Monday, September 27, 2021

Weezer - Songs From The Black Hole (upgrade)

Weezer – Songs From The Black Hole
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)


Act I, Scene 1:
1.  Blast Off!
2.  You Won’t Get With Me Tonight
3.  Maria’s Theme/Come To My Pod
4.  Tired of Sex

Act 1, Scene 2:
5.  Superfriend
6.  You Gave Your Love To Me Softly
7.  Waiting On You
8.  Tragic Girl

Act 2, Scene 1:
9.  She’s Had A Girl/Good News!/Now I Finally See
10.  Getchoo
11.  I Just Threw Out The Love of My Dreams

Act 2, Scene 2:
12.  No Other One
13.  Devotion
14.  What Is This I Find
15.  Why Bother?
16.  Longtime Sunshine

In honor of the 25th anniversary of Weezer’s influential sophomore album Pinkerton, this is a very long-overdue upgrade to my reconstruction of Songs From The Black Hole, the space rock opera which was the precursor to the album.  Originally meant as a literal opera which functioned as an allegory to Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo’s disenchantment from the band’s instant stardom, the album was scrapped and restructured into the seminal Pinkerton in 1996.  This updated reconstruction, using a combination of Weezer’s studio takes and Rivers’ demo tapes, more closely follows Cuomo’s actual script of the opera.  My own reconstruction of the final script is included here, pieced together from his notes included in The Pinkerton Diaries.  I have also created some cover and back artwork based on river’s sketches in his Diaries.  

With a slew of 1994 hits and lovable, quirky music videos including “Buddy Holly”, “Say It Ain’t So” and “The Sweater Song”, Weezer  seemed to fill the gap left by recently-departed Nirvana, merging Brian Wilson-esque songwriting with fuzzed-out grunge guitars.  The unlikely nerd rockers found themselves in the limelight after hashing it out in the LA club scene, with years of work and dedication paying off and their debut Blue Album becoming a 90s Alt-Rock classic.  But the band’s newfound fame seemed to be a burden for the anxious and introverted frontman Rivers Cuomo, overwhelmed with the reality of what he had always wished for.  

On a break from touring during around Thanksgiving 1994, Rivers charted out the bare bones of the band’s second release: a futuristic concept album about a rock band whose singer was dealing with the band’s popularity, as well as personal relationship issues with a “good girl” and a “bad girl”.  At first using a handful of already-written (and largely unrelated) newer Weezer songs (such as “Getchoo” and “Tired of Sex”), Rivers composed additional material to link the songs, including lyrics as dialog between characters: an actual rock opera.  After creating a rough draft of a script with no real ending, Rivers revised his concept that Christmas, turning the ‘band’ into a crew aboard the space ship Betsy II, on a mission to save the planet Nomis on the edge of a black hole.  At this time, Cuomo recorded demos of most of the rock opera, now titled Songs From The Black Hole.  

Throughout the first half of 1995, Rivers would continue to refine the Songs From The Black Hole concept, while rehearsing and recording segments of the cycle with his Weezer bandmates.  Since the entire lyric of the album were sung by different characters, it was decided that the different members of Weezer would sing for the various characters: Cuomo would sing for the protagonist, Jonas, the captain of the ship Betsy II; crewmate Wuan would be sung by guitarist Brian Bell; crewmate Dondo would be voiced by bassist Matt Sharp; roadie Karl Koch would voice a robot crew member M1, via a vocoder effect; “good girl” love interest Laurel would have been sung by Rachel Haden of the band that dog; “bad girl” love interest Maria would have been sung by Joan Wasser of the band Dambuilders; and Mike Stanton of the band Avant Gard would appear on the album as a pre-recorded message of a television host.  

While on tour in Germany that February, bassist Matt Sharp headed back to the United States due to a family emergency.  The remaining members recorded band demos of several SFTBH songs at a studio in Hamburg, notably the lead-off song “Blast Off!”.  By August, the band had formally entered Electric Lady Land Studios to track SFTBH, recording versions of “Blast Off!”, “Tired of Sex”, “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly”, “Waiting On You”, “Getchoo”, “I Just Threw Out The Love of My Dreams”, “No Other One”, “Devotion”, “Why Bother?” and “Longtime Sunshine”.  The recordings were much more raw and less polished than their debut Blue Album, as the band desired a “live in the studio” sound with minimal overdubs.  Anticipating a short break from the band due to Cuomo being enrolled into Harvard that September, Weezer booked a final recording session for Songs From The Black Hole in August at Fort Apache Studios in Boston.  Although left unfinished, they recorded new versions of “Tired of Sex”, “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly”, “Waiting On You”, “Getchoo”, “No Other One”, “Devotion” and “Why Bother?”. But a new event would shift the course of Songs From The Black Hole into self destruction and ultimately reinvention.  

While at Harvard that Fall, Cuomo began writing new songs that strayed greatly from the Songs From The Black Hole concept-- songs about his loneliness and isolation and a desire to return to simplicity and innocence.  Regrouping with the rest of the band in January 1996 at Sound City Studios, Weezer tracked two of these newer compositions “El Scorcho” and “Pink Triangle” (as well as newer versions of “Tired of Sex”, “Getchoo” and “No Other One”.  Basic tracks of “Superfriend” were finally attempted, but never completed, as seen in the 2004 Weezer DVD Video Capture Device).  Returning to Sound City on Rivers’ spring break, Weezer cut even newer compositions “Across The Sea”, “The Good Life”, “Falling For You” and “Butterfly.”  

By Summer break, the album was complete and now titled Pinkerton.  The Songs From The Black Hole concept was completely abandoned for that of SF Pinkerton from the opera Madame Butterfly, used as a metaphor for Cuomo’s own wanton access that lead to regret.  The tracklist was arranged to be (approximately) in the order in which they were written to illustrate Cuomo’s own emotional progress throughout the last two years.  The album was more immediate, personal and more musically raw in presentation than that of The Blue Album and was a turn-off for some (casual) fans.  Coupled with the simple fact that hype still had not died down from The Blue Album, Pinkerton was an often overlooked release in 1996.  In effect, Cuomo would be disenchanted from writing emotional, personal songs with a rawer production.  He would spend the next three years attempting to create a mathematical formula for the perfect pop song-- a concept that would actually see fruition on their third release, The Green Album, hailed as Weezer’s (first) great comeback.  

Meanwhile, Pinkerton was not exactly the failure that Cuomo saw it as.  Aside from actually hitting the Billboard Top 20 and spawning two hits, a new generation of fans embraced the unfiltered, personal lyrics and cut-throat production of the album and at the turn of the century, began playing a new, “emotional” version of punk rock; Pinkerton had become, intentionally or not, the godfather of the Emo movement.   

But for Weezer die-hard fans, the underlying allure of Pinkerton wasn't it’s influence, but it’s unheard precursor, Songs From The Black Hole.  After clamoring for it’s release for years, fans were treated to leaked demos of the project, often by Karl Koch himself, throughout the Napster years.  Pieces of SFTBH eventually found their way onto the first three volumes of the Alone series, compilations of Cuomo’s early demos, the third of which exclusively covered the SFTBH/Pinkerton era.  Finally, a Deluxe 20th Anniversary release of Pinkerton gave fans a handful of studio versions of the SFTBH project.  Is this enough to reconstruct a fairly accurate SFTBH?  

Not precisely.  The smoking gun was found in the 2011 book The Pinkerton Diaries, which included excerpts from three different drafts of Rivers’ original script for Songs From The Black Hole.  At first glance this would provide the best road map to reconstruct the rock opera, until we realize that the final draft was not only partially included, but some pages were out of order!  The first step in reconstructing SFTBH is to reconstruct Rivers’ script; from there, we will be able to make a more accurate audio version of SFTBH.  To do this, we will be taking the third script draft as a base, and using clues from the previous two drafts to fill in the blanks and correct the page order.  Through this process, we will observe that neither Rivers nor Weezer actually recorded few of the crucial songs for the album: “She’s a Liar”, “Touch Down!”, “Special Thanks” and “I Don’t Belong.”  Along with my standard audio, I am also including my own reconstruction of the SFTBH script, which will note the missing, unrecorded songs in red text. 

Act 1, Scene 1 of Songs From The Black Hole opens with “Blast Off!” from the Pinkerton Deluxe, with the piano intro from “Longtime Sunshine” used as an introduction; note my addition of M1’s count down using the vocoder setting on a MicroKORG, if I may be so bold.  The song sets the stage as five astronauts and a robot head to the planet Nomis, on the edge of a black hole.  The captain Jonas notices Maria, whom they knew in the Academy...  “Who You Callin’ Bitch” is not used in the third draft, so we are going directly into “You Won’t Get With Me Tonight”, the channels swapped to match the panning of “Blast Off!”.  Next is “Oh Jonas/Come To My Pod” from Alone II, in which Maria seduces Jonas; “Please Remember” is excluded, as it was dropped from the third draft of the script.  This follows directly into the early version of “Tired of Sex” from the Pinkerton Deluxe, in which Jonas regrets his decision to hook up with Maria; note that “Oh No This Is Not For Me”  is excluded as it was dropped from the third draft of the script, with Rivers noting “Come To My Pod” should flow into the feedback intro of “Tired of Sex.”  

Act 1, Scene 2 begins with Jonas confiding to Laurel about his dissatisfaction with his relationship with Maria on “Superfriend” from Alone.  They realize they both like each other and hook up themselves in “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly” from the Pinkerton Deluxe.  Maria comes to Jonas’s pod (room) to tell him she’s pregnant with his child, but instead hears him fooling around with Laurel!  The unrecorded “Oh Jonas (I Hear You)” acts as a link to “Waiting On You” from the Pinkerton Deluxe, sung by Maria.  The three then confront each other in the unrecorded “She’s a Liar”, which I presume is a reworking of “Please Remember.”  Choosing to leave Laurel for his fatherly duties with Maria, Jonas laments his situation in “Tragic Girl”, from the Pinkerton Deluxe; note it is likely that the actual SFTBH version of “Tragic Girl” would have had a fairly different set of lyrics, but here we will use the glorious studio version, still somewhat relevant.  

Act 1, Scene 2 features a time jump, where Jonas and Maria’s daughter is born to Jonas’s lamentation in “She’s Had a Girl” from Alone III.  Wuan and Dondo announce the ship has finally arrived to Nomis in “Dude, We’re Finally Landing” from Alone I, followed by Jonas’s epiphany that he does want Laurel in “Now I Finally See” from Alone III.  Of course Laurel rejects him in the early version of “Getchoo” from the Pinkerton Deluxe, although she immediately regrets her decision in “I Just Threw Out The Love of My Dreams”-- the only SFTBH song to actually feature Rachel Haden singing her character.

Act 2, Scene 2 sees Jonas resolving to be with Maria in “No Other One” from the Pinkerton Deluxe, followed by the unrecorded “Touch Down!”, clearly a musical reprise of “Blast Off!”  While Wuan, Dondo and M1 investigate the planet Nomis, Jonas finally pledges his love for Maria in “Devotion” from the Pinkerton Deluxe.  Unfortunately, he sees a used condom in her pod, as heard in “What Is This I Find” from Alone III!  Jonas is ultimately defeated by both Maria and Laurel and claims “Why Bother?” from the Pinkerton Deluxe.  Meanwhile on the planet surface, the crew find a prerecorded message on an unmanned satellite (which was supposed to be voiced by Mike Stanton) explaining that the crew’s entire mission was simply a reality-based TV show; this would have been featured in the unrecorded song “Special Thanks”, which Rivers described as a Sonic Youth-type of noise jam.  Mike explains that while there was no actual mission, there is an actual immediate danger as Nomis is about to be sucked into a black hole.  Luckily, there are five transports to carry the five human crew members to safety (sorry M1).  With the realization that with his new baby, they are one transport short and someone must stay behind, Jonas sacrifices his life for his daughter by giving his transport to her.  This is explained in the unrecorded “I Don’t Belong” and I have extrapolated the lyrics to this, based upon the melody of “Now I Finally See.”  As Jonas watches the crew escape, he awaits his eminent death by singularity.  Jonas then realizes that neither the love of Maria nor Laurel mattered, but only his love for his own daughter, and he sings “Longtime Sunshine” from the Pinkerton Deluxe as the planet is destroyed.  

Sources used:
Rivers Cuomo – Alone: The Home Demos of Rivers Cuomo (2007)
Rivers Cuomo – Alone II: The Home Demos of Rivers Cuomo (2008)
Rivers Cuomo – Alone III: The Pinkerton Years (2010)
Weezer – Pinkerton (deluxe edition, 2010)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR Pro and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included