If you can remember back to the first time you saw the video for Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song)” on MTV, I’m betting aces your thoughts were some combination of the letters “W”, “T”, and “F” followed by “AWESOME!” Mine too. It may come as a shock then, if you weren’t aware, that “Undone” was originally written to be a song of melancholy. Doggonit if Rivers Cuomo wasn’t trying to emote… But those dogs running around the set! Crazy, right?! I half expect blue sets and dogs in any ensuing Ear Pwr video for any track off their album, Super Animal Brothers III. Nix that. I expect pulsating strobe lights, glow sticks, vinyl clothing, candy flipping, and – dogs. Something along the lines of the 1999 film, Go. A.D.D. at its most unmedicated.
Ear Pwr is shocking in its unbridled abandonment to whatever whim strikes. Lyrically, SABIII is as scattered as you’d expect from an album with such a title. “Sparkley Sweater” – unlike “The Sweater Song” – certainly has no deeper meaning, what with lyrics like “Sparkley, sparkley sweater/Sparkley, sparkley sweater/You my favorite, you my favorite, you my favorite, favorite shirt”. Yes, “sparkley” is spelled incorrectly, and “you” is not “you’re”. I didn’t forget to use spell check. The title track gives more of the same: “You will be a tiger/I will be a manatee/Me, my animal brothers and me!” An unfathomable intellect is at work among us. The piÃ¨ce de résistance comes when Sarah Reynolds sings the line “Jams, oh jams” on the six second filler – you guessed it – “Jamz O Jamz”.
If ever the word “twee” were invented for good use, it would be now, and it would be this album. The backing dance instrumentation, if it can be called that, is so stunningly outdated, simple, and repetitive that it – at first – is hard not to ask, “Did they even try to make a quality record?” Maybe they just threw smiles and giggles at the microphone and hoped for the best.
And then something wonderful happens to this record after the listener (me, in this case) sets aside his critical nitpicking humbuggery and decides to enjoy himself. The result: these songs will nestle in a head. You’ll hum them at work, hum them in the shower, croon them to your bar of soap, all while embracing the smiles and giggles courtesy of Ear Pwr. That’s better than sitting around with your hands in your pants and a pickle face judging Ear Pwr to be mindless dross while preening your inflated ego.
The reason SABIII works is because it’s ludicrous. I was listening to the album recently when someone walked by and asked, “Is that video game music?” Yeah. SABIII takes its cues from the 8-bit glory of the NES. Anyone remember the themes to Zelda, Mario Brothers, or Punch Out? Those refrains stuck deep in your psyche even as you opened your Trapper Keeper up to take notes in Life Science, simple and ridiculous as those melodies were.
Electro is all the rage, but soon it will be hitting the wall just like emo did back in the late ’90s. The creativity will run out, and everything will sound slick and shiny. Ear Pwr, however, has no intention of driving the genre into the ground. Its overkill of spunk and glee is so overpowering that it becomes more challenging – and dare I say it – complex than a by-the-numbers rock/dance hybrid.
What holds SABIII back, however, is the same thing that begs for it to be heard: its indulgence of simplicity. Behind the enjoyment of listening to it, there is no lyrical meaning, no debate about the merits of its carefully structured and ground breaking sound. It is primarily – no, solitarily – a feel good record.
In not being middle of the road, Ear Pwr succeeds. SABIII becomes something else entirely. It is a straight-faced parody of dance music. No winking cynicism or sarcasm, it plays electro to the extreme, reveling in the gaudy frivolity, daring you to dissect and treat it like every other record instead of appreciating its complete lack of restraint.