The Bubble Album Reviews No. 32

Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold felt like this generation’s Is this it, an exciting fresh breath of life into guitar music. That is for those of us who listened to it, a tragically small number, but I have no fear that it will become a retrospective classic of the future. Both raw and clean, it was wonderfully cohesive – each song felt like the natural progression of the last. Its littering of delightful intertwining guitar loops and lyrics ram-packed full of brilliant witticism ensured delight for whoever heard it. Would their new album, Sunbathing Animal therefore be their Room on Fire moment? That is, more of the same but not quite carrying the same excitement as the original or, if you like, a used-up breath of old.

The first thing I notice when listening to Sunbathing Animal is its distinct ‘shoutiness’ when compared to their last outing, their tracks seem to be of a ‘mono-rhythmic’ nature. Perhaps the best example of this is the track ‘Sunbathing Animal’ itself. A relentless pile driver of a song: the main guitar chord – played at approximately 200 mph – only seems to change for the chorus; the drums receive a constant pounding throughout; Andrew Savage screams down lyrics, with far too many syllables fit within the lines, in his distinctive nasally voice. Sounds horrific on paper, but a ‘free’ guitar is allowed to wander and improvise, contrasting wonderfully with the extreme monotony of the rest of the song. The result: certainly not easy listening, but an enjoyable force to be reckoned with, the ‘too many syllables’ allows room for a brutal and vivid account of a failed relationship: ‘Frank and unabashed I become a frozen servant/Smiling asking nothing in return/Fang-tooth woman foaming at the mouth as she addressed me/Not with moving lips, but with the rabid wild arresting/Words not yet intended to identify emotion/Scrawling bold and oblique in my head’.

‘What Color Is Blood’ follows similar lines, but without the same excessiveness, ‘Ducking and Dodging’ oscillates between periods of relative calm and those of punk explosiveness.

But it isn’t all so hectic, ‘Instant Disassembly’, a slow-burning rock ballad, provides one of the musical highlights of the year. There’s a tone in the guitar that hits me every time and the lyrics, detailing emotions after a heavy night drinking, provide so many wonderful images : ‘Flawed as ever in the drunkest tense/ Keep repeating, keep repeating myself/ In my native tongue the parlance of problem itself’. It’s a song about drinking that stays clear of ‘corny’, a feat not too many people can claim. ‘She’s Rolling’ works in much the same light, albeit without the heart of the aforementioned track, nonetheless a perfect song for a lazy Sunday morning. The first five tracks of the album carry much of the same structure as that of their previous work, but to less of a success. They seem a bit stale in comparison, ‘Black and White’ proving to be the best of the bunch, but still lacking the melodic qualities that I loved so much in Light Up Gold. That said, the benchmark is extremely high. ‘Always Back in Town’hits me as somewhat of a lad rock anthem with a catchy chorus, the words are a bit repetitive though, a quality that is equally applicable to the opener ‘Bodies Made Of’. ‘Up all night’ is just a Strokes instrumental, listen and you won’t fail to see what I mean. We descend into a bit of a trip in ‘Raw Milk’, an experience of what it really feels like to be in Savage’s head whilst he is ‘Stoned and Starving’?

This LP provides outstanding moments, but I’m not quite sure how they all piece together. You can’t help but feel that just as effective track-listing would come as a result of pressing shuffle on your iPod. It’s this cohesion and consistency of quality that I feel is lacking; learning that the album was recorded over a long period of time is no surprise. But I guess the diversity of this album also gives it a great strength: a band originally from Austin, but based in Brooklyn, manages to balance New Yorker style and Southern abrasiveness. It’s not quite the art piece of their previous outing, but that sure doesn’t stop it being an enjoyable ride.

By Oliver Stephenson

Weezer – Weezer (The Blue Album)

Weezer’s Blue Album celebrates its twentieth birthday this May. The majority of the band’s current fanbase are too young to have even been alive for its release. With the exception of major singles ‘Buddy Holly’ and ‘Say It Ain’t So’, all too few will even be aware of some of the sublime tracks on this LP, more familiar with turgid post-2000 hits such as ‘Beverly Hills’ and ‘Let It All Hang Out’ (the latter of which genuinely wouldn’t look out of place on a One Direction album).

However, before their drastic fall into the abyss (a career slide matched only by the other incredible ‘90s, terrible ‘00s band Oasis), Weezer produced what might be one of the greatest alternative rock albums of all time. If they had broken up after follow-up Pinkerton 1996, they would stand alongside Pixies and Nirvana in terms of their stature in the genre, even if now they are more likely to be associated with the likes of Blink 182 and Sum 41. Green Day’s Dookie may be considered the watershed moment for pop-punk of 1994, but it didn’t quite scale the heights of this effort by Rivers Cuomo and co. Read on for a track-by-track review.

My Name Is Jonas

After some acoustic fiddling, the power chords kick in and Weezer announce themselves to the world with energy and passion. The lyrics are bizarre (‘the choo choo train left right on time/A ticket costs only your mind’) but who hasn’t felt the urge to shout along ‘My name is Wakefield!’ when listening to the song?

No One Else

The sunny guitar pop is counterbalanced by the disturbing theme of possessiveness, where an invented persona sings about how he wants ‘a girl who will laugh for no-one else’. This type of darkly comic narrative would again prove fruitful on ‘Pink Triangle’, where the vocals imagine doomed, unrequited love for a lesbian: ‘we were good as married in my mind/But married in my mind is no good’.

The World Has Turned and Left Me Here

Weezer have a knack for striking harmonies, and this contains the best on any of their songs. Cuomo sings about being left behind by the world, while a second vocal track plays over it, with a yearning plea to the listener to invest in the song’s emotional sincerity: ‘do you believe what I sing now?

Buddy Holly

Heavy, duelling guitars, catchy hooks and the singalong ‘oo-ee-oo’ chorus help make this song arguably the highlight of not just the album, but Weezer’s entire back catalogue. The band even manage to make white rapping work (almost), whilst a succinct, memorable guitar solo cements the song’s greatness.

Undone (The Sweater Song)

Weezer may be associated primarily with pop punk, but they wear their metal influences on their sleeves here, updating Metallica’s ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ for the MTV generation. The verses are incomprehensible, but the chorus is one of their very finest, and the chaotic piano coda is the icing on the cake.

Surf Wax America

The band channel Brian Wilson, and not for the last time on this album. A Beach Boys-esque rhythm accompanies the singing about the benefits of travelling to work on a surf board. Weezer at their most fun and whimsical.

Say It Ain’t So

Spike Jonze’s impressive music video, and its featuring on the game Rock Band, have helped to secure this song’s popularity. This grungy track, with its snarling riff, loud-quiet dynamic, and meandering acoustic interludes, stands incredibly well on its own however, and has been rightly lauded as a classic.

In The Garage

The most emotionally raw song on the album hinted at the soul-baring that was to come on Pinkerton. The innocent, childlike melody contrasts with the sad, surprisingly profound lyrics, where Cuomo sings about being a social outcast: ‘In the garage/I feel safe/No-one cares about my ways’. The lines about Kitty Pride and the X-Men remind listeners of the days before nerd culture became mainstream.

Holiday

It’s the smaller touches that distinguish Weezer above any of their contemporaries, and the wonderful, trilling burst of lead guitar that opens ‘Holiday’ best exemplifies this. From there, the energy of the song never relents, except during a strange but enjoyable barbershop-inspired bridge. The idea of being on holiday far away from emotional troubles would be picked up on the later, equally brilliant effort ‘Island in the Sun’.

Only In Dreams

An unsurpassed, underrated epic. The first three minutes are standard Weezer fare, before the song breaks down into an intricate instrumental jam. The track strips itself down to just the simple, driving bassline, before the drums and interweaving guitars re-enter the fray. Each component of the band gets its time in the spotlight, and everything builds to a triumphant crescendo. The culmination of a great album and the greatest phase in their career.

By Jonathan Peters

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