Songs from the Black Hole
|Songs from the Black Hole|
|Studio album by Weezer|
|Recorded||December 1994 - June 1996|
|Genre||Alternative rock, power pop|
Songs from the Black Hole is an unfinished, unreleased album by the American alternative rock band Weezer, once intended to follow their 1994 self-titled debut album. It was to be a science fiction rock opera that expressed songwriter Rivers Cuomo's mixed feelings about success, feeling he was "lost in space". Its six characters were to be voiced by Cuomo, Brian Bell and Matt Sharp of Weezer, Rachel Haden of That Dog and the Rentals, Joan Wasser of the Dambuilders, and friend of Weezer Karl Koch.
Cuomo recorded demos for Songs from the Black Hole over Christmas 1994, and developed the concept further with Weezer in recording sessions over the following year. At the end of 1995, Cuomo enrolled at Harvard University, where his songwriting became darker and more confessional. Feeling the Black Hole concept was "too whimsical", he abandoned it in favor of Pinkerton (1996), featuring some songs once intended for Songs from the Black Hole and new material written at Harvard.
In 2007, Rolling Stone named Songs from the Black Hole one of rock music's "mythical lost masterpieces." Many of Cuomo's demos were eventually released on the compilation albums Alone - The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo (2007), Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo (2008) and Alone III: The Pinkerton Years (2011).
Weezer's self-titled debut album was released in 1994 and was a commercial and critical success. Songwriter Rivers Cuomo told Rolling Stone that success had "stirred up a lot of mixed feelings in me – 'Yay, I'm happy' as well as 'I'm not sure this is the life I want to lead.'" Touring with Weezer, Cuomo had been listening to the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), the musical Les Misérables (1980), and the operas Aida (1871) and Madama Butterfly (1904); he admired "how these works married music and drama, how the different characters would sing to each other instead of talk and how the story unfolded through song." He decided that a musical drama could be "the larger scale composition I wanted to write for Weezer's second record: a new-wave influenced rock musical in which I could explore my feelings about relationships, stardom, and my life in Weezer."
In the year 2126, the spaceship Betsy II embarks on a galaxy-wide mission. Crew members Wuan (to be voiced by Weezer guitarist Brian Bell) and Dondó (bassist Matt Sharp) are in high spirits, but the ship's captain, Jonas (Cuomo), has mixed feelings. The ship's robot, M1 (friend of the band Karl Koch), urges the crew to stay focused on their objective. Jonas becomes involved in a love triangle with the crew's two other members, "good girl" Laurel (Rachel Haden of That Dog and the Rentals), and the ship's cook, "bad girl" Maria (Joan Wasser of the Dambuilders), with whom he fathers a child. When the ship finally reaches its destination, Jonas is disillusioned and longs to return to a simpler life.
Cuomo said the story was a metaphor for "taking off, going out on the road and up the charts with a rock band, which is what was happening to me at the time I was writing this and feeling like I was lost in space." The ship's name Betsy II is taken from Weezer's first tour bus, nicknamed Betsy; Wuan and Dondó represent the part of Cuomo that was excited about rock and roll success; Jonas represents his doubts and longing; Maria and Laurel represent his relationships with women.
Recording and abandonment
Cuomo recorded demos for Songs from the Black Hole on an 8-track at his family home in Connecticut over Christmas 1994. Most of the songs were written before Songs for the Black Hole was conceived and "reshaped" to fit the new concept. Cuomo performed every part himself, pitch-shifting his voice for the female vocals. In January 1995, he purchased Electro-Harmonix and Korg synthesizers, wanting to add a new wave, "sci-fi" element to Weezer's guitar rock sound. By February, he had completed an initial track list. While Weezer was on tour in Europe later that month, bassist Matt Sharp returned to America due to a family emergency, leaving the band stranded in Hamburg for a week. Cuomo and drummer Pat Wilson rented a recording studio and recorded additional demos, including a version of "Blast Off!" using a vocoder for the robot character of M1.
In March 1995, Cuomo had extensive surgery to lengthen his leg, followed by months of painful physiotherapy sessions. This affected his songwriting, as he would spend long periods hospitalized under the influence of painkillers. According to Cuomo, around this time the rock opera concept "started to feel too whimsical for where I was emotionally, going through the pain of the procedure ... I went to a more serious and dark place."
Recording sessions for Weezer's second album began in earnest in August 1995 in New York City's Electric Lady Studios, where their debut album was recorded, but were not productive. Weezer decided against hiring a producer, feeling that "the best way for us to sound like ourselves is to record on our own." Further sessions were held in September and October, and Weezer recorded versions of "Waiting on You", "Blast Off!", "Longtime Sunshine", "I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams", "Tired of Sex", "Getchoo", and "Why Bother?". Cuomo had not yet abandoned Songs from the Black Hole, but the songs were recorded with "no story, no theatrics, no characters."
At the end of 1995, wanting to "escape the limelight", Cuomo enrolled at Harvard University to study classical composition. Becoming socially isolated, and still recovering from surgery, Cuomo's songwriting became "darker, more visceral and exposed, less playful." In January 1996, Weezer restarted recording in Los Angeles at Sound City Studios with new material. The Songs from the Black Hole tracks "Superfriend", "She's Had a Girl" and "Dude, We're Finally Landing" were recorded, but shelved.
By May 1996, Cuomo had settled on a new direction for Weezer's second album, infusing Japanese allusions with his romantic disappointments and frustration, and Songs from the Black Hole was abandoned. Apart from Cuomo's change of direction, the decision was influenced by that year's release of Return of the Rentals, the debut album by Sharp's band the Rentals, as Cuomo felt it shared many musical and lyrical themes.
Weezer's second album, Pinkerton, was released on September 24, 1996. It includes "Tired of Sex", "Getchoo", "No Other One", and "Why Bother?" – songs written before Songs from the Black Hole was conceived, altered to fit the concept, and finally altered again for inclusion on Pinkerton. In June 1996, after Pinkerton's completion, Weezer recorded the Songs from the Black Hole tracks "I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams" (with Rachel Haden on vocals) and "Devotion" as B-sides for the singles "El Scorcho" and "The Good Life" respectively.
In 1998, Cuomo discussed releasing a compilation album of his demos with Weezer's record company Geffen Records, including Songs from the Black Hole tracks, but the label feared it would "dilute" the Weezer brand. On December 18, 2007, after further pressure from Cuomo, Geffen released Alone - The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo, a collection of his demos recorded from 1992 to 2007. The album includes five Songs From the Black Hole demos: "Longtime Sunshine", "Blast Off!", "Who You Callin' Bitch?", "Dude, We're Finally Landing", and "Superfriend". Cuomo considered releasing the unfinished Songs from the Black Hole in its entirety, but felt "it wouldn't really stand up, like it wouldn't be a very good listen."
On November 25, 2008, Geffen released a second album of Cuomo's demos, Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo, including "Oh Jonas", "Please Remember" and "Come to My Pod". On November 2, 2010, Geffen released a "Deluxe" edition of Pinkerton, including a version of "Longtime Sunshine" recorded at Electric Lady Studios in August 1995 and Cuomo's demo of "You Won't Get With Me Tonight".
On December 12, 2011, Geffen released a third album of Cuomo's demos, Alone III: The Pinkerton Years, including a "Suite from the Black Hole" comprising "Oh No, This Is Not For Me", "Tired of Sex", "She's Had a Girl", "What is This I Find?", "Now I Finally See" and "Longtime Sunshine". The album was included with a book, The Pinkerton Diaries, which collects Cuomo's writings from the era, including Songs from the Black Hole lyrics and sheet music.
In 2007, Rolling Stone named Songs from the Black Hole one of rock music's "mythical lost masterpieces." In 2012, Complex included the album on its list of "50 Unreleased Albums We'd Kill to Hear", writing that "most of Weezer's best material was recorded during the Blue Album to Pinkerton era. Naturally, we'd love to see more Weezer records from the period." In June 2014, the NME included the album on its list of "25 Unreleased Albums We'd Really Love To Hear", but conceded that Pinkerton was "not exactly the worst second prize."
Reviewing Alone, Pitchfork felt that "Blast Off!" was the album's "crown jewel", writing that "it is such a fleeting rush of distortion-driven joy that the edges of the supposed dialogue are entirely blurred, and are hardly essential to enjoy it ... [it is] at least on par with Pinkerton's stellar B-sides (many of which would have made up Songs from the Black Hole)." Reviewing Alone II, Pitchfork found that its Songs from the Black Hole demos were "all goofy, off-the-cuff, and charming."
The American band Tera Melos included a cover of "Blast Off!" on their covers EP IDIOMS vol. I (2009). In 2013, the Weezer tribute act Operation Space Opera released an album recreating Songs from the Black Hole in its entirety, based on Cuomo's demos and writing.
Cuomo compiled track list 1 in February 1995 and track list 2 in late 1995.
Track list 1
|2.||"You Won't Get With Me Tonight"|
|4.||"Come to My Pod"|
|5.||"This is Not For Me"|
|6.||"Tired of Sex"|
|8.||"She's Had a Girl"|
|10.||"Now I Finally See"|
|12.||"I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams"|
|13.||"No Other One"|
|15.||"What is This I Find?"|
|17.||"Longtime Sunshine (Reprise)"|
Track list 2
|2.||"Who You Callin' Bitch?"|
|5.||"Come to My Pod"|
|6.||"Oh No, This is Not For Me"|
|7.||"Tired of Sex"|
|8.||"She's Had a Girl"|
|9.||"Dude, We're Finally Landing (formerly "Good News!")"|
|10.||"Now I Finally See"|
|11.||"I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams"|
|14.||"You Won't Get With Me Tonight"|
|15.||"What is This I Find?"|
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