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 rock and roll success. Its six characters were to be voiced by Cuomo, guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Matt Sharp of Weezer, Rachel Haden of That Dog and the Rentals, Joan Wasser of the Dambuilders, and Weezer collaborator Karl Koch.
Cuomo recorded demos for Songs from the Black Hole over Christmas 1994, and Weezer worked on the album 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 and Weezer's second album became Pinkerton (1996), featuring songs once intended for Songs from the Black Hole and new songs written at Harvard.
Two Songs from the Black Hole tracks, "I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams" (with Haden on vocals) and "Devotion", were released as B-sides for the Pinkerton singles "El Scorcho" and "The Good Life" respectively. Many of Cuomo's demos were eventually released across 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), and on the 2010 "deluxe" reissue of Pinkerton. Lyrics and sheet music were included with The Pinkerton Diaries, a book collecting Cuomo's writings from the era. In 2007, Rolling Stone named Songs from the Black Hole one of rock music's "mythical lost masterpieces".
Weezer's self-titled debut album, also known as the Blue album, was released in May 1994 and became a commercial success; it was certified gold on December 1 and platinum on January 1, 1995, with sales of over one million. Songwriter Rivers Cuomo wrote 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.'" He had also developed a "huge inferiority complex" about rock music, saying: "I thought my songs were really simplistic and silly, and I wanted to write complex, intense, beautiful music." Touring with Weezer, he listened to the operas Aida (1871) and Madama Butterfly (1904), the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), and the musical Les Misérables (1980). Inspired by how these works married music and narrative, he decided to write a rock opera to explore his feelings about relationships, fame, and his life as a touring musician.
In 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 (Weezer collaborator Karl Koch), urges the crew to stay focused on their objective. Jonas becomes involved in a love triangle with "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 Betsy II reaches its destination, Jonas is disillusioned and longs to return to a simpler life.
Cuomo said the story was a metaphor for his conflicted feelings about "heading out on tour and up the charts with a rock band." The ship's name Betsy II is taken from Weezer's first tour bus, nicknamed Betsy; M1 represents Weezer's management and record label; Wuan and Dondó represent the part of Cuomo that was excited about rock and roll success; Jonas represents his doubts and longing; Laurel and Maria represent his relationships with women.
Recording and abandonment
Cuomo recorded demos for Songs from the Black Hole on an 8-track recorder at his family home in Connecticut over Christmas 1994. Most of the songs already existed and were rewritten to fit the Songs for the Black Hole concept. Cuomo performed every part himself, pitch-shifting his voice for the female characters. Wanting to add a "sci-fi" element to Weezer's sound, he used synthesizers including a Electrocomp 101 monophonic synthesizer he had recently purchased from a pawn shop in rural Connecticut. By February, he had completed an initial track list. While Weezer was on tour in Europe later that month, Sharp returned to America because of a family emergency, leaving the band stranded in Hamburg for a week. Cuomo 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, who was born with one leg shorter than the other, 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 began in August 1995 in New York City's Electric Lady Studios, where Weezer had recorded their debut album, but the new sessions were not productive. Further sessions were held in September and October, and Weezer recorded versions of "Blast Off!", "Longtime Sunshine", "I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams", "Tired of Sex" and "Getchoo". Weezer had not yet abandoned Songs from the Black Hole, but the songs were recorded, according to Koch, 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, according to Koch, "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, expressing his loneliness and frustration at Harvard, and Songs from the Black Hole was abandoned. 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 became Pinkerton, released on September 24, 1996. It includes "Tired of Sex", "Getchoo" and "No Other One": songs written before Songs from the Black Hole was conceived, rewritten to fit the Black Hole concept, and finally rewritten again for 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 of his demos with Weezer's record label Geffen Records, including Songs from the Black Hole tracks, but the label feared it would "dilute" the Weezer brand. Fans petitioned to have Songs from the Black Hole released. On December 18, 2007, after further negotiation with Geffen, Cuomo released Alone - The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo, a compilation 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".
On November 25, 2008, Cuomo released 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" reissue 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, Cuomo released 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 sold exclusively 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." In a December 2014 article titled "Weezer's 'lost' science-fiction rock opera is better than almost everything they've released in the last fifteen years", Vice wrote that Songs from the Black Hole "deserves to be ahead of most records in every Weezer fan's collection."
Reviewing Alone, Pitchfork writer Jason Crock felt that the Black Hole demo "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, Crock 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 2009 EP IDIOMS vol. I. In 2013, the Weezer tribute act Operation Space Opera released an album recreating Songs from the Black Hole from 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"|
|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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- Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo (liner notes). Rivers Cuomo. DGC, Interscope Records. 2008. B0012341-02
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- Bassil, Ryan (December 4, 2014). "Weezer's "lost" science-fiction rock opera is better than almost everything they've released in the last fifteen years". Vice. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
- Kharas, Kev. "Weezer's Rivers Cuomo to release solo album". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007. Retrieved October 16, 2007.
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- Breihan, Tom (September 27, 2010). "Weezer Reveal Pinkerton Reissue Details". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
- Pelly, Jenn (November 11, 2011). "Rivers Cuomo Releasing Pinkerton Diaries Book and Demos Comp Alone III". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
- "Lost Music: Green Day's Stolen Album, Kurt's Demos and Other Mythical Masterpieces". Rolling Stone. February 9, 2007. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
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- Crock, Jason (December 8, 2014). "Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo". Pitchfork. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
- Munro, Tyler (September 7, 2012). "Ambitious fans remake Weezer's lost rock opera, "Songs From The Black Hole"". Aux. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
- Further reading
- Cuomo, Rivers (2011). The Pinkerton Diaries.