[21 May 2014]
Twenty years ago, Weezer released its unassuming self-titled debut. Like its iconic and eponymous album cover, the “Blue Album” was unforgettable. The record combines growing pains, geek culture, and a girl who looks like Mary Tyler Moore into one life-changing musical experience. All that time the members spent in the garage perfecting their power-pop hooks paid off, as Weezer reminded us again why it was hip to be square. The band went on to be a driving force in the Alt-Nation and nerd-rock movements while influencing countless bands to write their own stupid songs, stupid words, and love every one.
Weezer has undoubtedly divided its fans as its career has progressed. The “Blue Album” and moody masterpiece Pinkerton (1996) are widely regarded as rock milestones, while most of the group’s later work has met with mixed results. In my opinion, Weezer fans everywhere are doing themselves a disservice by writing the quartet off after 1996. With each release, the band has cranked out memorable tunes that stick with you even when the records are uneven.
Let’s be honest: if you’re a fan of the band, you’ve already burned a whole in your copy of the “Blue Album”. It’s easy to inundate a list of Top Weezer Songs if we’re including this gem (for me, each song is an instant Weezer classic), but more fun and challenging to compose a list with their best offerings post-“Blue”... to explore where the band went after its first record.
As a dedicated follower of Rivers Cuomo and Co., I’ve devoured their discography time and time again and I keep coming back for more. Cuomo’s honest lyrics are enough to make anyone who’s ever felt alienated feel like they have a best friend in him. The very idea of Weezer is romantic in and of itself—four average guys coming together to change the world with their rock. Music has only gotten better in the 20 years since Weezer stepped out of their garage. From my first listen to now, they’ve always been my favorite band. Here’s my toast to Weezer: may they always be making noise.
After the Great Weezer Disappearance of 1997 (more on this later), the band returned to rock the radio airwaves with this unflinching lead single. The menacing guitar lead is one of the most ferocious riffs in the group’s repertoire. Weezer is no stranger to frustration, but Cuomo’s grunts make him sound like he’s about ready to punch someone square in the jaw (and he doesn’t strike me as an inherently violent person). “Hash Pipe” is Rivers and the Gang cruising around the streets of Los Angeles looking for a fight.
When Make Believe was released, everyone and their mothers were singing along to radio hit “Beverly Hills”, but it’s the overlooked “Peace” that deserves the most recognition from this era. I’ve never understood why so many Weezer fans treat Make Believe like the record-that-shall-not-be-named. Sure, Rick Rubin’s glossy production and Cuomo’s simplified lyrics caused the band to lose some of their crunchy guitar charm and wit, but this album isn’t a total wash. Cuomo’s sunny guitar solo and deft harmonies make for pure Golden State rock. The sweeping chorus and effortless high notes from the frontman in “Peace” stand as the LP’s highest musical peak.
Cuomo has never been one to shy away from his ‘80s metal roots. On “In the Garage”, from Weezer’s debut record, he immortalizes Ace Frehley and Peter Criss from the iconic band Kiss as two of his biggest influences. With the riff that jump-starts “Dope Nose” you can see Cuomo worshiping at his idols’ altar. simple but sincere statements of affection. The “Green Album” was a shot of pop-punk espresso straight to your head clocking in . No wonder—“Dope Nose” is wired with ‘80s guitar excess and three sheets to the wind swagger.
Compared to the heavier, metal-inspired riffs that dominated Maladroit, “Burndt Jamb” begins on a more chilled-out note. A laid-back guitar quickly becomes blistering and scorched as the band wanders through this primarily instrumental track in a smoky haze, exhibiting its mastery of the quiet-to-loud aesthetic. Weezer’s spitfire guitar solos on “Burndt Jamb” are enough to make its guitar heroes Ace Frehley and Eddie Van Halen blush.
The lead-off track from 2009’s Raditude is Weezer starring in a musical romantic comedy to the tune of a bouncy acoustic guitar riff. A couple falls in love and the bashful protagonist can’t ever find the right time to ask for her hand in marriage, let alone kiss the girl. There’s an addictive sugary chorus, a neurotic narrator, and nerdy use of pop culture to set the scene (in this case, Best Buy and and the film Titanic among others). I can’t help but envision the band members in barbershop quartet attire as they sing their immaculate harmonies during the bridge. When this single first dropped, I was reminded of a younger Cuomo from the band’s ’90s releases that kept his girls close, but his emotions closer. While the overly silly Raditude may not stand out as much in the Weezer discography, “If You’re Wondering If I Want You To” stands as a breezy rock tune proving if you have a winning songwriting formula, there’s no need to fix it.
“Don’t Let Go” heralds Weezer’s return to the spotlight after disappearing for four years when Cuomo disbanded the group due to the initial commercial and critical failure of the angst-ridden Pinkerton. Cuomo went to Harvard, dropped out, and fell completely off the grid. You wouldn’t guess from the bright melodies and harmonies on “Don’t Let Go” (and most of the “Green Album” for that matter) that Cuomo had gone through one of the roughest periods in his life. “Anytime that you want, I’ll be here in your arms”, vows the singer in one of his most simple but sincere statements of affection. The “Green Album” was a shot of pop-punk espresso straight to your head clocking in at a brief 28 minutes, and “Don’t Let Go” holds a lit match to this record’s short fuse.
The cheering crowd at the beginning of this song prepares the listener for one of Weezer’s most epic tracks of its career. “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” doesn’t just shoot to rock the hell out of arenas, it aims for the stars. “Greatest Man” is a multi-suite composition, based on of all things a Shaker hymn, and it traverses multiple genres from hip-hop to baroque pop in an expansive six-minute package. Weezer wouldn’t collaborate with rapper Lil Wayne until 2009 (“Ok bitches, Weezer and it’s Weezy”), but Cuomo lets out his inner MC and spits a few bars as the track opens. The song’s lyrics may be tongue-in-cheek, especially the spoken-word section (“Body’s be all up on my behind”), but the band have never sounded more serious musically.
After hunting high and low in search of love, Cuomo thought he had “found the one” this time. But wouldn’t you know it—she’s a lesbian. Not only that, but Cuomo’s convinced that she wouldn’t even go out with him, “were [he] the last girl on earth”. Despite the raincloud above the singer’s head, Weezer manages to morph a song about cosmic bad luck into a memorable sing-along. The fuzzed- out guitar verses recall the grunge of the band’s first record, while the lyrical self-loathing makes “Pink Triangle” distinctly Pinkerton.
The only thing scarier than “two pet snakes” and “all of the drugs she does” is Cuomo’s undying devotion to his girlfriend in Weezer’s feedback-laced “No Other One”. The song’s dissonant, shouted chorus sounds like it was recorded within the padded room of an asylum while the band was strapped into straitjackets. Bassist Matt Sharp’s haunting falsetto is made all the more eerie by schizophrenic and jarring guitar squeals from Brian Bell and Cuomo. When “No Other One” comes crashing down in its final act, it sounds like this relationship has made Weezer come completely undone.
What starts off as a subdued, downbeat affair quickly turns into the band’s most explosive conclusion since “Only in Dreams” from their debut in ’94. “It’s not my destiny / To be the one that you will lay with”, Cuomo confesses over reserved strumming while Patrick Wilson’s less-is-more drum work fill the increasingly tense air. When “The Angel and the One” eventually takes off, the song soars like its titular figure and Cuomo gazes down on the towering soundscape. The frontman sounds absolutely triumphant as the track fades into the ether, leaving a sense of hope and renewal.
The dreamy guitars at the beginning of “Falling for You” soon become howls as Cuomo has a huge epiphany about his relationship. Once again, the singer disarms with a heart-wrenching performance that gives the listener vivid details. “Holy sweet, God damn”, Cuomo muses, as he tries to wrap his head around just why this girl fell for him in the first place. “What could you possibly see, in little ol’ three chord me?” he asks her, still scratching his head. Between striking lyrical imagery and guitars that chime like wedding bells, “Holy sweet, God damn” is right.
Remember when I said before that Weezer knows how to open an album? “Tired of Sex” is my case in point. Cuomo’s lamentations about an abundance of pointless sex are a stark contrast from his naïve persona on Weezer’s first record, bringing the listener into the distorted, troubled world of Pinkerton. After sticking to a simple drum scheme on the first record, Patrick Wilson unleashes his fury on this song’s outro. I’ve always viewed Wilson as a solid drummer, but here he puts his chops on display with clattering fills and unforgiving cymbal smashes that complement Cuomo’s pent-up resentment.
“Goddamn you half-Japanese girls / You do it to me every time. Off-the-wall lyrics like these are the norm on Weezer’s anecdotal “El Scorcho”. Throaty screams from Sharp make Cuomo sound sane by comparison, and leave this track dangling by its last hinge. Cuomo’s adoration of pop culture is alive and kicking with shout-outs to a Green Day concert (how had she “never heard of them”?!) and professional wrestlers from the ‘90s. The guys go off the rails completely when the drums barrel in mid-way and Weezer hurl everything it has at the wall. You realize at this point that “El Scorcho” isn’t just a love song, it’s a love song you can mosh to.
Just when you’re getting accustomed to the maelstrom of distortion and angst, the final song on Pinkerton concludes the album on an introspective and uncertain note. Backed solely by an acoustic guitar and a distant bass drum thump, Cuomo delivers his final words on the 1996 classic. “I’m sorry”, he laments repeatedly mid-breakdown, but you know he’s already too late. The girl (who’s beautifully symbolized by a butterfly in a mason jar) that he wronged can’t hear his apology because she’s long gone. They say if you listen closely enough you can actually hear the sound of Cuomo’s heart ripping in two.
Weezer’s discography is packed to the brim with songs about unrequited love, but none sting quite as much as “Across the Sea”. Cuomo sings with emotional bareness, pushing through the voice cracks and moments of doubt. “Across the Sea” is a sonic love note in a bottle to a Japanese girl who sent the singer fan mail. Cuomo’s honest storytelling in “Across the Sea” includes fantasies about this girl and the sniffing and licking of her letters. We might not be able to relate to this wacky behavior, but we’re still on Cuomo’s side. The song’s climax has wailing guitars and pummeling drums that make all of the singer’s sentiments hit home. The demure, camera-shy frontman all but went into hiding after the band’s Pinkerton tour as he had essentially recorded his private diary for the world to hear. In an interview from 2001, Cuomo compared Pinkerton to “getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts to everyone”. “Across the Sea” is Weezer at its best: flawless, idiosyncratic songwriting and unforgettable emotional catharsis.