Weezer's Top 10 Guitar Solos

In the week that Cuomo and crew release their ninth album, here's a rundown of their best shreds. One for the purists...
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In the week that Cuomo and crew release their ninth album, here's a rundown of their best shreds. One for the purists...

Let me divulge an ulterior motive: a campaign to bring solos back to Weezer material at large. They haven't been spotted in convincing numbers since 2005's Make Believe, but early indications ('Cleopatra', 'The British Are Coming') from imminent 9th album Everything Will Be Alright In The End are that Rivers Cuomo has rediscovered his shredding confidence. Solos have always been one of the things which marked Weezer out from other “pop-punk” groups; they were the most unmixed signal that Weezer's emphasis was on the “pop” side of that phrase. They've always been about fun as much as anything else.

Guitar solos do not broadly populate his Alone albums, which are agglomerations of home-recorded demos. This gives us a little insight into how Rivers Cuomo regards them -they're quite possibly the last thing he writes before sending off his darlings. They're the bow around the parcel; the cherry on the top. None of these solos push at the envelope of length, obeying the maxim that no wrapping should outweigh the gift itself, however they do display real technique, and each genuinely explores the form and its myriad possibilities. This list will (I hope) serve to highlight the graceful, reigned-in musicianship which is key to Weezer's enduring appeal, and which is perhaps most conspicuously embodied in their guitar solos.

1. The Purification of Water- Alone II
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBLPyyv07RU
2:19-2:54

“The Purification of Water” might be an analogy for the solo which features here. The song itself is indeed submerged under ablutions of organ, muffled by thickly distorted guitars. It's melody (most unusually for Rivers) is somewhat ungifted, ungainly. When the solo begins it's not clear that it'll shed much light, beginning as it does scraping around a frazzled mess of notes. Before too long however the familiar tremolo style (which is exactly half the charm in Cuomo's lead playing) starts, and the notes begin a climb that is utterly glorious, ringing in the final chorus and crowing superbly over the rather broken sounds below.

2. Death and Destruction- Maladroit
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9e3lz4xjNo
1:18-1:40

The only solo on this list which has a whisper of progressive rock about it, 'Death and Destruction' as a whole is an incredibly simple and affecting piece whose solo is oddly characteristic of that aforementioned genre. It opens with morose, widescreen bends before moving down a scale half backwards in a rhythm which makes it hard to follow with the ears. The whole thing ends on a monumental bend, diving down back into the last, blasting chorus. One of Rivers' most artfully rendered solos.

3. Buddy Holly- Weezer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kjr7US2Z9aY
1:54-2:15

It's hard to overestimate the perfection of 'Buddy Holly'. There's not a hair out of place, there are no stubbed toes or awkward elbows. No malingering choruses, there are no sections you can imagine it working without -perhaps least of all the crowning glory; its solo.

4. Island In The Sun- Weezer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVHUjzZZGQ4
1:59-2:16

Songs like 'Buddy Holly' are why people like Weezer, songs like 'Island In The Sun' are why people love them. It's an endlessly endearing piece which more or less defines nostalgia with a lyric that speaks of a place where “We'll never feel bad any more”, yet it has an undertow of rich melancholia which is telling us that place is at best temporary, at worst an illusion. Though the solo is constitutionally a simple replaying of the verse melody, it is a melody which more than bears repetition. Its yearning, aching quality is central to the songs' message of hopefulness, despite life's more degrading conditions.

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5. Haunt You Every Day- Make Believe
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVFZoogm6NA
2:19-2:52

The hidden monster of Make Believe, 'Haunt You Every Day' is a towering work with a solo to match. Without fuss, Cuomo uses his guitar to do the heavy work of symbolising the song's central drama, literalised in the chorus' “so alone in love” refrain. At first he glides over the slamming bridge chords, then his notes work up speed and furrow their brows before a plunging chord change, with the low Eb7 raging beneath Rivers' histrionic peaks and bends. Stunning solo writing.

6. Fall Together- Maladroit
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3CUlA8OezQ
1:23-1:38

The solo here sets alight a fairly leaden composition, which features Cuomo singing “baby” almost every other word and the unlovely marriage of two only moderately successful guitar riffs. The pyrotechnic display which is launched at 1:23 utterly redeems the song, and demands that the volume nob be given a vicious nipple twist for maximum enjoyment.

7. Tired Of Sex- Pinkerton
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu2Dsnvk6M0
2:03- 2:17

As with many of the solos on this list, and with solos as a form in general, it's the context of the song in which they strut which creates their appeal. In this case the song is an overloaded, overwhelmed dirt-gem whose bewildered, voice-breaking chorus asks “Why can't I be making love come true?” A shrugging “What's a guy to do?” is just audible in the filthy noise after that, before the ejaculation of the solo bursts its britches in a squiggly, scarcely coherent fit, effortfully encapsulating the frustration of the song itself. Rivers struck oil here.

8. Pink Triangle (Radio Remix)- Pinkerton, Deluxe Edition
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQ6zYkCDeHM
2:21-2:54

The polished, cleaner version of Pink Triangle is selected only because the original scuppers the rendering of the solo with a touch too much distortion. It's possibly the only dual-guitar solo in history which knows the meaning of restraint, in fact the quality it conveys is one of majestic sorrow; the melodies tabulated are almost serene. At first the two guitars are anxious not to step on each others toes, tastefully leading one into the other and making way, but before long they unify in a wailing coalition of prodigious beauty. Ravishing.

9. In the Garage- Weezer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0rV88Ev-og
2:25-2:48

One of their debut's most charming songs (in a record which scintillates with charm), In The Garage features a solo which is as pleasure-giving as it is multifaceted, spanning as it does three genres in the space of twenty-three seconds. Opening with an uppercutting run alongside the rising chord sequence, Rivers begins in punk-rock mode, finalising his upward slides with noisey gibberish, before shifting handily into more winsome, traditional rock territory, whistling high and being joined by a harmonica, ultimately veering violently into a flashing burst of heavy metal, bending his strings dangerously high on the fretboard. Rivers' virtuosity is little remarked on but amply demonstrated here.

10. Freak Me Out- Make Believe
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTJuGxhGGMc
1:59-2:15

And finally, as a counterpoint to the succession of superfluity which precedes this final choice, we have 'Freak Me Out'. A song so banal in content and blancmange-like in its rendering that you begin to feel as though satire might be its MO. The first line of the bridge being “I'm going to try to improve my manners” does nothing to discredit this notion. Being extraordinarily easy on the ears however, the thought does occur that the whole thing might be sincere. The harmonica solo dispels that theory once and for all however as, after the sumptuous rising bridge sequence comes to a close, the high production values drop out completely and the song falls flat on its face.