If you have a list of alternative icons you’d love to get into but don’t know where to start, get ready to cross some of them off with our new feature PRIMER, in which we guide you through the highs, lows, and occasional confusing bits of the careers of renowned indie icons.
The very worst that you can say about Weezer is that they have only tasted greatness. Active since 1992, with nine studio albums released, a handful of charting singles, and a stockpile of some of the greatest music videos ever made, much of their esteem stems from their first two albums, the undeniable masterpieces Weezer (1994) - colloquially known as The Blue Album - and Pinkerton (1996). But after the latter album’s commercial failure and a line-up shift prompted by frontman and lead songwriter Rivers Cuomo, something happened. With Weezer (2001) – again, better known as The Green Album – Weezer still sounded like Weezer, but something was different.
There are many theories why this was so – all relying on the paradox of frontman and main songwriter Cuomo. In that early-Weezer era, Cuomo was an unassuming nerd rocker and an unlikely frontman. He wore his heart on his sleeve; us fans felt like we knew him, related to his susceptibility to lust after Cello players, embraced with a mighty fist-pump his devotion to Kiss, and recognized ourselves in his tender, yet potent, ballads to youthful caprice. For this breed of fan, seeing the emotional turmoil of an outcast matched with rock-star charisma helped elevate The Blue Album and Pinkerton to the pantheon of American rock music.
The Blue Album is a spiritual successor to The Cars – Ric Ocasek produced it – but if The Cars were 20 years younger and grew up in early-90’s Cali on a diet of punk and 80’s hair metal. The songs follow a simple structure of toned-down verse, build, amped chorus, more build and an esoteric guitar solo or two thrown in for good measure. All this heart-pumping sound is grounded by Cuomo’s heartfelt, but never histrionic vocals. It’s fun, cathartic, and you feel it, ya know? Also, it’s fun as hell to sing along to.
Pinkerton is the natural foil to the rowdy fun of their debut. They aren’t quite the same people, but they are the same band. It’s darker moments are graver and it’s fun moments more turbulent. Over the course of the album, Cuomo pines for an unattainable 18-year-old Japanese fan on “Across the Sea,” then a lesbian on “Pink Triangle.” Later he comes to terms with his inability to approach a crush on “El Scorcho,” declares himself “Tired of Sex,” and undergoes a rebirth on “The Good Life.” Cuomo’s presence turns a group of pop-rock songs into what feels like soul-bearing hymn – personal and populist all at once.
But shit done changed. The post-Pinkerton Weezer is simpler; the music less complicated; the lyrics dumber, even lacking.
So what happened? Legend has it Cuomo was devastated with the lackluster reception Pinkerton received upon its original release – the once-vulnerable songwriter never again risking heartbreak by wearing his heart boldly on his sleeve. Others think Cuomo discovered how to be happy and thus had less angst and conflict to draw from. Still others think that Matt Sharp may have been the conduit for greatness all along (although how many Rentals songs can you name?)
The thing though – the almost maddening thing – is that many, maybe most, Weezer fans don’t acknowledge the band’s later incarnation; like at all. Even Sheezer, Toronto’s only all-women Weezer cover band, refuse to play songs off post-Pinkerton albums.
Here’s how every pre-/post-Pinkerton conversation takes place:
Me: Hey, you like Weezer?
Fan: I love The Blue Album and Pinkerton.
Me: How do you feel about Maladroit?
Fan: [blank expression] I love The Blue Album and Pinkerton.
Me: Oh, you should check it out. It’s not quite as good but it’s still pretty good.
Fan: [sweating, glancing nervously] I-I love The Blue Album and Pinkerton.
Then I shrug and we start to sing “El Scorcho.”
Myself, I draw a third line in between the pre-/post-Pinkerton distinctions that includes The Green Album and Maladroit (2002). The Green Album sounds like a C-sides collection from those earlier golden years – repetitive but performed with a ton of geeky passion and energy. Maladroit is a heavy, goonier succession that gets weirder and more paranoid as it progresses. If all the ideas and creative energy were combined together, it would make a perfect successor to Pinkerton, held with the same reverence by the early era purists.
I don’t want to paint those Blue Album and Pinkerton fans as a bunch of elitist snobs. It’s impossible to dismiss them as canonical hipsters when The Blue Album remains their most popular and best-selling album (Pinkerton is fourth). In any case, the band itself makes no distinction between the different eras fans have cast their albums in. They have always been and still are Weezer. And it’s up to us to deal with it.
Weezer For Beginners
So let’s dive in. This tracklist is meant as an introduction and overview. You will notice that no tracks from The Blue Album or Pinkerton are listed because they are already essential listening, which doesn’t give me much of a challenge.
“Don’t Worry Baby”
If you don’t get it, I’d recommend you listen to the Beach Boys rendition and then this one. It’s an easy 30 year progression of everything good about rock music and grounds Weezer in time.
You may remember this from end of Mallrats. If you’re too lazy to listen to The Blue Album, this B-side is an excellent summary of what makes it great: builds, falling in love with quirky girls, allusions to questionable bands.
“Island In The Sun”
“Island in the Sun” from The Green Album is the one exception-to-the-rule. It’s embraced by pre- and post-Pinkerton fans alike, which probably has something to do with the magical, baby-animal starring video. The other version features a Mexican wedding, and is also excellent.
A good summary of what to expect from Maladroit. Hard, simple and riffy.
“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”
Weezer is ambitious. You can’t argue against that.
“Pork & Beans”
Weezer is of the people! Nostalgically, this video will be to the 2000’s what Buddy Holly was to the 90’s.
“Can’t Stop Partying”
One of the strangest Weezer phenomenons is Cuomo’s continuing explorations of hip/hop and R&B (the first occurring on Pinkerton‘s “The Good Life.”) Here he goes full-in, co-writing this track with Jermaine Dupri and featuring Lil’ Wayne. Oddly enough the acoustic version is the closest he’s gotten to Pinkerton since.
“Unbreak My Heart”
Can’t forget Weezer’s penchant for earnest covers of goofy songs. It’s quite adorable.