes an incomparable four-piece rock band to joust at such windmills and emerge unscathed. With Maladroit, Weezer delivers ebullient, irrepressibly hooky songs that will solidify the band's growing reputation as a timeless rock gem.
The radio hit "Dope Nose" defines the Weezer sound: crunching rhythms, soaring vocals and high-altitude rhythm guitars that always manage to retain a hummable melodic thread.
"Keep Fishin'" takes the same elements and twists them delightfully, downshifting from an insistent rock shuffle to a Beatle-esque double-time. There's a distinct Mop Top charm to the song's shouted harmonies, too.
Maladroit also boasts a lovely ballad, something noticeably lacking from the straight-ahead bluster of last year's terrific self-titled Green album. "Death and Destruction" seems to slowly gain momentum, pushing pensively through the opening verse into a chorus exploding with fuzzed-out guitars.
Even the harder rocking songs unfold with a sense of drama that too many bands nowadays confuse with volume. Cuomo practically spits out the chorus to "Slob," with its generation-gap criticism of a slacker lifestyle. Behind him, the guitar lines bounce furiously.
At the core, always, is an uncanny knack for memorable tunes, something that separates Weezer from many of its contemporaries. The chord progression in "December" is lifted directly from the 1950s' garage-band songbook, then brilliantly stylized to transcend the generations.
Then there's "Burndt Jamb," which opens with cheesy lounge-lizard flair that eventually yields to a bit of 1980s guitar-hero histrionics. It's an odd combination but delivered in such meticulously measured doses that it's inspired.
Cuomo professes to write one song a week, and the band already is working on its next album, with a target February release date. Guitarist Brian Bell has said that it might be Weezer's classic album.
If that makes Maladroit less than a classic, it still sets the bar awfully high for that potentially perfect album.
Jim Abbott is pop music critic for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Maladroit (Geffen/Interscope) ****