Collapsing in the 00s…it’s not just for the Irish anymore

24 Nov

On LA power-pop band Weezer‘s eponymous debut album (henceforth referred to as The Blue Album, due to its sky blue cover, akin to a shoddily-painted wall in a bedroom basement one would make for a son-in-law they resent), they had a song entitled “In The Garage.” This track detailed their musical influences and hobbies during their adolesence. Despite some occasionally cringeworthy lines, the song was an inspired romp through nerd cliches that gave insight into the mind of singer Rivers Cuomo, and would represent every flaw and positive attribute the Weezer of the 90s boasted. It was also one of the weakest songs on an otherwise classic album that would go on to influence countless bands, ranging from Bowling For Soup to The Format.

I’ve got posters on the wall,
My favorite rock group, KISS.
I’ve got Ace Frehley.
I’ve got Peter Criss
Waiting there for me.
Yes I do, I do

In the garage, I feel safe.
No one cares about my ways.
In the garage where I belong.
No one hears me sing this song.
In the garage.

I’ve got an electric guitar.
I play my stupid songs.
I write these stupid words
And I love every one
Waiting there for me.
Yes I do, I do.

Replace the members of KISS with Weezer-related shit, and that’s me at the age of 13. Having only heard two albums, and a handful of later tracks, I was certain this band could do no wrong. And, honestly, during the period of their music I was familiar with, they couldn’t. Their first two records, Blue and Pinkerton, are often regarded to be among the finest albums of the 90s to gain commercial success, and I have grown to appreciate the charms and insecurities of both, just as I have grown to resent their output since (perhaps I should stuff those albums in the extra room in the basement).

“What could have changed to make them suck so hard in such a short time period?” You have just asked a question that has kept me awake many a night. I wish to finally come to peace with this baffling conundrum tonight. But first, a little background re: my fallen heroes.

Channeling the sounds of KISS and The Cars, their music was a paradox from the start. However, with the help of, you guessed it, Cars vocalist Ric Ocasek, the band managed to meld their off-beat synth-pop tendencies with crunchy, distorted guitar that was always surprisingly heavy for the genre and time period. The resulting album, Blue, would net them the acclaim they so deserved for creating a gem whose flaws actually accentuated its inner shine. We all know “Buddy Holly,” that tune about a platonic relation that…fuck, you probably remember the video instead, don’t you? Glorious thing, it was. I’m sure Rivers spent his entire life wishing he could be The Fonz, no irony involved. Thankfully, they weren’t one-hit wonders. “Say It Ain’t So” and “Undone (The Sweater Song)” weren’t nearly as hooky, but managed to hit home with the slackers who knew a good tune when it smacked them in the face. Speaking of good tunes, “No One Else” may seem inane on the surface, but most of us could spend 10 years trying to write a hook that good and go absolutely nowhere.

Here’s a question for you: what do bands do when they’ve got a good thing going? If you guessed A) rest on their laurels, you are correct. I would also have accepted B) get high on coke and create bloated caricatures of their previous sound. RIP Oasis. Now, what do great bands do? Well, they decide to go wherever their muse leads them, assuming their muse is creative expression. Shitty bands follow their muse too, but muse = wallet in their case. In 1996, Rivers Cuomo followed his muse down a dark alley filled with porno mags and used copies of In Utero and wound up creating Pinkerton, a fucked-up diary detailing, what else, his heartache and sorrow. He sought to make a statement, one that would take an already great band to the next level. Unfortunately, Cuomo’s statement sounded nothing like Weezer’s statement of purpose (Blue Album) and the public largely rejected it at first. It certainly helps that he chose to open the album with a statement we can all relate to: “I’m tired of having sex.” It wasn’t any easier to sell from there. Hair-raising, naked accounts of love lost follow, culminating in an apology for the whole damn thing on the acoustic “Butterfly.” It’s actually catchier than lead single “El Scorcho,” a completely lopsided indie thud with a frat rock chorus attached.

Somewhere in that jittering mess of an album was beauty, and it took the public a while to find it. This is exemplified by Rolling Stone’s initial rating of 3 stars being raised all the way up to 5 in the span of six years. Sadly, Cuomo would go on to disown the album and all but dismantle the band as he finished his education at Harvard. His education was wasted, because Pinkerton was the very last time his lyrics would show any level of intelligence and subtlety. No exaggeration. You can’t learn to be inspired, and you can’t manufacture heart. However, they had all the time in the world to do so, and still managed to churn out their next eponymous album (let’s call it Green) 5 years after the release of Pinkerton. “Churn” is a great word for it, honestly, as the hooks feel largely manufactured and the lyrics perfunctory. We all remember “Island In The Sun,” and that is, sadly, one of the more pleasant numbers. “Photograph” and “Don’t Let Go” are also enjoyable Weezer-by-numbers. Honestly, most of the first side is passable, but the machine needed a tuneup by the second side, as hardly any of it is up to snuff. Plus, one of the tracks is called “O Girfriend.” I don’t care if it’s unprofessional for me to write that song off so quickly, but there’s just no way.

It’s clear that the band’s quality took a nosedive between 1996 and 2001, but they really took the sucking to 11 following the release of Maladroit. The album’s track listing was chosen by fans online based on a bank of demos the band had lying around and, clearly, the fans chose all the good stuff because, following that admittedly very enjoyable record, the band turned to complete shit.

Picture me, a huge Weezer fan of about a year, passionate for the group and thrilled to have the opportunity to hear their newest work Make Believe in spring 2005. Now imagine my face after hearing arguably the most uninspired, flat, and unexciting album of the decade. No great songs, nothing to offer the listener, and it is awarded no points. This was a first for a band that had, up to that point, provided a bare minimum of three really good songs per album. Fast forward a few years and we’re at the 2008 release of their NEXT fucking eponymous album (henceforth known as Red, or, “lol why”). My expectations are below the floor. Make Believe had body slammed me through it. Then the lead single “Pork And Beans” was released and I remembered what a good Weezer chorus sounded like. It had life. Dynamics. Horrendous lyrics, but I had hope.

The rest of the album was, sadly, a mess. There were sparks, however. Rivers, realizing he had become a hack, elected to give his bandmates a few opportunities to write songs. Predictably, this largely ended in Fail. Bassist Scott Shriner came up with this:

“I know you’re thinkin’ I’m trying to score
But deep in your heart you know that I’m more
Than a cat or a scoundrel
Now that I’ve found you, I don’t want to lose you
How can I prove, you know that I am sincere
You don’t need to fear
I’m not like the others; I’ll be like a brother
I will protect you, never disrespect you
But if you need love then I’ll be here to sex you”

Sadly, Rivers managed no better himself. I could write a book as to precisely how and why The Red Album features the most inept lyrics this side of an English-Japanese-English translation of “Ebony And Ivory”, but I will refrain.

In all honesty, this is the biggest flaw with Weezer today: Rivers Cuomo’s inane babbling. Fuck it, I can’t let you guys go completely without examples:

"I was driving this morning and sat in traffic on the way to work, work
Soon as I got in, my boss is tripping and acting like a freaking jerk
Me and my girl ain't speak in weeks and I can't remember the reason why, why, why
On top of that it's a recession, I feel like Jay-Z; this can't be life

was driving this morning and sat in traffic on the way to work work
Soon as I got in, my boss is tripping and acting like a freaking jerk
Me and my girl ain't speak in weeks and I can't remember the reason why why why
On top of that it's a recession, I feel like Jay-Z; this can't be life

Tonight I'm leaving all my worries and my problems in the house
I'm going out with my homies and we gonna let it, gonna let it
All hang out, let it all hang out, it's the last day of the weekend, boy I need to release
Let it all hang out, let it all hang out
I'm going out with my homies and we gonna let it all hang out"

The above is an exerpt from “Let It All Hang Out,” a track from their new album Raditude. It’s arguably the most horrendous moment on the album; bafflingly out-of-touch, yet conspicuously trying to be current. And, honestly, it’s not even THAT horrendous, relative to some of Red’s most baffling moments. The problem with Raditude, however, is the very same thing that has been handicapping Weezer’s otherwise catchy tunes this entire decade: horrible lyrics, coupled with a lack of imagination. OK, so they attempt to incorporate synths and Lil Wayne into “Can’t Stop Partying,” (was there ANY chance whatsoever that this would work?), and they cover all the bases on the perfunctory Indian genre exercise “Love Is The Answer,” but who honestly gives a fuck by this point?

It’s a shame, but perhaps Weezer’s predicament is a perfect example of “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” Had everyone shut their traps during the Pinkerton era and opened their ears, perhaps “Get Dangerous” and “I’m Your Daddy” could have been avoided. Or perhaps Rivers Cuomo needs to grow a thicker skin/eat more red meat. Either way, a once wonderful group is now a laughingstock, and it has become all but impossible to convince anyone that they were ever once palatable, let alone a band that defined my adolescence and made me want to try my hand at music in the first place. But hey, maybe when Pinkerton is reissued in 2017 on its coming of age, Rivers will realize how much of a dumbass he’s been and hook up with an aged Ric Ocasek for some cane-swaying power-pop goodness. We can only hope.

I was driving this morning inside traffic on the way to work.work.
Soon as i got in my boss was tripping and acting like a freaking jerk.jerk.
He and my girls aint speaking weeks and i cant remember the reason why. why. why.
On top of that it’s a recession i feel like jz this cant be right. right.Tonight i’m leaving all my worries and my problems tonight.
I’m going out with my homies.
And were gunna let itgunna let it all hang out.let it all hang out.
It’s the last day of the weekend boy i need to release.
And let it all hang out let it all hang out.
I’m going out with my homiesand we gunna let it all hang out.
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2 Responses to “Collapsing in the 00s…it’s not just for the Irish anymore”

  1. bono212 24/11/2009 at 08:34 #

    You’ve, at any rate, convinced me to give their first two albums a second chance. Congratulations.

  2. SLCPunk 29/11/2009 at 02:23 #

    Weezer blows. End of story.

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