The 3rd instalment in their SZNZ project
Rob Wilson
11:14 28th September 2022

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Eighteen months ago, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo teased that the band’s principal directive for SZNZ: Autumn was to produce dark, angst-ridden ‘dance-rock’ - Franz Ferdinand were cited as a key influence. 

A user on Mr. Rivers Neighborhood – Cuomo’s Discord server – asked whether Weezer had written an overtly danceable number before. The lack of answers to said question revealed a dearth of such material in the band’s back catalogue. 

So, dance-rock is unfamiliar territory for Weezer, and, over the years, their previous excursions into uncharted waters have produced wildly divergent responses and results – the luscious orchestral arrangements and analogue warmth of OK Human won fans over immediately, but the synthetic alt-pop of The Black Album was shot on sight (unfairly so, might I add). With that in mind, how would ‘dance-rock’ Weezer fare?

With Autumn, Weezer have expertly navigated a potential stylistic misfire. They’ve carefully selected the elements of dance-rock that already suit them and, by its climax, the EP winds up as less of a dance-rock record and more of an updated interpretation of Weezer’s new wave edges. Not so much an excursion into uncharted waters, but a logical stride along their path. The California fourpiece are almost direct descendants of The Cars; of course they sound at home here.

Autumn is a hugely refreshing progression for a band who, after 30 ebbing and flowing years, are still finding new wrinkles in their long-established sound. 

Take the opener, ‘Can’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me’ – its pairing of fuzzed-up guitars and wiry synths recalls Weezer’s heyday (as well as cousins Ozma and The Rentals, and the aforementioned Cars’ earliest 80s material) but it moves with a speed unlike anything they’ve conjured before. It’s superfast and, by extension, super-infectious, complete with double hand-claps and fidgety, anxious instrumentation, along lines that Motion City Soundtrack fans will find familiar.

"With Autumn, Weezer have expertly navigated a potential stylistic misfire..."

Lead single ‘What Happens After You?’ is similarly kinetic. It’s polished and squeaky-clean, and maybe too focus-grouped, but its semi-frequent sheer drops into grooving, uhn-tiss uhn-tiss sections add bundles of fresh energy and the necessary Weezer crunch. Cuomo’s passionate, cracked wailing about self-flagellation (‘Will I go crazy, sadistic? Swing around a big stick? Will I grow kinder when I see how fragile life is?’) achieves the angst he’s seeking.

Further through the tracklist, Autumn veers off from its thematic intentions – in some places, considerably more than initially anticipated.

‘Should She Stay or Should She Go’ relegates the guitars to merely a textural feature. It swings towards yacht rock with a languid ease that The Black Album’s stiff ‘The Prince Who Wanted Everything’ lacked. It rounds off with some toots of saxophone for good measure. ‘Get Off on the Pain’ jumps from brief passages of alt-metal chugging into beefed-up, driving chorus passages that contain the palpable anguish fans have been demanding from the band for years: ‘I try to make it better, one candle in the rain. There’s no way around it, now I get off on the pain.’

Then Autumn reaches its apex with closer ‘Run, Raven, Run’, which is not only a strong contender for the greatest piece across all three SZNZ EPs thus far, but is in the conversation for joining Weezer’s post-Pinkerton hall of fame (alongside ‘Island in the Sun’, ‘Foolish Father’, ‘L.A. Girlz’, and ‘Numbers’, plus a select few others). What begins as a sweet, tender plea from an older mentor to their young apprentice – begging them to live a carefree life while they have the chance – suddenly twists on a dime into a waltzing suite that soars to a huge emotional impact and reveals the first half of the song to be the beginning of a goodbye. 

The waltz’s particles then begin to break apart and the song’s first two acts slowly dissolve into a vast soundscape. There it rests for a moment amidst soft electronic pads and ambient guitar fragments, drifting through the wide-open space. The pieces linger for a second, waiting for something to bring them back together again. And then it happens: the drums find a beat and rise in volume while the guitars start to mimic their movements, rediscovering their physical form in the process. As the song crescendos, there’s almost nowhere left for the tension to go, until a wistful, delicate chant provides immense cathartic release: ‘Riding my bike over the path, hardly a soul, Pacific sunset. Beautiful lights shine in the west, hardly a soul, Pacific sunset (a chill in the air)’. 

A lump appears in my throat, tiny tears form in my eye.

To some, autumn represents beautiful auburn foliage, pumpkin spice, and cosy woollen scarves. To Cuomo, and to SZNZ, autumn is the beginning of the end, the gradual turn towards death. The nights grow longer, the days turn colder, the leaves turn brown as nature begins to die. 

After its tear-jerking final build-up, ‘Run, Raven, Run’ then fades to near silence, unable to rage against the dying of the light. Cuomo’s Covid-riddled sore throat, accompanied by a single music box, strains to reach the high notes during a withering, fragile reprise of the song’s chorus. Then: an audible, literal death knell. The song’s ageing, feeble protagonist, whoever he may have been, was unable to rescue the song’s titular raven and now has seen his final autumn sunset. He gives in to winter’s deathly winds and wastes away. The stretch only lasts for three minutes but feels like an age. It is the most cinematic and emotionally resonant moment on any Weezer record for 25 years. 

Whatever SZNZ: Winter brings, the first three releases in this year-long adventure have gone over well with Weezer’s most dedicated. The SZNZ Broadway show might have failed, and those who don’t keep up to date with Mr. Rivers Neighborhood might not tread until the project is completed in December, but the ambition and scale of this project is unlike anything Weezer have brought to life before. Songs From the Black Hole (a rock opera written in the immediate aftermath of The Blue Album) was broken up and partially repurposed for Pinkerton; Ecce Homo (another rock opera from the early 2010s) was used to build 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End and had other parts divided up across later albums. 

With SZNZ, finally, after three decades, a fully realised Weezer rock opera will exist.

Listeners who are following SZNZ’s loose plot (which tracks the fortunes of two angels who leave the Garden of Eden to come to Earth) might be left wanting by sections of the lyrical content on Autumn. As Rivers blurs the lines between his own feelings and those of the male angel protagonist, the clear narrative set out by SZNZ: Spring is getting harder to interpret. But for now, it’s rewarding enough to celebrate Autumn for what it is: an invigorating, emotionally potent update to Weezer’s catalogue.

SZNZ: Autumn is out now

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