Did you know Weezer just released a new EP? Did you know Weezer released three EPs in the last year? I didn’t either, despite the fact that I’ve been on a Weezer kick recently (in related news, my friends have permanently kicked me off the aux cord). “SZNZ: Autumn,” the latest in Weezer’s SZNZ series, is the third of four EPs the band planned to release in 2022. It was released on the autumnal equinox (“Spring” and “Summer” also dropped on their respective equinoxes) to an indifferent musical world. The overwhelming reaction hasn’t been positive or negative; there hasn’t been a reaction at all. A band’s greatest fear isn’t to be hated: it’s to be forgotten. That’s a fate Weezer has avoided so far—even at the group’s lowest, people were still talking about them. Is “SZNZ: Autumn” a herald of Weezer’s coming irrelevance? Has Weezer been irrelevant for decades? Say it ain’t so!
“SZNZ” is a weird project: four EPs, each themed to a season and all cumulatively an interpretation of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” I don’t have the relevant classical music expertise to easily compare the two, but I can tell you that the “SZNZ” EPs don’t sound like “The Four Seasons” (they certainly don’t sound like classical masterpieces).
The “SZNZ” series is marked by a weird sound—that is, it’s weird precisely because it’s not all that weird. For such an experimental project, you would think the band would rely a little more on some of the grungy aesthetics they’re known for. Instead, Weezer produces a clipped, pop-y sound that sounds closer to AJR (derogatory) than it does to the Blue Album. The tone and feel is not exactly unexpected—much of Weezer’s worst projects sound similar—but it’s still disappointing.
The production failures plague all three EPs, suffered especially by “Summer,” issues that “Autumn” begins to move away from but can’t quite escape. The best-produced song on the project is “Run, Raven, Run,” which is the last song on the EP and escapes the pop sound in favor of a more subdued and controlled musicality. Perhaps this bodes well for “Winter,” but standing with the rest of “Autumn,” it’s just a vague hint of an “Autumn” that actually engages with its premise and embraces its fall theme.
“SZNZ: Autumn” is better produced than “Summer,” but not by much. The songs sound plastic and fake, so smooth and digestible that they completely clash with the more aggressive, emo lyrics. The stylistic choices feel much less clear than they did in previous SZNZ EPs—it doesn’t particularly feel, musically or tonally, like an autumn album. Though I prefer “Autumn” to “Summer,” at least “Summer” has a consistent sound—even if that sound is “Weezer (White)” with a crew cut and a 401(k). “Autumn,” on the other hand, is kind of all over the place. It definitely trends in some sort of direction but right now it feels more like an outtakes EP than a themed piece.
If we’re talking about Weezer, we’ve got to talk about the lyrics. Cringing to Weezer lyrics is half the fun of listening (Who could forget classic gems like “Who needs stupid books?/ They are for petty crooks” and “My automobile is a piece of crap/ My fashion sense is a little wack?”). Early Weezer functioned on a razor’s edge of angst and oblivious sincerity that’s still hilarious to listen to 20 years later.
Of course, now that the band is all over 50 and well past the age where they should be writing songs called “Get Off On The Pain,” the whiny lyrics are a little less cute. “SZNZ: Autumn” has some lyrics that make me feel genuinely ashamed to be a Weezer fan (though,being a Weezer fan should always come with some shame). “Tastes Like Pain” comes with some of the worst of the EP, and maybe Weezer’s entire discography: “I hate me/ I’m loser/ I’m dummkopf/ I’m stupid…forgive me/ I should be castrated.” Maybe someone should check in on Rivers and see if he’s doing OK.
There are sparks here and there, but nothing catches. The aforementioned “Get Off On The Pain” starts strong lyrically: “The people down the street are packing up/ As if they found a neighbor doing witchcraft/ There isn’t anybody I could trust/ So I’m alone, dancing to a click track.” But then the chorus comes in, the chord work becomes generic and the song loses any intrigue it once had.
That’s the feeling of the entire EP—little sparks of talent in an otherwise generic project. It feels like Cuomo put all his creative energy into coming up with the idea for “SZNZ,” and not actually making the projects. If there’s one thing I admire about “SZNZ” it’s that it’s conceptually a passion project—why else would someone make it? Nobody was clamoring for a power-pop reinterpretation of “The Seasons.” Weezer’s recent discography includes a cover album nobody asked for, a hard rock album that nobody asked for (It’s called “Van Weezer,” for God’s sake!) and now this “SZNZ” project—which nobody asked for.
Whatever else you can say about Rivers Cuomo and Weezer, you have to admire them for following their bliss. That’s an artistic direction I much prefer to pick-me albums like their earlier “Pacific Daydream.” The Weezer of the past five years is firmly rooted in the territory of “guys fucking around and having fun,” which I much prefer to the desperate, cloying albums that bands past their prime trying to stay popular produce.
Instead of thinking of Weezer as a once-great band (or, less generously, a once-OK band) trying to reclaim its former fame, I think we should think of the group as a Gen-X neighborhood garage band, making music for the fun of it. They’re goofing around, they’re trying out new things, and occasionally they’ll make something you want to listen to. But most of the time, it’s bad—harmless fun, but bad.