Weezer, “Weezer [The Teal Album]” (Atlantic/Crush)
Does Weezer do these 10 great songs justice? To a fault.
They honor the wildly disparate likes of “Billie Jean,” “Paranoid” and “No Scrubs” so faithfully it raises the question of what we as listeners are meant to need of them. The very few moments of editorializing (half-time drums on the chorus of the Turtles’ “Happy Together,” fuzz bass on “Stand by Me,” yes, that “Stand By Me”) are arguments for the strict karaoke route.
So these remakes are a bit too uncanny-valley. Try figuring out why Toto’s “Africa,” this band’s biggest hit in years, has less life coming from arena-rock goofballs than the poker-faced, studio-bound original and you’ll scratch your head.
More often than not, the answer is Patrick Wilson’s unimaginative drumming, whereas a jubilant Rivers Cuomo throws himself into these vocal challenges, showboating a range we’ve never heard from him before. And, they’re 10 great songs. Now you have a “Stand By Me” with fuzz bass.
Sharon Van Etten, “Remind Me Tomorrow” (Jagjaguwar)
Sharon Van Etten’s first four albums were brooding and often introspective.
Her debut, 2009’s “Because I Was in Love,” grew out of a toxic relationship and established her skill with nuanced and edgy songs smoothed over by her thoughtful vocals. In the five years since her last album, Van Etten began acting (in “The OA” and “Twin Peaks”), scored a film, returned to college and became a parent.
“Remind Me Tomorrow” is a new start, too: It’s simultaneously her most optimistic album and her most disruptive. She’s written many songs about love, but these are her closest to love songs. She’s set aside her guitar and moved to keyboards. She’s singing forcefully, even shouting at times.
Working with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent), she draws on Portishead (“Memorial Day”), P.J. Harvey (“Comeback Kid”) and Suicide (“Hands”). “Seventeen” is a catchy, triumphant rock song; “You Shadow” is a distorted, syncopated strut. It’s a wonderfully assured, unsettling album, like her previous ones, but it’s also surprisingly loud, dense, and aggressive.
Ted Drozdowski, “Coyote Motel” (Dolly Sez Woof)
“I played ball by my own rules,” Ted Drozdowski boasts on “Josh Gibson,” singing in the voice of the famed Negro Leagues slugger. You could say this postmodern bluesman takes the same approach — and he, too, knocks it out of the park.
As he did with Scissormen, his previous recording moniker, Drozdowski conjures up his mesmerizing hoodoo on “Coyote Motel,” which also is the name of his new combo.
The guitarist ranges here from the moody atmospherics of “Still Among the Living” to the dirty rocking of “Down in Chulahoma” and the punkish intensity of “Jimmy Brown.” What most of the album’s tracks have in common is the way Drozdowski’s six-string excursions venture far out — sometimes into the realm of the psychedelic — while they and the music manage to remain grounded in the elemental immediacy of the blues.
The freshness of this approach also extends to the album’s one non-original, “Tin Pan Alley,” as Drozdowski gives the blues standard a spellbinding makeover.