This essay is from a zine I edited called "The Corporate Music Monster: The Story of Good Bands Who Now Suck"
Weezer: Say It Ain't So
by Jesse La Tour
With their 1995 self-titled debut album (Usually called “The Blue Album”), Weezer introduced something wholly unique to the 90s rock scene. Their music was hard rockin’ and nerdy at the same time. Just look at those nerds on the cover, standing there awkwardly in thrift store clothes. This was before “vintage style” was cool. They helped make it cool. Is it a coincidence that I stopped shopping for my clothes at the mall, and started shopping at Good Will around 1995? No, it was (partly) because of Weezer. With songs about Buddy Holly, Night Crawler (of the X-Men), Surf Wax, and sweaters, they offered a welcome contrast to 90s grunge, which was so serious and heavy and angst-ridden. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots were writing testosterone-filled anthems of male aggression. By contrast, Weezer’s music was catchy and poppy and reminiscent of infectious songs of the 50s and 80s. The lead singer of The Cars produced this album, and you can hear it. Their music manages to be silly without being cheesy. They embraced their pop sensibilities and their weirdness at the same time, and the result was a brilliant album that is timeless in its appeal. Some of their songs were sad, and a bit angst-ridden (What 90s rock band didn’t have angst?), but even these songs are catchy, like “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here,” “My Name is Jonas” (Still one of my top 5 rock songs. My brother actually named his son Jonas, after this song.), and “The Sweater Song.” The Blue Album skyrocketed this band of outsiders to mainstream stardom, and this was the beginning of the end.
Weezer’s sophomore album, Pinkerton, is a good album, but not great. You can hear the band losing some of their pop-whimsy and exploring darker themes, not unlike their grunge counterparts. To me, Pinkerton is one of the first “emo” albums. Most of the choruses are catchy enough, but the songs are about loneliness and sex and angst which, to me, was not what drew people to their first album. Perhaps they had lost their youthful playfulness and were writing about more “adult” themes. The irony is that, when Weezer made nerdiness cool, and actually became successful and cool, they didn’t know what to do with it. They became famous as anti-rock stars, and when they became actual rock stars, they started to fall apart. Pinkerton is a sincere album, delving deeply into this quagmire of rock success, but it is ultimately a cry of despair, the last gasp of artists who were losing their inspiration. It’s as if Kafka’s Hunger Artist were to become a national sensation, and financially successful. Would he still be able to maintain his artistic integrity? I don’t claim to have the answer to this question. Certainly there have been bands (like Radiohead) who have managed to become successful and maintain their artistic integrity, but sadly these bands are few and far between, as we shall explore in the following pages.
After Pinkerton, Weezer fell off the map, musically, for a few years. Between the years 1997-2000, they released no new material. It is rumored that Rivers Cuomo, the band’s front man and main song writer, went into some kind of deep depression, which is totally understandable if you have ever listened to Pinkerton. That album is a cry for help.
In 2001, Weezer made a much-anticipated comeback with anther self-titled album (Usually referred to as “The Green Album”). If the color-choices of their album covers are symbolic, I would venture to suggest that green, in this case, represents money, or greed, or both (Weezer got huge financial backing for this album, and massive MTV and KROQ play time). Green certainly does not, in this case, represent creativity. The Green Album is a total piece of shit, musically. It’s a hyper-produced, lyrically shallow, unoriginal parody of their former selves, which pretty much sums up every album since (and there have been, shockingly, FIVE albums since, each more mind-numbingly bad than that last). I stopped following Weezer after I heard the first single from The Green Album, “Hash Pipe.” I am amazed that the same man who wrote “My Name is Jonas” wrote something so utterly shitty. Here’s the chorus:
“Oh, Come on and kick me,
Oh, Come on and kick me,
Come on and kick me,
You got your problems,
I got my ass wipe,
You got your big jeans,
I got my hash pipe.
I got my hash pipe”
Granted, some of the lyrics from The Blue Album and Pinkerton are silly and funny, but “Hash Pipe” is neither silly nor funny. It’s just bad. The guitar sounds are standard corporate rock licks, interchangeable with bands like Foo Fighters and Green Day (who I will deal with later), and Cuomo’s voice lacks the irony and depth of his former self. It is as if he emerged from his depression a shell of his former self, a piece of clay that record companies and A&R people could mold into something sellable, the very worst kind of music, music that is carefully calculated to appeal to the largest number people as possible, to sell the most product, artistic integrity be damned. This kind of music can be heard on the major corporate radio stations, most notably KROQ.
Thus, I have had no interest in Weezer albums post-Pinkerton. However, I would feel like a bad writer if I didn’t at least give these albums a fair listen. Thus, I have spent the evening listening to the singles from each of Weezer’s post-Pinkerton albums: Maladroit, Make Believe, another self-titled album (This one called The Red Album), and Raditude. Let me tell you, it has been a long evening, and I feel dumber for having listened to this shit. To my credit, I did not pay money for this music. I listened to it on www.grooveshark.com, which is actually a pretty cool site (thanks Landon).
I have nothing constructive to say about Maladroit or Make Believe. These albums are tragically unlistenable.
The Red album is terrible, but it offers some insights into Weezer’s descent into corporate rockdom, and even offers insights into some of the more depressing parts of popular culture in America. Two songs on the album, “Troublemaker,” and “Pork and Beans,” are similar thematically. Both songs assert a position of rebellion, of going against “the norm,” while ironically completely conforming to musical expectations. “Troublemaker” asserts:
“I’m a troublemaker,
never been a faker,
Doing things my own way,
Never giving up…”
While “Pork and Beans” boasts:
“I’m gonna do the things that I wanna do,
I ain’t got a thing to prove to you…
I don’t give a hoot about what you think.”
Both songs were huge successes commercially; “Pork and Beans” topped the Billboard charts for 11 weeks, and the music video won a Grammy. The fact that there was nothing especially new or original about these songs did not seem to matter. They are both shallow parodies of the band’s former sound. But what is especially interesting about these songs is that they represent the ultimate irony of corporate “alternative” rock—this music adopts a stance of rebellion, while achieving enormous commercial success and popularity, situating it firmly in the realm of “normal” or “popular.” Anything but rebellious or original. It’s like Sarah Palin calling herself a “maverick”, while proclaiming frighteningly conservative political values. It’s like how the corporation Hot Topic has taken “punk” or “alternative” fashion, and turned it into a huge commercial market (There is a Hot Topic store in most American malls). Or like how expensive designer brands like Diesel now make clothes that look like something you could buy in a thrift store, but charge hundreds of dollars. It’s that classic capitalist value of taking something good or meaningful, commodifying it, and turning it to meaningless bullshit, emptying it of all original value.
I will conclude this admittedly depressing analysis of Weezer with a semi-funny factoid. On the album Raditude, Weezer collaborates with Lil Wayne (aka Lil Wheezy) on a laughable song called “Can’t Stop Partying.” Presumbaly because they are both commercially successful musicians who have similar-sounding names.
Thus, the tragic rise and fall of Weezer. I feel a special sadness when I listen to them, a sadness similar to what I felt when I visited Graceland and saw a video of an aging Elvis, a little fat, wearing his white jump suit, singing his old classics, his eyes a little dead, his face sweating, a shell of his former self.