Maladroit (Geffen)

Back in 1994, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo blamed his dislike of promotion on a pre-record-deal gig selling high-quality kitchen cutlery. "They were the best knives in the world, but it sucked selling them. I mean, who needs knives that good? The whole thing was such a disastrous experience that ever since, I've been as anti-sales as possible."

Cuomo maintained this stance for quite a while. Because the giddy early tracks "Undone (The Sweater Song)" and "Buddy Holly" became hits with the help of MTV shortly after he made the above comment, Weezer was unfairly dismissed in some quarters as little more than a video-driven novelty band. To prove otherwise, young Cuomo forbade the filming of clips to hype the group's second disc, 1996's more mature Pinkerton. But after that platter flopped, he started to see the wisdom of marketing. The act's third CD, issued last year, was given the same name, Weezer, as its first. It also featured a cover that evoked the band's debut album and was highlighted by "Hash Pipe," an insanely catchy, not especially mature tune that was accompanied by a video happily supplied to MTV.

In some ways, Maladroit departs from Weezer's successful formula. For one thing, it's got a title -- one some of the combo's boosters will have to look up in the dictionary -- and an illustration instead of another snapshot of the Weezer foursome looking geeky. On top of that, a few of the lyrics sport a fairly heavy tinge, including "I can't say that you love me/So I cry and I'm hurting," from the rather dour grunge throwback "Death and Destruction." But Cuomo isn't about to make the same mistakes that doomed Pinkerton. Prior to the new album's official arrival in stores, he sent copies of eight of its songs to assorted reviewers and radio stations, resulting in a not-very-hard slap on the wrist from his record label and a passel of valuable pre-release publicity. In addition, the LP's first single is an insanely catchy, not especially mature ditty called "Dope Nose," which should appeal to everyone who thought "Hash Pipe" was smokin'. Expect the next Weezer offering to be kicked off by "Chronic Boy," or maybe "Puff, the Magic's Draggin'."

Fortunately, though, Maladroit's familiar elements extend to indelible hooks, yummy power-pop riffs and inveterate cleverness. "Slob" is a knowingly self-deprecating defense of (remember this trend?) slackerdom, "Burndt Jamb" alternates between groovy, hey-dude verses and proto-metal choruses, and "Fall Together" provides proof that cock rock can be convincingly delivered by a guy known for wearing horn-rimmed glasses. As a bonus, even the lesser tunes are melodic enough to burrow their way into your gray matter by the end of the first listen.

There aren't a lot of surprises on Maladroit, and at just over 33 minutes, it's not exactly a bargain on a cost-per-song basis. But there's no denying that Cuomo is selling a high-quality product -- and if you don't want to buy it, you can always borrow your mom's copy.

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