Weezer is my favorite band. Frontman, singer, and primary songwriter Rivers Cuomo is of course a big reason why. I legitimately think Cuomo is one of the finest songwriters of his generation and beyond, and his and Weezer’s success is deserved in my book. Legendarily prolific, Cuomo nevertheless has never released a solo album of wholly original material; that is to say, new material. As part of a web development class he was taking (I mean, the guy is weird), Cuomo uploaded more than 2,000 demos to his personal site just a few weeks ago. He is selling bundles of his massive catalog, dating back to even the pre-Weezer years, including the impetus for this piece, THE BEST OF THE DEMOS. For although this unveiling of a big part of Cuomo’s history is not a traditional “album release,” I feel it must be acknowledged as an ultimate cumulation of his previous “solo” work. While I typically avoid compilation albums for these ranked lists of musical artists, Cuomo’s solo discography is exclusively made up of retrospectives of his demos and previously unreleased songs. And since he represents my favorite band (and because the albums are great), I had to take a little stroll through his four works apart from Weezer, ranging from 2007 to the present.
#4 — ALONE III: THE PINKERTON YEARS (2011)
Favorite track: “Let Me Wash at Your Sink”
The work leading up to Weezer’s sophomore release, PINKERTON (1996), is spoken of wondrously in the Weezer fanbase. Efforts from his “Songs from the Black Hole” project were reworked for the cult classic or excised completely, and bootlegs circulated for more than a decade before Cuomo presented a complete-ish look at his output (or lack thereof) from the era. But ALONE III: THE PINKERTON YEARS was not fully released; it was only bundled with an accompanying book, THE PINKERTON DIARIES (2011). But of course, the Weezer fanbase circulated it immediately, and it’s listenable in its entirety on YouTube. But as hallowed ground as “The Pinkerton Years” are, treading through ALONE III is not as compelling an experience as can be found elsewhere in Cuomo’s retrospectives. The hooks and variety are simply not as strong on this album, although there are great, moody pieces like “Let Me Wash at Your Sink” throughout. Of course, as a diehard fanboy, I still find ALONE III an incredible listen. It just doesn’t have as many “playlist-worthy” songs, even though there are 26 tracks on the record. ALONE III: THE PINKERTON YEARS is simply a little rougher, more fragmentary, across its run time. That stands to reason, as a compilation release of demos, but even its individual songs don’t feel as fleshed out.
#3 — ALONE: THE HOME RECORDINGS OF RIVERS CUOMO (2007)
Favorite track: “Longtime Sunshine”
“Longtime Sunshine” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. It often moves me to tears. For that reason alone, ALONE: THE HOME RECORDINGS OF RIVERS CUOMO is a definite favorite. And yet, there are a slew of other amazing songs. “Lemonade,” “Blast Off!,” “Wanda,” “Lover in the Snow,” “Crazy One:” these are all songs worthy of proper Weezer releases, and indeed, many were planned for such. For although THE PINKERTON YEARS was meant to chronicle, well, “The Pinkerton Years,” ALONE does indeed include songs from “Songs from the Black Hole” (such as “Longtime Sunshine”), and from before and after. In fact, the representation for that project on ALONE is superior to the bulk of ALONE III, plus assorted other greatness. For a demo-based, “home recording” release, ALONE rivals or surpasses most polished work from other singer-songwriters in the “alternative rock” world.
#2 — THE BEST OF THE DEMOS (2020)
Favorite track: “The Ivory Telephone”
As the representative for the entire Rivers Cuomo Demo Dump of 2020, THE BEST OF THE DEMOS should probably take the top spot, as the work gathered for the ALONE projects is surely represented in that massive batch (although there is no overlap in this bundle especially). But there has to be some consideration of curation, and for “album-sized” experiences, THE BEST OF THE DEMOS comes in at second place with its 27 tracks. It’s a strange listen, after working through Cuomo’s admittedly janky and dated-looking site, which involves being sent an email with a Dropbox link and a massive spreadsheet detailing the eras and other facts about the whole of the demo project. But of course, there are so many incredible gems in the whole thing, even in just THE BEST OF THE DEMOS. “The Ivory Telephone” is one of my favorite Cuomo/Weezer songs in recent memory; it is just so incredibly catchy. But “Let’s Go the 33rd Dimension,” “Softies,” and “The Ballad of St. George” are also favorites, amazing tracks that close out the “album,” sorted as they are in alphabetical order (with assorted file-name strangeness). At the end of the day, however, THE BEST OF THE DEMOS is yet another fascinating look at Cuomo’s process, and one more wide-ranging than the ALONE projects; it includes some up-to-the-minute work into “The White Album Years,” at least. I’d confirm that, but it appears the demos page on Cuomo’s site is down, although the home page still works. Huh. In the case that’s intentional, or never comes back up, do your best to track down this work. It’s incredible, and worthy of multiple proper album releases.
#1 — ALONE II: THE HOME RECORDINGS OF RIVERS CUOMO (2008)
Favorite track: “I Was Scared”
The “sophomore” demo retrospective of Cuomo’s “solo” work is the best one, even in the face of the monolithic 2020 release. Of course, ALONE II: THE HOME RECORDINGS OF RIVERS CUOMO plays like a more proper album, and sure, it benefits from that. But the overall quality of the songs on ALONE II, versus those on THE BEST OF THE DEMOS, is just more consistent. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that there are just proportionally more tremendous songs across its 19 tracks, including the perfectly angsty “I Was Scared.” Indeed, there aren’t many skippable tracks on ALONE II, even more impressive considering the breadth of sounds and eras here (recorded as they were from ‘92-ish up to the release of WEEZER [RED ALBUM] in 2008). ALONE II: THE HOME RECORDINGS OF RIVERS CUOMO also feels like the most polished compilation from the Weezer songman, and so, the raw songwriting prowess on display makes the album the finest representative for Rivers Cuomo’s genius.