A History in Weezer

Weezer are a strange band, indeed. I’m not talking about Rivers Cuomo’s psychosexual allusions all the way through Pinkerton or the Blue Album’s heart-firmly-on-sleeve odes to dorky teenagers playing Dungeons and Dragons in their prospective garages while worshiping Kiss (to massively oversimplify it). I’m talking about how they have such a rabid following, especially with people my age. Their inspiring comeback 7 or 8 years ago was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen– the band wedged themselves back into the public’s consciousness by simply reminding us of how good they made us felt when we were teenagers. And it wasn’t necessarily unwarranted, as those two albums perfectly encompass the skinned-knee rawness of what it was to be a teenager in the 90s. The band were part Cheap Trick, part Pixies, part Nirvana, part Beach Boys, a sliver of Ramones simpleness, and of course, (actual) emo’s confessionalism, back when it made something more personal instead of whiny. Their following albums range from dull (the Green album), to better than you think (Maladroit), to soul-mutilatingly awful (Make Believe). But the good will from those first two albums made them the most likable among the quirkier-than-thou bands that ruled modern rock radio back then, mostly because their quirkiness felt authentic when everyone else was either steeped in irony or faux-quirkiness to sell records.

Everyone that likes Weezer has a Weezer story. Mine’s mostly rooted in Pinkerton, as Pinkerton was the album that tanked initially that I liked despite that, therefore it was more mine. That and it was the album that brought me and my ex-girlfriend together. Then we broke up and I didn’t listen to it for a year. The album is perfect for nursing heartache and fostering awkward, rosy-cheeked love, as it is both raw and tuneful at once, like the Pixies filtered through an OG-emo lens. The Blue album, while I did enjoy it at 14, really came to be for me when linked arm and arm while hammered with 45 other people at some random party my freshman year of college, when Weezer were still reemerging and not making new music to be co-opted by the OC crowd.

Now despite being a total Maladroit apologist (which I will no doubt touch upon at some point in the near future in its own post), Weezer have yet to recapture the initial spark that kept their fanbase hungry through five inactive years. This is due almost completely to the fact that after the resounding rejection of Pinkerton‘s unabashed emotional purging, Rivers tucked himself back into his shell songwriting-wise, even though the world was ready for him to be a sappy, uber-personal bastard. And it wouldn’t be out of line to think that Weezer may never re-strike that sweet spot, as their massive, embarrassing failure Make Believe was the middle point of their latter period’s uninspired songwriting and the sort of faux-quirkiness they didn’t align themselves with in the post-Cobain wasteland of modern rock radio. The most one could seemingly hope for would be a few good songs every now and again (I’ll still stick up for “Beverly Hills” as a damn fine pop song among a bunch of vomit-encrusted ones) to be cherry picked into a boss iTunes playlist.

Or so I thought. Upon hearing “Pork and Beans”, the first single off of Weezer’s forthcoming album, the chorus hit me like seeing your best friend from middle school after 13 years. The interesting thing about growing up with a band like Weezer is that, when Rivers gets personal again, he’s getting personal about being a lame old man among the vapid, uber-hip mongoloids that currently populate pop culture, something anyone over the age of 25 that isn’t trying too hard can relate to. This is precisely what “Pork and Beans” is about; even despite cries of “I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you like.”, the rebellion isn’t rooted in youth, but wearing Hager slacks because they’re damn comfortable instead of whatever zebra print is sprawled across the emaciated bodies of American Apparel models. Add this to a simple chord progression straight off of the Blue album, and this marks the first time I’ve been excited about hearing a Weezer song since 2001, and this time, I’m not ambivalent about it.

The rest of the album, which leaked today, is incredibly scattershot, but most certainly not without its best-since-Pinkerton (or definitely since Maladroit) goodness. The one thing that can be said about it is that Rivers is being unapologetically personal for the first time since Pinkerton, and while it’s failed miserably for some after the age of 30 (ahem Jay-Z ahem), Rivers’ new self– lame old guy that still writes catchy songs– is certainly entertaining, if not extremely likable. The problem with Weezer’s generic phase was that, without the personal edge of their early work, it was hard to determine whether or not they truly gave a shit about what they were writing or doing. Their intentions were questionable, and with a video featuring Elisha Cuthbert, it was hard to tell whose side they were on– yours or MTV’s. If anything good can be said about the Red album, it’s that its heart is back on its sleeve, and it’s charming, if anything.

The album isn’t perfect… at all. In fact, there are some cringeworthy songs on there (Weezer have an uncanny knack for giving their extra-terrible songs extra-terrible names, with Make Believe‘s “We Are All on Drugs” and the Red Album’s “Everybody Get Dangerous” as great examples). But almost every song is packed with the passion that made me and many others love Weezer. “Troublemaker”, the opener, and “Dreamin'” are seemingly “Now That’s What I Call Music 36” contenders on first listen, but after a few more, they sound like an evolved version of the 1994 model. This is a hybrid version of Weezer running on the same confessional gas as before with a jolt from Generation iPhone. And “Heart Songs”, after 2 1/2 minutes of abysmal name-checking, recalls the sort of brilliant specificity that made “In the Garage” what it was.

The song everyone will talk about, though, will be the band’s sloppiest masterpiece since the sloppy masterpiece that was Pinkerton: “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”. The song is the worst song I’ve ever heard and the best song I’ve heard in a while all in one, which makes it a great song. In the span of almost six minutes, you’re transported from a rapping Rivers Cuomo (which, yes, is just about as awful as you think it would be), to some chugga-chugga rap metal that smacks of Sum 41, to some crooning, to some falsetto brilliance, to some multi-part harmonies, to some pop-punk trudging to… it doesn’t matter. The song is all over the place, which is something that Weezer have never done before. The spirit behind the song is what makes it so wonderful– the song is charmingly ambitious, which makes the worst parts (almost, as a rapping Rivers Cuomo is still pretty deplorable) forgivable, and more subject to repeat listens than any other song on the album. Plus, the entire song is based upon the Quaker hymn “‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple”, which makes this the best re-imagining of this song that I’ve heard since neo-classicist Aaron Copland got his mits on it back in the first half of the 20th century.

“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” recalls the best of Weezer in one ideology: if you loathe this, you have to be a really cynical bastard. I can’t think of anything Weezer have done since the oft-mentioned Pinkerton that has warranted that kind response. So, for real this time, welcome back, boys. Now can you take this energy and write a solid album from beginning to end?

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3 Responses to “A History in Weezer”

  1. brakefortoads Says:

    STOP TRYING TO JUSTIFY YOUR HAGER PANTS!

  2. micra Says:

    micra says : I absolutely agree with this !

  3. disc Rivers Cuomo Says:

    Rivers Cuomo – Blast off…

    That was a quite difficult period of time, because I think once you live through something like that and you are able to continue making songs, you’re pretty much tough for the rest of your time….

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