Stressed Out: Weezer, “No Other One” (1996)

One of rock’s preeminent fascinations as a genre is that it allows an amazingly wide assortment of ugly noises and nonmusical values to be snatched up improbably into music that works.  Too loud, too raspy, too whiny, too chaotic, too rudimentary all become pieces of greatness.

Add to that list “stressed out,” implying not loss of energy so much as loss of fine control, inability to discriminate and modulate, and, in general, being reduced to just barely hanging on at the end of a too-demanding day (or relationship).  Weezer sounds that way in “No Other One,” a song about hanging onto a grossly flawed lover faute de mieux.

How do you do it?  You play with mere doggedness, not drive, and in weary unison, suppressing anything that could sound like alert interaction among the voices.  You declaim loudly in a slow meter—a waltz, actually, which gives a sense of circling and not really getting anywhere.  You repeat simple phrases, like “no other one,” not in joy but as though synapses are failing.  You use a slide in the instrumental part of the refrain to give a sense of the edges of things being worn off.  (Come to think of it, slide guitar has an impressive power to lay on dabs of stressed-outness in many different settings.)  You throw in an unforeseeable falsetto note to hint that the singer could lose his head at any moment.

But this is a great experience:  the stressed-out world of “No Other One” is infiltrated by order and beauty.  There are drive and counterpoint and sharp edges, sometimes even saliently (the second verse, moments in the last chorus), and the singer does have heroic composure.  You can hear all your favorite musical values while the song as a whole wears you down.

The Rolling Stones are often praised, on Exile on Main Street in particular, for making a sense of sleaziness and staleness a compelling musical value.  But that sleaze is the Stones’ home atmosphere; since they’re always wallowing in it, there’s no sense of incongruity about it.  Weezer’s norm, in contrast, is to work with pop song structures that noticeably derive from a chipper 1950s sensibility and to give a rougher feel to that pop with elements of punk and metal, all redeemed by a sweet net effect.  So there is a fairly sharp incongruity already in their formula.  But “No Other One” is rougher and has scarcely any sweetness at all, as though Weezer lost the use of the muscles that make the corners of the mouth turn up or the eye wink.

Setting aside the mordant lyrical content, the chords and melody and tempo of this song make it sound like it was written first for a tender performance, even a lullaby, by another kind of artist entirely, but then Weezer got hold of it—at the end of a very long day—and bashed out an abusive cover version.  My uncertainty whether Weezer is even playing their own song seals the stressed-out deal.  I’m lost in admiration at the perfection in their abdication.

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Passions & Attitudes, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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