Twenty years ago, Weezer released Pinkerton – their now heavily referenced and incredibly influential sophomore album – and the critics fucking hated it. The initial reviews were a bloodbath, describing it as “juvenile”, “aimless”, and okay if you “ignore the lyrics entirely”. Embarrassed by the mixed reception toward an album that was so deeply confessional, Weezer’s frontman and principal songwriter Rivers Cuomo ended up hating it too.
"It's a hideous record…” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2001. “It's like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.” By the end of 1996, Rolling Stone readers had voted that album as the third worst release of the year. Upset, Cuomo put Weezer on hiatus, distanced himself from the band, and returned to studying at Harvard University.
However, as the cultural dominance of the old guard subsided, Pinkerton retrospectively became an international treasure, beloved of the teens who grew up listening to it rather than detested by those who had been raised on a rock'n'roll diet of chest hair and bravado. Going into uncomfortably personal detail about awkward sexual encounters, self-loathing, and loneliness, that record seeks out all the darkest places of the soul, plainly articulates all the stuff we’re generally not supposed to even think, and sets it all to music. Rightfully, it's become a record collection staple and a cornerstone of confessional indie rock.
But that critical Pinkerton blueprint, of automatically hating anything Weezer do unless you're emphatically convinced otherwise, has stuck around like a tremendously awful fart. The notion of "Is Weezer's new record as good as Pinkerton? No? Okay, let's start a petition for them to break up and never make another album again" is never far away from every new release. But how good does a Weezer album need to be before it's considered a good album, period?
Despite receiving the usual tepid reviews and indifference, their latest record, Weezer (The White Album), is not only a near perfect album, but is also a continued return to form that started with 2014's Everything Will Be Alright In The End and is only getting better. Basically, it's high time we sat up and started appreciating Weezer again.
Of course, it's not a stretch to say that the post-Pinkerton years were a struggle, even for the die-hards. The Green Album had some bangers but lacked the emotional depth Weezer had proven themselves capable of. Maladroit, Make Believe, The Red Album and Raditude were comprised of vaguely acceptable pop singles sandwiched by filler. They were followed by some songs written in honour of the US men’s soccer team, the album Hurley, and a side-collaboration with everyone’s favourite “Where is the [Earth’s] curve? Please explain this” rapper B.o.B. It was as though Cuomo was scared of putting himself on the line, writing paint-by-the-numbers pop songs that were lacking in the raw, cathartic honesty that made Weezer's early singles so anthemic. Which is exactly what makes the band's recent return to form even more impressive. Even on the back of a near-decade’s worth of disenchantment, Weezer promised their fans, and themselves, that Everything [Would] Be Alright in the End – and it was.
The Weezer we knew and loved returned in 2014 with Everything WIll Be Alright in the End. Totally shameless in its balls-out theatricality, it heralded a return of the spirit and character that defined their early work, with Cuomo’s previous separation between rock hits and genuine emotion coalescing once again. Loaded with harmonised guitar solos, Thin Lizzy grade shredding, and collaborations with Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino and Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, EWBAITE almost feels like the rock opera Pinkerton was intended to be. Its first single, “Back to the Shack”, arrived as a triumphant statement from Cuomo looking back at the last decade of personal and professional trauma and putting it behind him. After years of taking shit from critics, he sings: “I finally settled down with my girl and I made up with my dad / I had to go and make a few mistakes so I could find out who I am / I’m letting all of these feelings out even if it means I fail / Cause this is what I was meant to do and you can’t put that on sale”.
This month, their most recent release, The White Album, has built upon that momentum, and delivered what might be some of the band’s finest moments to date. “California Kids” is their best album opener since “Tired of Sex?” (which says a lot, considering many of their album openers are also their lead singles), the Beach Boys sleigh bells and golden state melodies on “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” aren’t exactly original cues but it’s their best use of the laid-back banger since “Island in the Sun” (not to mention the delivery on the line "You scare me like an open window" being one of my favourite ever Weezer moments), and “Jacked Up” is lowkey anthemic without compromising on sensitivity.
Based on Cuomo’s experiences hanging around beaches in LA, the lyrics go everywhere from playing with gender stereotypes, addressing prescription drug addiction, and updating the ol’ nerd-meets-girl narrative to include modern online dating experiences (in the video for “Go Away” he plays a crust punk who is bad at Tinder). There are shout-outs to everything from male pregnancy to tiger shark extinction, with Sisyphus, Dante’s Inferno, and musings on God as a woman (a view which pretty much summarises Cuomo's entire oeuvre) all working their way in between. It’s a vulnerable, weird, and intelligent outpouring from a dude who finds the world a difficult place to live in.
Now, riding their second great wind, Weezer have evolved from a spectacular cult indie band into a fantastic pop-rock outfit, and proven their worth as both. Cuomo has always been a complex auteur. He grew up on an ashram, fell in love with heavy metal to the point where he once took a Quiet Riot album cover to a barbers and said “Make me look like Carlos Cavazo”, and spent the majority of his time with Weezer trying to reconcile his desires for cliche rock stardom and wanting to be left alone. All of which is to say, he was pretty much destined to be largely misunderstood.
Even so, Weezer succeed most when he is reading from his diary without a filter, which, like it or not, is that of a man trapped in eternal puberty. In an interview with the AV Club he described the songs he was writing circa Hurley as sounding like “You’re 16, riding your bicycle to get a Slurpee,” and if getting slices of vintage Weez means listening to a 45-year-old dude with a wife and kid recapture his Wonder Years then I am absolutely here for that. There are many words you could use to describe Weezer’s new material, but at least “dishonest” and “boring” aren't among them.
If you enjoy music that resonates with your dizzying emotional anxieties, your complexes, and the dreadful intensity of being alive and/or in love, then the Weezer for you are back. They may not be playing Pinkerton 2.0, but that doesn’t belong in 2016 anyway. While many continue to stubbornly savour an attachment to their mid-90s incarnation, Weezer have stopped giving a shit about living up to it and started having fun instead. Cuomo's brand of accessible pop-rock may not be pushing many boundaries in the 21st century, but he's making the exact kind of music he wants to make. And what’s more commendable than that?
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