Overrated, Underrated, or Properly Rated: Weezer

Rating Weezer, like all things concerning Weezer, can be highly frustrating. The more you care about Weezer, the harder it is to know exactly how you feel about Weezer. This relationship between band and fan base can only be described as dysfunctional: Hating Weezer is often the biggest part of loving Weezer, and that feeling has at times appeared to be mutual.

“I’m so afraid of you,” Rivers Cuomo sings in “Freak Me Out,” from 2005’s much-maligned Make Believe, supposedly referring to a spider jumping out at him on the street, though the song can easily be interpreted as a diatribe directed at his own fans. For years, Cuomo seemed determined to drive away those who invested the most in his songs — especially the people who loved Pinkerton, the confessional masterwork that Cuomo disowned and was later reluctant to revisit on Weezer’s early comeback tours, a passive-aggressive punishment for the album’s initial critical and commercial drubbing. Instead, he courted a new, younger audience born around the time Weezer formed in the early ’90s with albums that seemed deliberately (for lack of a better term) stupid. This strategy achieved the worst possible combination of success and failure — by the end of the ’00s, Weezer had alienated its base and largely whiffed on drawing new fans with the likes of “I’m Your Daddy” and “The Girl Got Hot.” The band appeared to be finished.

All this subtext is pushed to the forefront of Weezer’s latest LP, Everything Will Be Alright in the End. The album plays like an extended apologia to wearied long-term followers, a conciliatory box of chocolates packaged as a “return to rock” nostalgia move. “Don’t want to pander to the masses anymore,” Cuomo pledges on “I’ve Had It Up to Here,” and he’s not — instead, he has pinpointed his pandering on an aging group of listeners who still care about whether Weezer can (to quote the recent single “Back to the Shack”) “rock out like it’s ’94.”

But even though the guitars are louder this time — and ring with that classic Ric Ocasek sheen, courtesy of the original sheenmeister himself — the familiar desperation haunting Weezer’s post-2005 work remains. What’s different on Everything Will Be Alright in the End is that Cuomo has stopped trying to reinvent Weezer’s future and has moved on to reliving Weezer’s past. Both paths lead to dead ends, but the revivalist route is arguably more depressing. Speaking as someone who, ahem, rocked out with Weezer in ’94, this record made me feel very old — the Blue Album was my Beach Boys, and Everything Will Be Alright in the End is now my Keepin’ the Summer Alive. Listening to this record felt like being suffocated with a Hawaiian shirt.

Nevertheless, part of me is always going to find Rivers Cuomo fascinating, which will cause me to check out new Weezer albums and care about old Weezer albums that I don’t like but can’t stop thinking about. It’s a sickness, but I might as well put it to some use.

Weezer

Albums

Weezer (a.k.a. the Blue Album) (1994)

I could write 10 words on this record, or 10,000. What I can’t do is offer the dispassionate happy medium. It would be like writing a review of my 10th-grade yearbook. If you have a long-standing relationship with Weezer, this album represents the singular moment of pure infatuation. It is the one Weezer record nobody argues about — people loved the Blue Album when it came out, and it will always be a weirdly personal touchstone for each new generation of nerds obsessed with anime, Dungeons & Dragons, and Love Gun. I could go on, but we have a lot of other albums and assorted miscellanea to get to. So I’ll just stick with my 10 words: It’s the best guitar-pop record of its era, hands down. PROPERLY RATED

Pinkerton (1996)

This was one of two albums I listened to compulsively during the first semester of my freshman year of college, which is to say I was perfectly positioned for this future emo touchstone to enter my life and dominate it for several months. I wish I could say that listening to Pinkerton was cathartic, but honestly, that was truer of the other record.1 Pinkerton to me was the funny one — “Pink Triangle,” “The Good Life,” and “El Scorcho” are still Cuomo’s wittiest tunes, though they created a blueprint (hackneyed hip-hop speak plus sexual misadventure minus shame) that quickly turned tedious on subsequent albums. Even the dark songs, like “Tired of Sex” or the Big Star–like closer “Butterfly,” echo the oversexed comic dorkiness of the debut. Pinkerton is like Woody Allen’s self-consciously melodramatic opening monologue in Manhattan — behind Cuomo’s black-rimmed glasses is the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat, and his neurotic carrying-on is sort of funny, and then sort of disturbing. As for how Pinkerton is rated: It’s obviously great, but in my mind it will always be inferior to the Blue Album, which is not how history seems to remember it. Therefore, I must declare it to be ever-so-slightly OVERRATED.

Weezer (a.k.a. the Green Album) (2001)

Pinkerton famously bombed, but the Green Album is the first Weezer LP that people truly relished hating, setting the tone for how every Weezer record afterward would be received. In interviews, Cuomo unintentionally confirmed the main criticisms of the Green Album: “This record is purely musical. There’s no feeling, there’s no emotion,” he told Rolling Stone. He meant that in a good way, and I agree that the non-feeling of the Green Album generally works. Yes, all the songs sound alike. And every guitar solo lasts approximately 15 seconds and merely repeats the vocal melody. And it’s all so simple that it’s practically sing-songy. This is by design: The Green Album was made to be mindless ear candy, and the contents are still extremely chewy. (If the idea of Boston covering the first Ramones album sounds appealing to you, then you’ll like this record.) The Green Album makes you feel so fine you can’t control your brain, possibly because your brain is on sleep mode. UNDERRATED

Paul Natkin Archive

Maladroit (2002)

This record coincided with a very brief window of time when Weezer’s esteem among rock fans coincided with the music press’s interest in new Weezer albums. The backlash against the Green Album wasn’t yet strong enough to murder the goodwill accrued by the first two records, and Weezer was suddenly popular enough to appear on magazine covers. Cuomo, meanwhile, grew a proto–Fleet Foxes beard and lived a self-described “life of ego and vice” high in the Hollywood Hills. Against all odds, Weezer finally seemed like a real big-time rock band, and the sound of Maladroit reflects this — it is riff-centric near-metal that out-Kisses any Kiss record released after 1978. (It’s the album Everything Will Be Alright in the End wants to be and isn’t.) There are days I will argue that Maladroit, purely from a car-stereo standpoint, is Weezer’s most enjoyable LP after the Blue Album. Maladroit is a companion record to Pinkerton in the sense that its commercial failure was both inexplicable and damaging to the band’s creative direction. Weezer might’ve become a different, heavier, and altogether better band if more people dug Maladroit. UNDERRATED

Make Believe (2005)

Also known as the KROQ-Colored Album, or simply as the Beginning of the End. In a surgical 0.4-scored review for Pitchfork, Rob Mitchum wondered whether Make Believe would “completely ruin not just present-day Weezer, but retroactively, any enjoyment to be had from their earlier work.” That’s precisely what Make Believe did do for many people, though this is based on a flawed premise. For many old-school Weezer fans, Make Believe represented rock bottom, but Weezer was even worse on the next two records. Therefore, the awfulness of Make Believe tends to be overrated by those who haven’t experienced the true dregs of Weezer’s discography. There are some good songs here: “Perfect Situation” is Weezer’s last great single, and “This Is Such a Pity” and “We Are All on Drugs” outclass much of what Weezer put out in the ’00s. The rest is boring, but it’s not embarrassing — not even the moronic “Beverly Hills” — relative to what came after. UNDERRATED

Weezer (a.k.a. the Red Album) (2008)

Just as there is a fog of war, there is a fog of Weezer, and it comes down to Cuomo’s relationship with irony. “I am not trying to be ironic” is Cuomo’s version of Britney Spears’s oft-made and never-believed claim of “I am not trying to be sexual.” It’s possible that Cuomo is so profoundly awkward that his sincerity comes out sounding funny and his jokes come off as sincere. He seems like an impossible guy to read, even for people who know him personally (as opposed to those of us trying to decipher him from afar using song lyrics and interviews). The best part of any magazine article about Weezer is when the writer offers a glimpse of the other band members trying and failing to engage with Cuomo in normal conversation. My personal favorite comes from Vanessa Grigoriadis’s 2005 Rolling Stone profile, which depicts bassist Scott Shriner attempting to compliment Cuomo on a haircut:

“Whassup, Dude,” [says Shriner.] “Nice haircut.”

“I didn’t get a haircut,” says Cuomo.

“You didn’t, Dude?” says Shriner. “It’s looking good, Dude!”2

In the past, Cuomo’s questionable sarcasm was merely confusing;3 on the Red Album, it was infuriating. On the cover, Cuomo dons a cowboy hat, Western shirt, and Walter White mustache.4 In the video for “Pork and Beans,” he hugs the circa–September ’07 viral video star Chris Crocker. On the record, he performs awful dreck like “Heart Songs” — the worst Weezer song of all time — with a straight face. Is the Red Album a joke or just incoherent? Either way, it made me feel like an asshole for liking Weezer. PROPERLY RATED

Raditude (2009)

So the Red Album didn’t make you feel like an asshole for liking Weezer, huh? Here, this ought to do it. PROPERLY RATED

Hurley (2010)

This is where even the members of Weezer couldn’t deny the band had bottomed out. Nevertheless, I’m going to repurpose my Make Believe defense: Hurley doesn’t look so bad in comparison to the Red Album and Raditude. With a different album cover, it might’ve even been considered a minor comeback. (Ethan would’ve been preferable.) “Trainwrecks” is a fine power-pop power ballad, and the album overall is likably Cheap Trick–y. UNDERRATED

Death to False Metal (2010)

As a collection of outtakes doubling as a shadow greatest-hits album of Weezer’s down years, Death to False Metal isn’t as dire as might be expected. Then again, I had never heard “I’m a Robot” before last week, and I don’t intend to ever hear it again. PROPERLY RATED

The “Lost” Album: Songs From the Black Hole

This was the planned follow-up to the Blue Album — a Star Wars–like sci-fi allegory about how alt-rock fame is a bummer. Songs From the Black Hole coincided with two of the stranger digressions in the mythology of Rivers Cuomo: the procedure to make his right leg as long as his left leg, and his stint at Harvard. Eventually, he deemed the Black Hole concept “too whimsical” and repurposed four songs for Pinkerton. Demos for Black Hole have appeared elsewhere, most notably as B sides for Pinkerton-era singles (including the excellent “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams” and “Devotion”) and via the Alone series, three (so far) collections of Cuomo’s raw compositions. A cursory Google search will uncover painstakingly assembled approximations of the unfinished album assembled by superfans. Like so many “lost” albums, Songs From the Black Hole is more intriguing as an idea than as a record. Pinkerton is unquestionably stronger. Still, I wonder if Black Hole would’ve inspired a generation of musical-theater-minded bands, just as Pinkerton berthed dozens of emo outfits. OVERRATED

B Sides, Outtakes, Unreleased Songs, Etc.

The narrative with each new Weezer album always includes the part about Cuomo writing approximately 492 new songs and winnowing the backlog down to 10 just-right tracks. His vault of material is immense. (The Alone compilations apparently only scratch the surface.) But if we’re talking non-album Weezer tracks, only three songs (and four ladies) matter: “Susanne,” “Jamie,” and “Mykel and Carli.” Any list of Weezer’s 10 best songs5 must include these tunes, or else that list is irrelevant. Honestly, I would trade all but two or three Weezer albums just for those songs. PROPERLY RATED

Weezer In Concert - San Francisco, CA

The Live Show

Does Weezer have any reputation as a live band beyond “they’re OK, I guess”? Weezer isn’t exactly known for awe-inspiring instrumental prowess or scintillating levels of charisma, nor should it be. I’ve seen Weezer in concert twice — the first time right after the Green Album came out, which was dull and lethargic, and the second time on the Raditude tour, which was energetic and weirdly transfixing. So, for me, it’s a wash. Weezer either plays songs I enjoy like it just woke up from a coma, or songs I hate with the ferocity of coked-out accountants cutting loose at the karaoke-themed office party. PROPERLY RATED

The Music Videos

“Buddy Holly”

At my school, this video caused a temporary rush of excitement that Weezer was actually from Kenosha. That’s how desperate Wisconsin kids were for acknowledgment from the mainstream media in the ’90s. MOST OVERRATED

“The Sweater Song”

I think Rivers looks a little like a cross between Liam Gallagher and a Charles Schulz character in this video. MOST UNDERRATED

“Keep Fishin’”

Weezer did a video with the Muppets — it starts off charming and then grows increasingly annoying. You don’t get more “properly rated” than that in the Weezer canon. PROPERLY RATED

The Departure of Matt Sharp

Conspiracy theorists obsessed with getting to the bottom of the eternal “What went wrong with Weezer?” question inevitably point to this. In biblical terms, Sharp’s exit in 1998 represents the “Eve bites the apple” portion of the Weezer story. This is not lost on the other members of Weezer. Sharp still comes up in Weezer band profiles, almost 20 years after he left the band — Shriner goes out of his way to dis him and his allegedly substandard bass skills in last month’s Rolling Stone story. But does Sharp’s not-totally-amicable departure really represent a turning point in Weezer’s history? Kind of, and kind of not.

Sharp disputed songwriting credits on the first two albums, filing a lawsuit in 2002 that was settled out of court. But any suggestion that his creative contributions would’ve significantly changed Weezer’s direction seems bogus. Weezer will always be primarily a vehicle for Cuomo’s songs, for better or worse.

The real void Sharp left in Weezer concerns his unofficial status as co-frontman, as evidenced in this clip from the Late Show With David Letterman in 1995:

Which guy were you staring at? It probably wasn’t the catatonic person who was singing. If you’re like me, you were staring at the guy doing Townshend moves on the bass. So, if we’re talking about Sharp’s creative contributions, I’m going to say OVERRATED. If we’re talking about his ability as a showman, I’ll say UNDERRATED.

Ric Ocasek

Whatever Weezer truthers say Matt Sharp supposedly took from Weezer, they claim Ric Ocasek gives it back to the band. This reputation derives mainly from Ocasek’s work on the Blue Album, though Rick Rubin’s bland production of Make Believe might’ve indirectly bolstered Ocasek’s reputation as well. But the evidence that Ocasek is a magic bullet isn’t very compelling, considering the albums he produced after the Blue Album — the Green Album and Everything Will Be Alright in the End — just get progressively worse. OVERRATED

The Video for B.o.B’s “Magic”

First of all, the Treblemakers did it better. Second of all, Rivers Cuomo rapping on a ubiquitous pop hit was unfortunate but inevitable, and I appreciate that he was kind enough to wait until Weezer’s Raditude era — when I was finally disengaged emotionally from his work — to do it. PROPERLY RATED

Patrick Wilson Catching a Frisbee While Playing “Beverly Hills”

Patrick Wilson has that Larry Mullen gene that somehow allows the drummer to not age. This is equally impressive. PROPERLY RATED

The Weezer Cruise

After the indignity of subjecting fans to late-’00s Weezer albums, Weezer tried to win them back by inviting them every year to hang out on an ocean liner. This was predictably hard on the band. (Brian Bell grousing to Rolling Stone: “Oh, my God, I had to be on all the time, even to get my morning coffee. … The next time, I brought my own espresso machine.”) Taking a cruise is a typical last-ditch move for troubled couples. I get that Weezer wants to work it out with its fan base, but sometimes divorce is nobler than seasickness. OVERRATED

Photo illustration by Ben Buysse

Filed Under: Music, Overrated Underrated Properly Rated, weezer, rivers Cuomo, The Blue Album, Pinkerton, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bell, Matt Sharp, rock, alt rock, The Red Album, Maladroit, The Green Album, Death to False Metal, Say It Ain't So

Steven Hyden is a staff writer for Grantland. His first book, Your Favorite Band is Killing Me, will be released in May.

Archive @ Steven_Hyden