Weezer Releases New EP, "SZNZ: Spring"
First of four seasonally inspired EPs makes Shakespeare and Vivaldi rock
Whether you love or hate Weezer’s new EP, SZNZ: Spring, might come down to whether drinking three cups of coffee and then taking some Benadryl sounds like a ball or a nightmare. If it seems fun, you might agree with AV Club’s Tatiana Tenreyro that Spring, written by the band’s frontman Rivers Cuomo ’06, features some of Weezer’s “best songs in years.” But if the Benadryl-caffeine combination sounds hellish, the EP will probably feel, as Alex Hudson of Exclaim! put it, “as annoying as Renaissance Faire cosplay.”
Spring, released on March 20 (the spring equinox) is the first of four SZNZ EPs set to release this year: SZNZ: Summer is scheduled for a June 20 release, SZNZ: Autumn on September 22, and SZNZ: Winter on December 21. Inspired by Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni, each EP will musically capture the essence of its respective season, and according to Cuomo, will incorporate at least one musical motif from Vivaldi.
In the 30 years since Weezer’s inception, its members have gone from quirky teenagers to quirky middle-aged dads who make quirky pop-rock. After a childhood spent living in an ashram in Connecticut, Cuomo moved to Los Angeles and formed the band in 1992, naming it Weezer after the nickname his father gave him as a toddler. Three years later, their debut album went platinum and Cuomo enrolled at Harvard, telling the New York Times, “The only time I could write songs was when my frozen dinner was in the microwave. The rest of the time I was doing homework.” He ping-ponged between semesters at college and a professional music career for nearly a decade, during which time Weezer dominated the alternative rock genre.
Photograph in the public domain
Weezer has stayed relevant through three decades, reaching new generations of listeners with music that's conventional enough for rock charts, but never cookie-cutter. The band doesn't shy away from being experimental, creative, and sometimes, plain old weird. Case in point: during their Jimmy Kimmel Live! performance of “A Little Bit of Love” from Spring, Cuomo wore elf ears while the actor Michael Cera, dressed in an Easter bunny suit, played mandolin in the background.
Spring is guided by a story of Cuomo’s creation, according to a post he wrote on his Discord server: two angels descend to earth because they’re “tired of being so prim and proper up in heaven” and land in “a magical forest in pre-Christian Ireland” where they encounter mythical creatures and “learn of music, drum circles, flutes, and distorted guitars. They learn to dance.” To a soundtrack of springy, pagan pop-rock, the EP, in typical Cuomo fashion, makes esoteric references to Shakespeare plays and the Dead Sea Scrolls and throws around the word “perspicacity.”
The EP's first track, “Opening Night,” uses pan flute, mandolin, and the tune of Vivaldi’s “Spring-Allegro” to evoke springtime giddiness. Iron Age sounds coexist with modern rock, producing an off-kilter sensation to match the song’s out-there lyrics: “Shakespeare makes me happy! / Shakespeare makes me happy! / So happy, and I’m happy to be with you,” for example, or the other refrain, “Hamlet makes me happy! / Falstaff makes me happy!” For those willing to roll with the song’s zaniness, it feels like sunbathing in a meadow of tall grass that fortuitously has nothing itchy or poisonous lurking within. But for those less easily wooed, it probably sounds like the theme song to a medieval-themed children’s cartoon.
Other tracks on the EP sound less Renaissance and more like Green Album- and Blue Album-era Weezer. “Angels on Vacation” begins with an “Allelujah” chorus sung in the style of Queen, before morphing into a breezy tune reminiscent of “Island in the Sun.” It tells the story of two angels who take a vacation to Earth (exclaiming, “Halos off!”) and experience everything the planet has to offer, including hoodies, Coca-Cola, and a whale show. Its lyrics prompt a smile and capture the “optimistic sorrow” that Cuomo says thematically links the EP, like the moment the angels realize they love Earth and don’t want to return to heaven: “We’ll have a ball while we can / We don’t have to tell the big man / He wouldn’t understand,” and then later, “Don’t send me home.” The song is cheerful, but it leaves the listener unsettled and maybe a bit melancholy. There’s something very sad about a God who wouldn’t understand the fun of a whale show.
Another track, “All This Love,” is both a celebration of socializing after pandemic lockdowns and Cuomo critiquing his own artistic shortcomings. He sings, “I forgot how to live, how to love, how to give / How to sing with a mask on my mouth,” before moving into, “Now I won’t be so precious about it… I got all this love that I’ve been saving up / Lemme let it out.” In an interview with NPR, Cuomo noted that, besides capturing the “incredible feeling of pent-up energy and wanting to express yourself and go out and be social,” the song is also about his own “tendency to be too intellectual and not instinctual enough about art.”
He told NPR that as a teenager he was very interested in music theory and classical music, but told himself, “Wait a minute, that’s not cool. You’re not supposed to study music theory if you’re a rock musician.” Cuomo added that these days, “I’ve really found a great balance and am feeling more instinctual than ever—at the same time, I have tons of spreadsheets and computer programs that I’ve written to help me along. I’m firing on all cylinders, for sure.”
Looking ahead to the next three SZNZ EPs, Cuomo has given fans some idea of what to expect, but many of the songs are yet to be recorded. The sound of Summer is still a question mark, but according to Weezerpedia (the band’s Wikipedia-style web platform built and operated by Cuomo), it will likely have Daniel Omelio (who goes by the stage name “Robopop”) as its producer. Judging by Robopop’s past collaborations with Maroon 5 and Lana Del Rey, Summer could be an indie rock album, with songs that are equal parts dreamy, beat-driven, and whimsical. Autumn, Cuomo said on The Strombo Show, will incorporate the “dance-rock” aesthetic of artists like Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes, and Winter will move into 1990s-style sad-boy-singer-songwriter-starving-artist territory, with songs categorized by “lots of loss and despair.”
It's a good year for Weezer fans, with three EPs coming down the pike. In the meantime, if upon first listen, the Benadryl-caffeine sensation put you firmly in the “hate it” camp, perhaps give Spring one more chance. Sometimes you need to hear “Shakespeare makes me happy!” (sung over pan pipes and electric guitar) a few times before you start to believe it.