Don’t Let Go: Weezer’s ‘Green Album’ at 20 Years Old

Full of big hooks and crunchy guitar riffs, Weezer’s Green Album essentially established the direction they would take for the next 20 years.

15 May 2001

Weezer were one of the 1990s alternative rock scene’s biggest successes. Unlike many of their slightly older genre contemporaries, Weezer didn’t spend years slogging it out in the underground only to finally get a break when the mainstream moved in their direction. Instead, the band formed in 1992, signed a major label deal with Geffen Records in 1993 and released their debut (Blue) album in the spring of 1994. It was a huge success, spawning three hit singles—”Undone – The Sweater Song”, “Buddy Holly”, and “Say It Ain’t So”—and eventually selling over four million copies in North America. The follow-up, Pinkerton, was essentially a commercial flop, leading to an extended hiatus for the band.

When Weezer got back together at the start of the 21st-century, charismatic bassist Matt Sharp had departed (ostensibly to focus on continuing the surprise success of his side project, the Rentals). The intervening years had been kind to Pinkerton, but rather than continuing the confessional lyrical focus of that album on its successor, singer/songwriter/lead guitarist Rivers Cuomo pushed back toward the brighter tone of their debut album. Weezer, the band’s second self-titled album, often referred to as the Green Album for its lime green coloring, arrived in record stores on 15 May 2001.

But that wasn’t the first time most fans heard something from the Green Album. After such a long break, I was one of many fans who were eager to hear new songs from the band finally. Thus, I distinctly remember searching the likes of Napster and Limewire in early 2001 for bootleg releases of fresh Weezer material and running across “Hash Pipe”. At the time, I was not sure if what I was hearing was actually a Weezer song or one of the file-sharing services’ legendary misattributed tracks. Why? Because it didn’t really sound like Weezer. “Hash Pipe”, though, turned out to be the real deal: a chugging, ugly track that seemed to be a conscious break from the band’s previous material. Cuomo, it turns out, insisted on putting out the song as the album’s first single, and the label tried hard to convince him otherwise. Geffen even went so far as to delay the album’s release by a month to attempt to change his mind.

In the end, Cuomo got his way, and “Hash Pipe” turned out to be a big comeback hit for the band. The video, featuring the band performing around sumo wrestlers, also garnered a lot of play on MTV and assuredly had something to do with the song’s success. For me, however, “Hash Pipe” remains one of the band’s all-time worst singles (“Beverly Hills” is the other, but for entirely different reasons). The main chugging riff isn’t bad, but Cuomo’s unappealing, partially falsetto verses are both musically and lyrically lackluster. Plus, the chorus doesn’t offer any brightness or contrast from the main guitar riff, and the whole thing comes off as dour and bleak (two attributes that weren’t, and still aren’t, what I’m looking for when I listen to Weezer).

Once the album proper came out, it was a fascinating square peg. Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, it was an outlier in the early 2000s, when the CD format was at its peak and labels often pushed their biggest names to fill up their discs with over 70 minutes of music (regardless of if they had the material to do it). Also, the other nine songs on the album sounded nothing like “Hash Pipe”. Instead, the band had returned to working with Ric Ocasek, who also produced their debut, and it was filled with bright, cheery-sounding power-pop songs. For the fans who fell in love with Pinkerton, though, the Green Album’s retreat from Cuomo’s honest, confessional side felt like a betrayal. That, along with Sharp’s departure, drives much of the 20-year-old narrative that Weezer ceased making worthwhile music after their first two albums.

That said, time—and a dozen subsequent Weezer albums of widely varying quality—has been kind to the Green Album. Revisiting it in 2021, it still feels a little slight, but it’s engaging and a lot of fun nonetheless. Opener “Don’t Let Go” has basic, down-stroked guitars, a driving beat, and a catchy melody. It also features tight harmonies from Cuomo and some really nice “Ooo whoa whoa” bits in the chorus. The guitar solo is just the main vocal melody, which is a catchy and simple way to do such a thing. But, it’s also a trick that the group continues to employ throughout the LP (something I didn’t notice back in the day). Instead of writing showy solos, these guitar breaks essentially function as blank verses, giving the voices a break while keeping the main melody going.

The second track, “Photograph”, was the album’s third and least successful single; yet, it’s the clear standout of the record for my money. It only lasts 2:20, but it’s a perfect power-pop song, with its crunchy guitars, hand claps, backbeat-heavy drumbeat, “Oooh Oooh” backing vocals, and delightful vocal melody all coming together well. Even the chorus, such as it is, only appears once, and it just serves as a short break from the catchiness of the verses.

Then, we swing into “Hash Pipe”, which is immediately followed by the album’s second single and gentlest song, “Island in the Sun”. The latter is an interesting song because it’s mid-tempo, in a minor key, and decidedly melancholy, but with lyrics that are chipper, detailing a fantasy about spending a lovely day on—no surprise—an island in the sun. The distorted guitars show up for the song’s bridge, but then it’s right back to the relaxed tone.

The rest of the album is full of rockers. In particular, “Crab” has all the brashness of the band’s heaviest songs but also a strong, high melody to balance it out. “Knock Down Drag Out” crackles with pop-punk energy, pushing the crumbly guitars into uptempo territory. It also has super hooky vocals with constant harmonies, making it one of the sequence’s stealth highlights. This guitar solo is a duet, with Cuomo and Brian Bell playing the main melody and its harmony line as the feature.

“Smile” opens with a guitar lead that marks a slightly different sound for Weezer. There’s a wistful quality to the melody, too, which gives the song a bit of pathos. “Simple Pages” has a fun recurring bit in the verses in which Cuomo rhythmically repeats a line, giving it a slightly hip-hop-influenced feel. In contrast, “Glorious Day” has a slow intro before cranking up the tempo once the vocals come in. Drummer Pat Wilson shines on the chorus, hitting his crash cymbals to great effect as he backs up Cuomo’s vocal layers. “O Girlfriend” finishes the album with a lyrical tone that’s melancholy and a main guitar line that supports that melancholy (but with enough punch that a casual listener can ignore it if they so choose).

The Green Album is full of big hooks, both in the vocals and guitars. It was the record that essentially established the direction Weezer would take for the next 20 years. Sure, sometimes they were messier (the next year’s Maladroit), or too polished (2005’s Make Believe); likewise, sometimes Cuomo had the songs to make an album hold up (2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End) and sometimes he didn’t (2009’s Raditude). But, from here on out, Weezer’s work almost always emphasizes crunchy electric guitars and sticky vocal melodies.

Furthermore, saying Cuomo was never personal again with his lyrics, as Pinkerton fans will claim, is a stretch considering that the band is still going today. Still, the sentiments on the Green Album, at least, definitely come off as generic in comparison. This is an important record in Weezer’s career, but even giving it its due today, it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the band’s first two albums.