Weezer have been a band since 1992, and in that time they’ve released 12 albums. Of course, if you only spoke to the hardcore fans, you might think that Weezer only have two albums: 1992’s the Blue Album, their first, and 1996’s Pinkerton. That is because, with The Real Weezer Fans, anything in between is considered so bad it simply doesn’t count towards their oeuvre. So, in an effort to further infuriate the Real Weezer Fans, this week the band surprise released The Teal Album, a fun, silly record full of covers of everything from TLC’s “No Scrubs” (which TLC’s Chilli loves, by the way) to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” It follows from their move to record a cover of Toto’s “Africa” after a teen lobbied them for weeks to make it happen.
The Real Weezer Fans are outraged: once again their favourite band are making fools of themselves, insolently refusing to return to being A Real Band performing Real Rock Music for Real Rock Fans. The distinction that Weezer fans constantly make between Blinkerton (fan code for the Blue Album and Pinkerton) and everything else is such well-trodden ground that SNL recently commented on it with a sketch in which Matt Damon and Leslie Jones play two Weezer fans on opposing sides of the argument. “True Weezer fans know that they haven’t had a good album since Pinkerton”, Jones' characters says. It escalates, with Matt Damon's telling her to “grow the hell up and listen to Raditude” before storming out. It watches like any YouTube comment section on Weezer’s new music, with the purists claiming that Weezer got “goofy” and “corny”.
Except consider this: Weezer were always the goofy band we see on The Teal Album or Raditude. Not only that, but it’s the greatest thing about them. They have been unfairly misrepresented as being a Real Rock Band by self-conscious fans desperate to defend their kinda silly tastes, because the most enjoyable thing about Weezer is lead singer Rivers Cuomo’s tenuous connection to how real people behave and make music. He has always operated on a different level; after the success of Blue, Cuomo had to have an operation to extend his leg at the age of 24, which led to painful physiotherapy sessions and depression. The agony he felt can be heard throughout Pinkerton; less polished than Blue, it’s a raw, painful exploration of one man’s loneliness and genuine physical pain. It was honest, but it was met with derision, and following poor reviews, he made the conscious decision to make his music more formulaic and less personal, writing detached lyrics and using spreadsheets to construct the songs.
Five years after Pinkerton bombed, and following a hiatus that saw Cuomo fall further into depression, Weezer released the Green Album, a record critics liked, with a listenable, power pop sound and silly lyrics on songs like “Hash Pipe” that some fans derided. From there, Weezer have only fallen more out of favor with their serious fans—see 2008’s The Red Album, notorious for its attempts at crowd-pleasing on songs like “Pork and Beans” and “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”. Some critics liked it, but others called it “insipid” and “breathtakingly bad”, lamenting that “it’s getting harder and harder to call myself a Weezer fan”. Still pushing the boundaries of what could be considered acceptable with their fanbase they released Raditude in 2009, an off-the-wall nuts album with tracks like “I’m Your Daddy” and “Can’t Stop Partying”, the latter of which features Lil Wayne and the brilliant line “OK bitches, Weezer and it’s Weezy.”
All of these decisions left “serious” fans longing for a return to Weezer making good, “serious” music. Rivers Cuomo, god bless him, can never please everyone: if the critics love it, his fans hate it, and sometimes he’s unlucky enough that everyone does. When Weezer play live, if Rivers is sedate he’s “boring,” but when he has fun with it, donning a sombrero and crawling all over the stage, he elicits even more head scratches. When their music is too formulaic and polished, it’s not good enough. When the lyrics are raw and honest, Rivers is mocked for the things that his lyrics reveal about him. His social media presence, that sees him posting Weezer memes, lines from his diary, and random things he’s thought of or found online, further confounds fans and onlookers.
But that is nothing new. Weezer, and Rivers Cuomo, have always been complicated, at once funny and silly and embarrassingly raw. And that’s the best thing about them—not how good the chord progressions are on Blue (or whatever it is that dads like about that album). Listen again to Blue, Serious Weezer Fans: if you were disappointed by the obvious Pet Sounds influence on The White Album, why is Blue’s clearly Beach Boys-inspired “Surf Wax America”, in which Cuomo sings "I'm waxing down so that I'll go real fast / I'm waxing down because it's really a blast” somehow better? Why is “Buddy Holly”, perhaps Weezer’s most popular song, in which Rivers Cuomo croons ooeeoooh “I look just like Buddy Holly” , more serious music than the songs on Raditude? Pinkerton—that raw, real, honest album that sounds half-finished (and absolutely slaps) may be darker—but it’s still full of silly lyrics like “I'm dumb, she's a lesbian / I thought I had found the one.”
The only real, tangible difference between The Serious Weezer Fans’ beloved Blinkerton and the later ten (10!) albums is perhaps the loss of raw honesty. Granted, that is a loss. Then again, some of the lyrics on Blinkerton caught Cuomo heat. On Blue’s “No One Else” he appears to be saying he wants to lock his girlfriend in the basement to keep her from having fun with anyone else, lyrics that he has since admitted he didn’t realize would be taken that way. Pinkerton’s “Across the Sea,” in which he laments being so far from an 18-year-old Japanese fan and talks about her touching herself, in tandem with “El Scorcho”’s line about “half-Japanese girls” saw him receive accusations of fetishising Asian women. Now, Cuomo sings mostly behind poppy melodies, covers, and an ironic social media presence.
The Teal Album is fun. It showcases Rivers’ great voice and the band’s constant versatility and dexterity. Cuomo’s Apple Music notes—in which he reveals that he didn’t change the gender on “No Scrubs” like a coward because he read a Joel Kim Booster tweet that said if you covered songs by a girl about a man you were “gay for three minutes”—are funny. Their covers go above and beyond, giving us just a little something more to listen to in the wait for the Black Album. Weezer have always been great, but at no point have they been a Serious Rock Band. To claim so is to do them a disservice, and to be disappointed by their dips into pop, hip-hop, covers, and beachy bangers is to not be a Weezer fan at all. If you’re hoping The Black Album will see a return to Pinkerton’s darkness and honesty, I’m partly with you. But if you’re not here for Weezer in all their genre-spanning, epic, ridiculous glory, if you adore Pinkerton while forgetting that Rivers originally wanted it to be a rock opera set in space (which, somehow, exists in demo form here), what’s even the point? None of us will ever truly understand the way that Rivers Cuomo’s mind works, but trying is half the fun of loving Weezer, and to only love them until 1996 is to not really love them at all.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.