Pop Essay #1: Weezer

The summer of '94 was pretty great. I'd just graduated from high school and was getting ready to go college that fall. It seemed as if my parents had either become completely lax in their enforcement of my curfew or just no longer cared, as such a thing would soon be out of their hands, anyway. The only drama I had involved leaving behind an ex-girlfriend who never became completely ex, at least at that point, but it was the type of drama dependent upon someone liking you, which meant that, at its core, it was almost good to have. I was eighteen and I had my friends and I was done with high school and freedom was in the air.

And this is when I first fell for Weezer. Heck, I believe I even gave said ex-girlfriend a mix tape with "The World Has Turned" on it, because I loved the song and because I felt it related to our relationship, and what more could you ask for from a band, from a song?

I'm not sure why I latched on to Weezer as quickly as I did. Part of it, I'm sure, was their image, as I was something of a dork myself. I'd also grown quite fond of driving around in the summer time and singing along with my car stereo, and Weezer was great for that.

Because I was eighteen and filled with all the bitterness a Midwestern teen can muster, I viewed people in two groups when it came to Weezer: the "Undone" fans and the "Buddy Holly" fans. I was the former, of course, and at one point my pretentiousness actually drove me away from the almighty Weez because of those "Buddy Holly" fans. The rift didn't last too long.

But let's start right from the top, shall we?

The Blue Album

Weezer played in Cleveland before anyone had really heard of them. I didn't go to that show (it would be years later before I ever saw them live), but they did a radio interview for a local station the day of the show. It had to have been the middle of the afternoon and I can't imagine too many people heard it. I don't even think the DJ really knew who they were, but he was at least good enough to intersperse a few of the band's songs throughout the interview. It might not have been the first time I heard "Undone," but it's the time I remember the most. I also remember that there were a group of six or seven, hardcore Weezer fans standing outside the radio station with signs proclaiming their love for the band.

I love the Blue Album for a lot of reasons. Yes, it's awesome. There's only one song on it that I could live without ("Holiday"). But, of course, it holds sentimental value. For me, it's probably my favorite album of theirs, basically because of context.

Pinkerton

I was in college when Weezer finally released their second album and I will admit, to this day I don't understand what all the fuss was about -- and I mean that on both sides of the fuss aisle. There's no question that Pinkerton's a great album and a worthy successor to the Blue Album. I am genuinely baffled, however, but the positive and negative claims about it being dark and/or abrasive. Compared to the Blue Album, it's definitely darker, but on it's own? No, I just don't think so. Hell, I spent most of the winter of 1996 listening to this album, and winters in Ohio are about the most depressing thing in the world, and I still didn't see what was so incredibly dark about this record. Is it as pop friendly as the Blue Album? Of course not. But it's still power chords and vocal harmonies. Hell, at times it's filled with borderline silly lyrics.

More intense than the Blue Album? Definitely. And I think that's ultimately what scared so many people away. But I also think that it became the record that Weezer fans used to define themselves and, sadly, the band. It turned into "if you liked Pinkerton, you must be a real fan," and that was unfortunate. Even worse, a certain segment of their fan base took that belief even further, now believing that anything that doesn't sound like Pinkerton is a failure for Weezer.

I love Pinkerton. It's a very specific record from a very specific time. But I would hate for Weezer to try and recreate it, and I'm glad they haven't.

Green Album

I'll admit it: I was thrilled when I heard Weezer was releasing a new album. Since I was still pretty new to the whole "obsessing over a band online" thing, I was completely in the dark as to the circumstances that led to the release of the Green Album, or the fact that there appeared to be hundreds of unreleased Weezer songs. When I first heard "Hash Pipe," I got even more excited; it was everything I wanted from a Weezer song, big guitar sound, catchy vocals, weird lyrics -- clearly, I thought, this new album was going to pick up where they left off.

Well, it did, I guess, if picking up where they left off meant putting out a bland and, dare I say it, trite record. Don't get me wrong, I still love "Hash Pipe," and there are one or two other songs on the Green Album that I enjoy, but overall this was...well, this was weak. I had no choice but to chock it up as Weezer's version of spring training, and that they had to get this album out of their system before putting out a real Weezer record.

Maladroit

And that's exactly what they did. Sure, I love the Blue Album and Pinkerton, but Maladroit, to me, was the future of Weezer (I was wrong about that one, it turned out). It is filled with giant guitar sounds, big riffage, and catchy vocals. It was an album that said that Weezer couldn't really be that dorky band everyone knew and loved years ago, but that they could rock better than pretty much anyone else. If their first two albums were "alternative" and their third album was "pop," this album was rock and I freaking loved the hell out of it.

Just listen to "Take Control" and tell me it doesn't sound like something Guns N' Roses could have come up with.

Anyway, I've just read that this was Weezer's least successful album to date, which I suppose is only appropriate. I like big rock records and that's what Weezer gave me, so I'm grateful, even if they dropped this sound completely going forward.

Make Believe

As soon as I heard "Beverly Hills," I knew this was not going to end well.

I don't loathe Make Believe the way that many Weezer fans do. But coming on the heels of Maladroit, it just felt like a huge step backward, and some reviews went so far as to suggest that's exactly what Weezer was trying to do. There seemed to be a belief among some music reviewers that this was Weezer's attempt (and probably producer Rick Rubin's as well) at putting together another Pinkerton. If I need more validation on my belief that they should never try such a thing, this supports me pretty nicely.

What's really strange to me about Make Believe is just how tame it is, something made all the more obvious given the album it followed. And that's not to say that I don't enjoy some of the songs; I actually like "Perfect Situation" and "We Are All On Drugs," and I think "The Other Way" is really catchy. But by and large it's just, well, a wussy record that feels nearly as by the numbers as the Green Album.

Clearly, Weezer weren't going to use Maladroit as the basis for their future. It seemed like they weren't really sure what kind of band they were going to be.

Red Album

If I need confirmation that Weezer was going through an identity crisis, I got it with their sixth album. If there's a singles song on the Red Album the epitomizes the entire record, it's "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived," as I think it actually covers every style Weezer has ever tried in a single song...which is actually why I like it, because it's just insane.

The experiment of letting other members of the band write and/or sing songs didn't go over so well, either. Those songs stick out like sore thumbs and break up any momentum the album had, although that's giving it a lot of credit. This was also the first Weezer album released in two versions, one with bonus tracks. As would become a trend, some of the bonus tracks ended up being better than some of the regular tracks, which calls into question the song selection. In fact, it would be be possible to put together a 10 track version of the Red Album that's far superior than the one that was released, just by replacing a few songs with the bonus tracks.

As unstable as this record seemed, there was a seed in it that seemed to be the future of the band. The accompanying tour, where fans were encouraged to bring instruments along and play along with the band, was another clue as to what the future held for Weezer. It was going to be different, for sure, but not entirely without precedence in their catalog.

They were going to embrace this new style whole heartedly on the next record.

Raditude

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the new Weezer: a sublimely ridiculous rock band, full of spectacle and hooks. This is not the Weezer you knew when you were a teen. There is no angst here, but tongue in cheek bravado and a desire to have a slightly warped good time.

Personally, I love the hell out of it.

I'll admit there are a few clunkers on this album, although, again, that could have been fixed had they dropped those songs and replaced them with some of the higher quality bonus tracks ("Get Me Some," "Run Over By A Truck," and "Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World" should all be on this album). But the size of it, the overblown style and the pure, unadulterated joy of music practically oozes from every song.

This is also the first record in some time where Rivers' incredibly awkward sincerity comes through. He's completely earnest on every track, even when he's singing about things that are completely foreign to him. But he's so painfully honest that it still works, even when he's singing about his "homies" or his "posse," or telling a girl that she's his "baby, and I'm your daddy." It's so wrong, yet oh, so right.

I'll be interested to see where Weezer goes from here. I would expect another record like this one, although I can't see how they'll be able to maintain this much beyond that. Then again, these albums always seem to reflect where Rivers' is at in his life, so who knows what he'll be doing years from now.

So, yes, Weezer, I still love you, probably more than I did way back in that summer of 1994, not in spite of all the changes and missteps, but because of them. And I'm looking forward t the future.