In Defense of Weezer
Like many 20-somethings who grew up in the era when “Buddy Holly” was a staple on MTVs music video lineup, I’ve always enjoyed the occasional Weezer song. But it wasn’t until recently when I almost single-handedly killed a party by blasting “The Sweater Song” at a bar full of hip-hop faithfuls that I felt the need to cement my allegiance to the band in writing. As a devoted fan of the Los Angeles-based nerd rock pioneers, I often get irritated by the shit talk that seems to accompany every record the group has released since the Green Album hit shelves back in 2000.
Last summer, Weezer garnered significant attention after ditching longtime label Geffen/Interscope (their home since 1994) in favor of joining independent juggernaut Epitaph, and subsequently launching three albums over the course of only four months (Hurley, Death to False Metal, and a reissue of 1996’s Pinkerton in early November). In the wake of these events, the band has been the target of copious media scrutiny. Internet forums are practically brimming with testaments chronicling the group’s “catastrophic demise” and nostalgic diatribes from fans waiting for Weezer to return to its mid-90s heyday when it spun heads with the eponymous Blue Album and cult-favorite Pinkerton – two albums that could arguably take the cake among the greatest emo masterpieces of all time. Despite the band going strong for over 15 years, the bashing reached a new low last month when a random schmuck made headlines for spearheading a $10 million fundraising campaign to entice the band’s breakup. Someone tell me why this unwarranted grudge against one of the most seminal alt-rock bands of our day is justified? Did Rivers Cuomo steal someone’s girlfriend or something? No. Ok, so far, so fucking good. The bottom line is that Weezer is alive and well, and while the group has plenty of kinks to work out if it hopes to record another classic, they remain a decidedly awesome and underappreciated highlight of today’s alternative music landscape. With that said, here are nine reasons why Weezer still matters in 2010:
1. Rivers Cuomo is a Pop Genius.
Anyone with an ear for song composition would agree that Rivers Cuomo has an undeniable gift for melody. To call him one of the top ten best pop songwriters alive today is not a stretch; he regularly draws comparisons to Beach Boy legend Brian Wilson, a hefty achievement in its own right. Since 1994, 20 of Weezer’s 22 singles have charted on Billboard’s U.S. Alternative Rock Chart, including 10 songs that reached the top ten and seven that achieved #1 or #2 status. I remember when the Green Album came out in 2000 and critics labeled it the “comeback” record that was supposed to resurrect the band from the ashes it left from Pinkerton’s unceremonious crash and burn. At the time of its debut, the Green Album received mediocre reviews, but in retrospect, I consider it one of the catchiest, most infectious albums of Weezer’s career. I don’t exactly see anyone reaching for the “off” button when “Hashpipe” or “Island in the Sun” comes on the radio. As far as I’m concerned, any song off that CD could have been successful as a single.
Even the “worst” Weezer albums have managed to produce some memorable numbers, such as “Perfect Situation” from 2005’s Make Believe or the schizophrenic anthem “The Greatest Man that Ever Lived” off 2008’s Red Album. All things considered, if you combined the best songs from all of Weezer’s albums and left the Blue Album and Pinkerton intact, the result would be one of the best multi-disc pop rock collections ever produced, hands down. The problem isn’t the music, though, it’s that people don’t take the time to listen. If they did, they might understand the inexplicable brilliance of a lyric as stupid as “Wa-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na” from the Red Album’s opening track, “Troublemaker.” Yes, Rivers comes off a bit awkward and hermetic at times, but behind all the nerdiness is a pop maestro of unparalleled caliber.
2. Change is a Good Thing.
It bothers me when I hear folks say, “I used to like Weezer.” Weezer fans are perpetually disgruntled at any output that doesn’t resemble the Blue Album or Pinkerton. It’s easy to understand why; each of those albums produced giant expectations for fans, only for the band to follow up with music that, in some instances, was comparatively average. But honestly, who can expect the band to deliver another album like the first two? Records like that come around once in a blue moon. More credit should be given to the fact that Weezer has never given fans something redundant. Whether it’s their attempt at delivering an orchestral sound on the Red Album or their collaboration with Lil’ Wayne on Raditude, Weezer CDs generally showcase the band’s effort to stay fresh by giving fans something new.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying the strategy always works. If Metallica can be forgiven for putting out a dud like St. Anger, then Weezer should be given some slack for putting out Raditude (as if the fact that it was released to fulfill legal obligations to Geffen isn’t reason enough to forget about it). Like Weezer, some of the most engaging bands I can think of are ones that consistently reinvent themselves.
Whether Rivers and company are belting out stories about trippin’ down the freeway or falling in love with a lesbian, you have to admire the band for abiding to one simple philosophy: have fun. This is a big reason I got into the band to begin with. I was reminded of this when I saw the geeky frontman sport a blonde wig during the band’s cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” at a recent concert in San Diego. Sure, the act was self-deprecating, but “fun” is a credo you can’t argue against. Hell, if a band like The Vandals can build a 30-year career on it, what’s stopping Weezer?
4. “I Hear They Suck Live.”
For what Weezer has supposedly given up in music quality, they make up for with concert appeal. Years before Rivers abandoned the guitar on stage in favor of taking full-time mic duties, most people considered him a reclusive frontman with no stage presence. In essence, he was a singer buoyed by a catalogue of pop songs that were good enough to keep only the most devoted audience members interested. Well, times have changed, and it’s safe to say that the band members are now masters of the stage. Forget the poor quality YouTube videos floating on the web. Just talk to kids who’ve waited hours in line to get into “secret” shows that legions of fans somehow seem to know about. The band’s live act is nothing short of a trance-inducing, fan-inclusive experience featuring balls-out rock star antics – costume changes, trampolines, neon stage lights – the whole nine. On last year’s tour, supporting Blink 182, they effectively stole the “Headliner” position on the merits of their live presence alone. And of course, who can dismiss the recent addition of drumming virtuoso, Josh Freese, to the bands live ensemble (if you have no idea who Josh Freese is, stop what you’re doing now and look him up).
5. Weezer Manages to Stay Fashionable When Others Don’t.
Regardless of what music snobs believe, music is a business, and few modern-day bands have been able to conquer the art of commercial success as well as Weezer has. While countless artists walk the road of shame once they can’t figure out how to keep up with current trends (e.g., just look at how fast ’80s hair metal bands vanished after ’90s grunge rock became popular), Weezer has an instinctive knack for staying in touch with pop culture. Do you think their release of a U.S. soccer anthem on the eve of the team’s World Cup match against England this summer was an accident? Nor was it a coincidence that Weezer inked a clothing deal with apparel company, Hurley, given that its most recent album bears the title and cover of an uber-popular TV character from Lost with the same name.
I’ve often been told that Weezer’s antics amount to a classic case of “selling out.” What a bunch of crap. Would Brett Gurewitz, a founding member of iconic punk band Bad Religion and owner of Epitaph Records (the label to which Weezer is currently signed), really allow such an egregious sin to be committed on his turf? The whole concept of “selling out” is garbage anyway, but I’ll reserve that rant for another time. Pessimists like to interpret the group’s actions as desperate attempts to stay in the limelight, but since I prefer to look at the glass half full, I view their behavior as a series of clever, funny, and strategically-concocted business moves that other bands wish they were smart enough to drum up. When you really think about it, Weezer’s strategy boils down to a few things: staying connected with fans, remaining current, and (gasp!) earning a paycheck. I would gladly film a music video with the Muppets, as the band did with the song “Keep Fishin”, if my livelihood depended on it. Anyone who says they wouldn’t is a straight up liar.
6. Media Schmedia.
Much of Weezer’s downhill tailspin has been perpetuated by the opinions of pundits and other “qualified” sources of music judgment. Lest we forget, in 1996, Rolling Stone named Pinkerton “one of the worst albums of the year” – ironic considering the CD has become the magnum opus of the emo rock genre. Pinkerton was initially a commercial failure, and though word of mouth ultimately made the album successful, Rolling Stone’s blunder demonstrates the unfortunate reality of how easy it is for people to buy into the conclusions of misinformed “experts” whose job it is to shape public perceptions before audiences have a chance to form their own opinions.
So what’s the lesson in all of this? If history is any indication, music audiences would be better off ignoring the views of mass media altogether. To this day, I’m still hoping that Ashton Kutcher will jump out and tell me that the Rolling Stone episode with Pinkerton was just a cruel prank. “Punk’d!” The fact is that mainstream standards for good music generally hinge on preconceived notions of a sound to the point where artistic creativity tends to get lost at the expense of mainstream approval. Having said that, don’t expect the media to always have an open mind when it comes to music that pushes boundaries…and, as the Rolling Stone incident proves, don’t believe their discouraging nonsense about Weezer either.
7. Music Videos Still Matter.
Psyche. Who am I kidding? I’ll keep this brief, only because there’s no debating that music videos are a dying breed struggling in today’s post-TRL world. But for the record, Weezer have been masters at delivering some of the most creative and comical video segments since making the ’70s sitcom “Happy Days” a topic of conversation among ’tweens with the video for “Buddy Holly.” Seven-million YouTube views and counting. Enough said.
8. The Power of Longevity.
Rarely does a band maintain a firm grip on nostalgia while managing to stay relevant in the present. Who would have thought that the same guys who introduced the world to “My Name is Jonas” would be sharing a Top 10 spot with Linkin Park and Mumford & Son’s on Billboard’s Alternative Rock chart a decade and a half later? Weezer’s longevity is an admirable feat when you consider the endless music options that listeners have in today’s widely accessible digital environment. Each album produces songs that age well, and with consumer attention spans lasting shorter than ever, most bands are lucky to live through one single, much less twenty and counting. How can you not respect that?
9. Stop Living in the Past.
If I can conclude with one quote, it would be from the French writer, Marcel Pagnol, who said that “The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” This statement epitomizes the current state of Weezer fans better than anything I can think of. Too many fans are stuck reminiscing about the ’90s when they should be accepting each Weezer album for what it is, rather than what it isn’t (i.e. Blue or Pinkerton). If only folks stopped smarting over the disappointment of everything past the first two albums, they’d realize that listening to the new stuff is like taking a cast off a broken leg and learning that not only can you still walk, but you’re actually a pretty fucking good runner, too. People grow, people change, and bands are no exception. Plus, at 40 years old, wouldn’t it be awkward for Rivers to still be writing songs about being alone in his garage?