I can still remember the day a teacher, and friend, of mine handed me an album thinking I would like it. It was not new but it was not yet outdated. The album was simple and minimalistic in appearance. It was simply a blue disc that had white lettering on it that simply said “Weezer.” Upon placing it in the CD player of my car the incredible opus of “My Name is Jonas” immediately had me hooked and Weezer has been one of my favorite bands since that moment. Many serious fans of music will understand my love of the Weezer of old. This support usually runs out around the third or fourth album, however, and they have been scorned and ridiculed by most critics since. This article is my attempt to explain why Weezer continues to be a great band who make great music.
The appeal to early Weezer is immediately apparent to listeners. At the time it was the anti-hero rock band. The lead singer and principal songwriter, Rivers Cuomo, was the most unlikely rock star on the face of the Earth and we loved him for it. A shy and reserved man, his songs were surprisingly bold and unforgiving. It gave the listener the sense of listening to an introvert’s personal diary, eavesdropping on his most personal and transparent thoughts.
In what is commonly referred to as “The Blue Album,” Weezer showed an incredible pop sensibility in tracks like “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and the anthemic “Buddy Holly,” but proved that they loved to write powerful rock songs like “Say it Ain’t So.” This album gave Weezer much attention and a mainstream following but it was their sophomore release that would cause them to be shunned by the mainstream yet loved even more by serious fans.
The album “Pinkerton” is generally agreed to be Weezer’s masterpiece and the apex of the band’s career. If “The Blue Album” was unforgiving and transparent, “Pinkerton” was a swift kick through a glass wall. It delved into themes that made a mainstream audience uncomfortable in it’s representation of a young man’s life and made no apologies lyrically or musically. Upon it’s release, critics hated the album and were not afraid to say so. Weezer fans stood behind the band, however, and after time had passed, most critics came to realize the brilliance in Pinkerton and revised their former reviews.
The next album from the band saw a return to their pop sensibility as well as a return to mass appeal. What is commonly referred to as “The Green Album,” was hook after hook of wonderful pop rock songs. Lyrically, Rivers Cuomo began to change his style a bit. Many might say it was the inevitable blow of growing up and no longer feeling the need to describe young adulthood and the angst that portrayed most of Weezer’s lyrical content. While Rivers was never considered much of a poet, his simplistic lyrics had a charm and accuracy to them that was rare and continues to be today. The band’s third album was not “Pinkerton” but it ushered the band into a new era of the study of the pop song. Classic Weezer songs like “Hash Pipe” and the lovely “Islands in the Sun” proved that Weezer was unpredictable.
This unpredictability caused many of their fans to abandon the band upon the release their fourth album, “Maladroit.” This album is by far the band’s most peculiar release and is generally considered by most to be the first in a long run of terrible music. “Maladroit” concerned itself less with pop music, with the exception of the two singles, and explored a bit darker themes for the band. At this juncture in the band, Rivers was becoming a more sporadic “twisted genius” type of character and delved into more self loathing lyrical concepts. He maintained his tongue in cheek humor but used it instead as a self deprecating tool. His view of the outside world that so many had related to was suddenly turned more inward and offered even more transparent and revealing leaving most scratching their heads. Rest assured there were still the hooks and catchy pop songs like “Keep Fishin” and “Dope Nose,” but the darker songs like “Slob” and “Take Control” left many fans shaking their heads and walking away.
Their next release took the theme of self loathing to a new level. In “Make Believe” the Weezer fans who walked away from “Maladroit” were simply reassured they had made the right choice. It seemed as though Weezer had lost their way. When the first single of the album was released, “Beverly Hills” was generally agreed to be mediocre at best and a poor attempt for a once great band. The rest of the album was Rivers’ cry for help. He had alienated many around him and was obviously in a very dark place in his life that is evident in just the titles of tracks like “Hold Me” and “This is Such a Pity.” The album saw Weezer as low and uninteresting as is possible and the future of the band was unclear.
It would be three years until Weezer fans would learn the fate of the band they had loved at one time. “The Red Album” carried with it high hopes of a return to the “old days.” It started out positive when the name of the album echoed of the past, “The Red Album,” and it sported one of the greatest album covers ever seen by fans. Once the album was released it met mixed feelings. For many fans of “Pinkerton” Weezer was beyond the point of redemption and the album, as a result, was a sell out move by a band who didn’t resemble the band of old in the slightest way. Lyrically, Rivers had arisen from his dark lull and had entered a new phase of confidence. The lyrics remained simplistic but contained less angst than past albums and more word play and tongue in cheek experiments. This album also saw the first time that other band members, besides only Rivers, contributed songs and lyrics to the album. “The Red Album” was a bit scattered and confusing, but it was a lot of fun compared to the previous several albums. Musically the band took more risks than ever experimenting with vastly different musical themes in a single song, even offering a mini rock opera in the the second track of the album in “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.” It is the view of the author that was a swift upward shift for the band. Musically it was more interesting than anything they had done before, and lyrically, while not being as profound as their first two albums, was profoundly better than Weezer’s more previous albums.
Weezer’s newest release, “Raditude,” was again ignored by Weezer fans who’d lost all hope. The album maintained the light hearted attitude of “The Red Album” but contained much more structure and flow. Rivers took his experimentation of somewhat arbitrary pop lyrics ahead in fantastic songs like “If You’re Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)” and took tongue in cheek to a new level with “I Can’t Stop Partying” that featured the illustrious Lil Wayne.
Taking into account Weezer as a whole, as opposed to simply ignoring them after their first few albums, the band has been on a roller coaster of a ride. They started on a high note appealing to a young generation who criticized everything around them and saw the inherent humor and confusion around them. As the band grew, so did their audience, turning their criticism towards the band itself. They are definitely not the same band they once were. The fans who abandoned ship expected the band not to change and continue to sing about teen angst long into adulthood. While I will agree that the band has not been able to produce an album quite like “Pinkerton,” which had just as much to do about timing as it did the music itself, the band has entered a new phase creating great pop music with the same humor a musical prowess that they have always possessed. So for those fans who like the new Weezer and haven’t given the old stuff a chance, you are missing out on some of the best music created in the 1990s and for those fans of the old who brush Weezer aside as “sell-outs,” I ask you to listen with the perspective of a band who is allowed to change. If you are able to listen objectively, I believe you will find many of the old factors that are still apparent in the band that wooed so many of us with that single blue disc 16 years ago.