Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sharp Turns and Bright Colors: A Weezer Retrospective

If you are a music fan, you have probably had a favorite artist or band at some time or another.  Depending on what time in your life you counted yourself as a devoted fan you may have thought that your favorite band could do no wrong.  Let me let you in on a little secret: no matter who your favorite band is, someday, they are going to suck.  At the very least, they will release something that will disappoint you in some way that you will have to internally justify in order to keep their reputation with you untarnished. 

That being said, in 1994, Weezer’s Blue Album was personally influential.  When I was still clinging to certain habituated progressive rock snobberies,  Rivers Cuomo's emotive hard-rock-nerd-chic  kept creeping into my awareness.  Aside from having incredibly catchy tunes churning with an intellectual undercurrent, they also delivered a uniquely genuine angst that readily tapped into my own insecure nature.  The Blue Album became a personal favorite that still resounds with me today, both nostalgically and musically.  I'll skip over the radio hits:

In this video, on bass, falsetto vocals and badly bleached hair, is Matt Sharp.  After the follow-up to the Blue Album Pinkerton was released, Sharp left the band, and as a bass player his absence was predictably underplayed in the big scheme of things.  Sharp invested in his side project The Rentals, whose vintage keyboard approach seemed a bit eccentric in the grungy 90s.  The Rentals released a couple of albums and had a low-key radio hit, but the band never quite took off like Weezer did.

Although he certainly contributed in terms of stage presence, I always had a feeling that Sharp contributed a bit more to Weezer than the songwriting credits revealed.  Without Sharp, though, Cuomo was clearly the principal songwriter for Weezer.  When the Green Album came out in 2001 after a brief hiatus, it represented a much more streamlined, and some would say formulaic, approach to songwriting, and I connected with it probably even more readily than their debut.  I listened to the Green Album incessantly when it came out, and saw them with Tenacious D when they came through Fort Worth on this tour.

I was a devoted Weezer fan at that point, and Cuomo could do no wrong, but not long after that, the problems started up.  The follow-up Maladroit was “just OK,” and their 2005 release Make Believe had some tracks that I would genuinely call bad – like not good.  My justification generator was going wild: on the one hand, Rivers is a smart guy, and it could have all been part of his master plan to release a couple of mediocre albums to build up anticipation for a big release, like a “fake comeback.”  It was far more likely, though, that being the principal songwriter for a group is an incredibly difficult position to maintain.  It seems hard to write songs in a vacuum, and far too many people take on solo careers for financial purposes rather than artistic.  There are, of course, exceptions, but generally speaking, when an artist goes solo, they usually have a couple of albums in them before they need to collaborate again to keep things fresh.

Which brings up 2008’s Red Album – this one featured more open collaboration and experimentation than the band was traditionally known for.  It does have a couple of personal favs on it, and it does grow on you, but ultimately I can’t say that the Red Album stacks up to either of its monochromatic predecessors in my mind.  It is, however, certainly one of Weezer’s most interesting albums, especially to the longtime fan.  I don’t like a lot of the live footage from this album, especially if you compare it to their older live footage, but this “video” does show the more nonstandard approach that they were trying to take with their songs.

The Red Album is also a frustrating release in another regard.  I still openly pine for a full on Cuomo/Sharp collaboration.  Although the contributions from the various band members on the Red Album are interesting, its pretty clear when you listen to it that none of them have the concept to really collaborate with Cuomo as a songwriting partner.  The Red Album (or an earlier alternate-universe version of it) could have been the place where Sharp and he emerged as a great songwriting team.

Although I keep my eyes open for them, I don't avidly follow Weezer like I did.  It seems like recently they release albums at an alarming rate, which makes me a little skeptical.   I did recently pick up Hurley, but I'll share my opinions on that one in a later post when I have it back in rotation.


  1. One of my favorite t-shirts is one from the Onion. It's a white shirt with the following sentence in small print: "Your favorite band sucks."

  2. This is great to know! It makes me feel like they're still worth a moderately priced concert ticket, if for no other reason that to check out some of the old, golden material.