The Smile of the modern rock era.
The story of Songs From the Black Hole, the unreleased, uncompleted album from rock quartet Weezer almost completely parallels that of the The Beach Boys fabled unreleased album. Both were slated as follow-ups to the band’s most heralded album (For the Beach Boys Pet Sounds, for Weezer The Blue Album), both consisted of very high-concept ideas, both were given an extensive amount of work by both frontmen in the face of debilitating illness and injury (Brian Wilson and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo) and both have seen incredibly strong demand for the material to be released despite the fact that the material was never completely finished. And while Brian Wilson finally finished and released his Smile project in 2004, Songs From the Black Hole remains an uncompleted project. While much has been said about Brian Wilson’s once-unfinished project, the lesser-told story of Songs From the Black Hole’s past, and possible future, is just as interesting.
Songs From the Black Hole was first conceived in December 1994. Rivers Cuomo was in his home state of Connecticut taking a month-long Christmas break with his family. With his 8-track recorder, Cuomo laid down the first demos for the project. Inspired by musicals and operas, the album was intended as a rock opera or as Cuomo stated “a whole album of songs transed (sic) together” comparing it to Side Two of The Beatles Abbey Road.
By February 1995, Rivers had a good idea of what the SFTBH tracklist would look like. Thus, while stranded on tour in Hamburg, Germany for a week, Weezer drummer Pat Wilson and Rivers demoed most of the songs slated for the album on an ADAT tape system. By this point, it appeared that SFTBH would be the follow up to The Blue Album, which had already gone platinum.
As winter turned to spring in 1995, Rivers had an operation to fix a birth defect which left his left leg 44 millimeters shorter than his right. As a result of the operation, he spent a year wearing a painful metal cage over his leg. He suffered great pain while moving and even had trouble holding his guitar and he was frequently taking painkillers to help him get through his days. During this time the band was touring often although Songs From the Black Hole was on their minds. Thus as touring died down, the band hit the studio in August and early September of that year. Doing full-band sessions for Songs From the Black Hole at Electric Lady Studios, where the band had recorded The Blue Album.Yet as official Weezer historian Karl Koch noted “Those sessions failed to come together in a way that felt “right” for the Black Hole concept, and in my opinion, Rivers began to question the direction of the second album.” A couple of songs from these sessions ended up on the band’s eventual second release Pinkerton.
By September ’95, Rivers disappeared to study at Harvard University, citing a disillusionment with the rock star life. As he studied, he attempted to re-compile a new track listing using newly penned songs “Who You Callin’ Bitch?”, “Please Remember” and a reprise to “Superfriend” as well as “Lisa,” which was a demo tracked the year before and was not previously part of the album concept. He also took out numerous songs that apparently were no longer needed “Getchoo,” “No Other One,” “Devotion,” “Why Bother?”, “Longtime Sunshine” and its reprise. Some of these songs were removed because he felt the project would live on, but not as their second album. Koch cites that these songs had “new status as “real album 2” songs” and thus the removed songs would appear on a different project that would become their second album Pinkerton. At this point, it seems Cuomo was willing to put the project on hold and release a new album outside of the concept of Songs From the Black Hole but still using some of it’s songs, yet he still felt the project was still alive.
But in January 1996 when the band assembled in Van Nuys, California and started sessions for album #2, they were no longer working on Songs from the Black Hole but a different project altogether. The Songs from the Black Hole project was officially dead and as Karl stated, “The focus was entirely on creating the much different Pinkerton."
Yet upon its September 24th, 1996 release, Pinkerton contained four songs from the Songs From the Black Hole sessions, “Getchoo”, “No Other One”, “Tired of Sex” and “Why Bother?” The leadoff single El Scorcho came packaged in a CD-single that contained another SFTBH song as a B-Side, “Devotion.” In 1997, the band released The Good Life OZ e.p in Australia which contained another SFTBH song as a B-side, “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams.”
From 1996 through 2001 the band didn’t release a new LP. Yet upon their return to the live scene in summer 2000 the band’s second album Pinkerton had gone from a commercial-failure to a cult classic and an influence on many newer recording artists. As their fanbase had grew to a much larger size, interest for the album-that-could-have-been was quite high. In Fall 2001, fans were jubilant to catch a quick blast to the past of the SFTBH days as a behind-the-scenes video for their shoot of the Island in the Sun video contained brief footage of Rivers playing “Longtime Sunshine” to director Spike Jonze on an acoustic guitar.
In January 2002, during production for Weezer’s fourth album Maladroit, while engaging in a discussion with posters on Weezer.com message boards as Cuomo did frequently during 2002 (the boards even received a “special thanks” in the Maladroit liner notes) the unreleased SFTBH song “Blast Off!” was brought up in discussion. To the delight of fans a rough demo of the song Rivers once called “One of the best melodies anybody’s ever written” was released on the Weezer.com audio/visual page. Throughout 2002, “Longtime Sunshine”, “Come to My Pod” and “Oh No This Is Not For Me” joined “Blast Off!” on the audio/visual page and the public was given an idea of how great the completed Songs From the Black Hole project could’ve been. The four songs all consisted of demos either made by Rivers in Christmas ’94 or by Rivers and Pat in Hamburg.
In the fall of 2003, Buddyhead Records released a compilation titled Gimmie Skelter that featured yet another SFTBH song, this one titled “You Won’t Get With Me Tonight.” When Weezer’s first DVD Video Capture Device was released in March 2004, it contained a clip of the band tracking a demo for “I Just Threw Out The Love of My Dreams” with Rivers on vocals (the released version has Rachel Haden on vocals) and contained two brief teases of the SFTBH song “Superfriend.” One showing Rivers circa 1995 practicing the song on his acoustic guitar, the other a low-quality video of the band recording the song in Van Nuys which contains over half of the song, yet with incomprehensible lyrics and a load telephone ringing in the background. As a result of the two brief teases, the rabid Weezer fanbase has demand to hear all of “Superfriend.” Yet as of today, the song and the Songs From the Black Hole project, remain uncompleted and unreleased.
The SFTBH material came up again on October 4th, 2005 during a Weezer show at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. The band invited a fan up onstage to play the rhythm guitar for Undone - The Sweater Song. The fan took advantage of this moment to attempt to get the band to play "Blast Off!" by beginning to play the intro to the song and sang the first four lines of the song before Rivers laughed and jokingly pushed him away from the mic. After they finished "Undone," =w= guitarist Brian Bell and Rivers all shared a nice laugh at the fan's clever idea.
They are still many unanswered questions behind Songs From the Black Hole. What exactly was the story of the album? It is assumed it deals with a romance and space travel, yet beyond that little is known. “Blast Off!” leaves the only clues of the albums story, as common interpretation is that each stanza of the song appears to be a line spoken by a character prior to a group of young teens going on a space mission. The first character is upset that he isn’t happier with his good situation (“Somebody's giving me a whole lot of money to do what I think I want to/So why am I still feeling blue?”) while the second character, who is a good friend of the first, tries to get him to cheer up a bit (“God damn, get your head out of your hand!/Here's to all the times we're gonna have/Cooped up for a year with the two best-looking babes I've seen all year”). The fourth stanza includes a robotic voice (done by having Rivers sing through a vocoder) stating mission orders for them (“So don't forget the purpose of the mission/Or Nomis will get swallowed by its sun/Each one of you is a top graduate of the Star Corp Academy”). The final stanza finds a character (presumably the first one to “speak” in the song) observing a girl he remembers from his past who will be on the mission with him ("Hold on, who is it here that I see?/Wasn't she a favorite bitch in the academy?").
The question of the story also begs the question of the characters within the album. Most rock operas, while often making broad remarks on a certain subject, tell the story of a certain cast of characters. Who are the characters in the story it tells? Judging by the song titles, Jonas, Maria and Lisa seem to be the main characters. It’s worth noting that Weezer has released songs titled “My Name is Jonas” (The Blue Album) and “O Lisa” (a Green Album B-Side), both have nothing to do with the Songs from the Black Hole concept though.
And although many of the songs written for Songs from the Black Hole have been heard, of the 21 songs (including reprises) that were ever slated for the project, ten have never been heard in any form. What do these ten compositions sound like? Not to mention none of the songs were ever truly 100% finished in the way they were originally conceived for the concept, even if they were released on other releases. Thus even the songs released on Pinkerton and as B-sides to that album would sound different or could be seen in a different light within the concept of SFTBH.
And most importantly, will the world ever hear a completed version of Songs From the Black Hole? Karl Koch has hinted before that the project could possibly be on the agenda of Rivers and Weezer much further down the line. But if the project is ever completed, how will it be completed? Will it be in the vein of Smile, having Rivers or Weezer enter the studio again to complete the Songs from the Black Hole project? Considering the album had one tracklist and one vision prior to Rivers’ sorting out an entirely new tracklist in September 1995 the album could be reworked in one of the two tracklists that it was originally supposed to consist of, or the final product could contain every single composition ever intended for the album, also similar to Wilson’s 2004 version of Smile. The other option would be to do it in the vein of Nirvana’s collection of unreleased material With The Lights Out, in which the master tapes of the unfinished Songs from the Black Hole sessions would be released with enhanced audio quality.
The complete list of songs once considered for Songs From the Black Hole:
Blast Off! (released on the Weezer.com A/V page)
Come to My Pod (released on the Weezer.com A/V page)
Devotion (released as a Pinkerton B-Side)
Dude We're Finally Landing aka Good News! (unreleased)
Getchoo (released on Pinkerton)
I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams (released as a Pinkerton B-Side)
Longtime Sunshine (released on the Weezer.com A/V page)
Longtime Sunshine reprise (unreleased)
No Other One (released on Pinkerton)
Now I Finally See (unreleased)
Oh Jonas aka Maria's Theme (unreleased)
Oh No This is Not For Me aka This is Not for Me (released on the Weezer.com A/V page)
Please Remember (unreleased)
She's Had a Girl (unreleased)
Superfriend Reprise (unreleased)
Tired of Sex (released on Pinkerton)
What is This I Find? (unreleased)
Who You Callin' Bitch? (unreleased)
Why Bother? (released on Pinkerton)
You Won't Get With Me Tonight (released on Buddyhead Records comp album Gimmie Skelter)
Weezer.com’s recording history
Rivers’ Edge: The Weezer Story by John D. Luerssen.
NOTES & FURTHER READING:
* The released Songs From the Black Hole MP3s can be found at www.sftbh.com
* A great and very recent interview with Karl Koch on the project can be found at http://www.diversifiedrecords.com/SFTBHpod/viewtopic.php?t=13