With the new Weezer album fresh in my mind, the time seems right to take a step back and examine the band’s career. Weezer has been a constant source of frustration for fans, although few can agree on exactly what it is the band should be doing in place of what it is they are. For the large number of Weezer fans who are disappointed, there are fewer answers for the question of what went wrong. For me, the story of Weezer amounts to how much it seems like the band gives a damn about what they’re doing. Let’s start at the beginning:
The Blue Album:
Throughout the 90’s, there wasn’t a better example of guitar-based pop music released. At least that’s the common line of thought. “The Blue Album” is a very good record, but nostalgia has made us forget the flaws inherent in it. The singles are especially strong, but the rest of the album pales in comparison. “Buddy Holly” is rightfully a classic, as is “Say It Ain’t So”, but there really isn’t much meat on the bone beyond those two songs. “My Name Is Jonas” doesn’t have a strong melody, “Only In Dreams” is was too long for its own good, and “In The Garage” is a lyrical conceit without much weight behind it. “Holiday” is the best non-single, a bouncing melody wrapped up in a Beach Boys influence. We weren’t used to hearing pop of this variety played with crunching distortion, and while “The Blue Album” was an introduction to a new alternative scene, it doesn’t hold up as a great piece of music.
The first of many steps Weezer took that angered fans, “Pinkerton” is clearly the best album Weezer has ever made. Underneath the dingy distortion that plagues the guitars are a set of songs that show Rivers at his best as a songwriter. His lyrics are personal, painful, and not yet stripped of any bit of intelligence. What makes the album work so well is that not only are there great melodies in every song, but you can hear the passion Rivers had for these songs in the band’s playing. They tear through the songs with an energy they never again had on record. “Falling For You”, complete with key change, might just be Weezer’s finest song.
The Green Album:
Coming back from the hiatus the failure of “Pinkerton” caused, it was natural for Rivers to abandon the confessional songwriting of that album. In fact, the complete absence of human emotion is the best asset of “The Green Album”. It is a pure academic exercise in pop songwriting, which is accomplished to near perfection. In its brief running time, “The Green Album” packs in so much catchy melody that emotion is never missed. There isn’t enough time to scrutinize the songs for what they’re lacking. They are exactly what they should be, and “The Green Album” is a fine testament to Rivers’ abilities.
With a new lease on life, Weezer went back to experimenting, which resulted in “Maladroit”, an album that doesn’t exactly make sense. There are moments of heavy metal fury, jazzy calm, and songs that aren’t sure what they’re supposed to be. Some of the album is a dismal failure, while songs like “Dope Nose” and “Keep Fishin'” are quintessential Weezer. What was obvious from this album was that Rivers no longer considered lyric writing an integral part of the creative process. Lines like “cheese tastes so good on a burnt piece of lamb” was more than enough to tell us all that Weezer’s music was going to be ridiculous from here on out.
“Beverly Hills” is Weezer’s worst, most annoying song. The rest of “Make Believe”, however, is a really good album. Rivers gave one more effort to write a genuine album that had some feeling behind it, and when the fans crapped on it, Weezer died for good. Once you get past “Beverly Hills”, the album is the only album besides “Pinkerton” to even try to move the emotional dial. Rivers obviously cared about these songs, and you can hear that in his vocal performance. “Perfect Situation”, “This Is Such A Pity”, and “Freak Me Out” all have the kinds of melodies that make pop music great. For whatever reason, they didn’t resonate with fans the way they did with me.
The Red Album:
After another disappointment, “The Red Album” was inevitable. Rivers through everything against the wall, hoping something would stick, but nothing did. It wasn’t a total failure. “Pork And Beans” was a solid single, and “Dreamin'” was the kind of throwback pop song that Weezer does so well. But this album marked the beginning of Weezer getting tired of being a band, with everyone taking turns doing everyone else’s job. It’s a bad sign when people aren’t playing the instruments they’re best at, which only got worse…
This is the bottom of the barrel, an album so bad I pretend it doesn’t exist. The band barely shows up on this record, the co-writers don’t seem to know who Weezer is, and the lyrics have finally gone brain-dead. This was the desperate attempt to remain cool by people who didn’t understand that their time had moved on. People in their 30s trying to talk to 16 year old girls are creepy, and that’s exactly what this album is. Listening to it is painful, like you’re bearing witness to a man’s mental breakdown. There isn’t a single redeemable feature of this record.
By default, “Hurley” had to be a better album, and it was. By no means is it a very good record, but there are enough decent songs here to make it worthwhile. “Hang On” is the highlight, as good a song as Rivers had written in several albums. “Where’s My Sex” is a stupid song with stupid lyrics that need you to understand a story before they make sense, but it’s also absurdly fun. Even the trash on this one isn’t as bad as the previous two records, which makes “Hurley” a point of hopeful optimism.
Everything Will Be Alright In The End:
As I wrote in my review, this is not a great Weezer album either. Rivers spends a third of the record apologizing for everything he’s done wrong, but he never once sounds like he means any of it. His vocals are so dispassionate that I’m almost led to believe this is all an act of trolling, to prove how gullible his fans are. That being said, it’s a much better album than “Hurley”, with a better sense of melody than anything since “Make Believe”. Rivers the lyricist is still on vacation, and several songs are insulting to my intelligence, but the melodies are slick and catchy. And really, that’s all anyone wants from Weezer these days. So on that level, the record is a success.
By my count, Weezer has made three very good to great records, two fairly good ones, and several we should erase fro our memories. Given their legacy, the quality of their discography is stunning for how terrible it is. If you played these records without knowing Weezer’s reputation, the idea that they are a beloved band, considered legends in certain scenes, would be ridiculous. Weezer, when you look back at them, are an adequate band. They were never great, and they may never again be good. It pains me to say that, given how much of my own history is tied up in their music, but it’s the truth.
Weezer never deserved to be Weezer.