The very misleadingly-named Institute of Idle Time is hard at work again, this time compiling a definitive list dealing with the best albums of the 1990s. The topic got me to thinking about two of my favorite 90s bands, Weezer and Oasis. (Oh, who am I kidding? The topic of Weezer and/or Oasis is rarely far from my mind.) Both bands have fallen on hard times in the 00’s, putting out a string of mostly-forgettable albums, and coasting on the goodwill of chumps like me who still pony up for them. What happened?
I’ll tell you in one word, my friends: democratization. Both Oasis and Weezer were once ruled with an iron fist. In their golden era, Noel Gallagher and Rivers Cuomo were white-hot supernovas of ambition and megalomania, driven by demons, and would not allow any other band member to take the all-important songwriting reins. Since those days, bellies and bank accounts have reached their fill, ambition and passion have cooled, and both Gallagher and Cuomo have announced, with no little sense of self-congratulation, that the songwriting in their bands is no longer a one-man show. Weezer and Oasis have switched from an autocracy to a democracy. And they have clearly suffered for it.
Has Cuomo’s and Gallagher’s talent faded since they became well-adjusted family men relieved of their personal demons? (Noel’s personal demon: his valiant, one-man attempt to hoover up most of the world’s supply of cocaine. Rivers’ personal demon: being a difficult, twitchy weirdo.) Hard to say, since they no longer write enough to judge. They shrewdly realized it was silly to knock themselves out penning and polishing ten or twelve exquisitely crafted pop jewels for each album as they did in their mid-90s heyday. They’re not hurting for cash (i.e. royalties), and it’s far easier to deliver two or three knockout numbers on par with their earlier work, and a couple of filler tunes, then proceed to leave the rest to the second guitarist, or even the drummer (!). Surely the bassist has a bulging knapsack chock full of a backlog of songs written in his little Mead notebook (some even dating from his junior college days in a shoegaze band) that had previously been suppressed by the benign dictatorship of the resident band genius. Surely these unheard gems can be trotted out, tweaked and re-arranged a little, and made into a passable track #8 on the new album so the resident band genius can spend more time working on his 2011 solo album and being interviewed by Mojo. Sadly, this seems to be the case.
The only way these bands can reclaim their former glory is for these guys to roll the tanks of their songwriting genius into the Tiennamen Square of the recording studio, and crush the infant serpent of band democracy beneath their jackbooted heel.
And if at all possible, avoid posing on their album cover in a cowboy hat and Brooks & Dunn moustache.