We’re reissuing Weezer’s cult classic sophomore album Pinkerton this month, which made our writer start thinking about the eight, often unfairly maligned or ignored, Weezer albums that have come since.
If you’re even vaguely aware of Weezer, and their discography, you’re aware that there is a very vocal contingent that will contend that The Blue Album and Pinkerton are their peaks as a band. That very well may be; I’m not here to try to convince you that Hurleyis actually their best album. I used to drive around listening to Pinkerton as a 17-year-old and FEEL THINGS just like everyone else, and I used to be able to fumble my way through “My Name is Jonas” on the guitar, so I am one of you. I am a card carrying member of the Pinkerton makes me feel like I did 10 years ago fan club. I am one of you.
But here’s the thing: Weezer have made 10 albums, and I know for a fact that I haven’t given at least six of those a fair shake. I haven’t given Weezer much thought since I heard they named an album Raditude, and I haven’t listened to a full new album since Make Believe. So I resolved to cannonball through “new Weezer” over the last week, to see if I’ve been closing myself off to a bunch of good music just to toe a party line. I found out was that not only was I wrong in trumpeting the boring, trite party line, I found I like at least four Weezer albums in 2016 as much as I like their first two*.
The thing that’s worth noting, here, before we get too far down this rabbit hole where I am sure to catch copious amounts of negative Facebook comments, is that to most people, Weezer are still a vital, popular rock band. They are the only band left standing from the ‘90s alt rock boom that still matters today, that still gets new songs played on commercial rock radio (whatever that actually is in 2016). There are vastly more people on earth who consider Weezer’s current work to be at least as good as their first two albums, they’re just less vocal about it.
Which, I realize if you’re reading this because of Pinkerton, is enraging to you: but it’s stone cold truth. Pinkerton is only the band’s 4th biggest selling album. Make Believehas sold more, and so has The Blue Album. The Green Album has sold twice as many copies. And for that matter, the maligned Maladroit, with its Muppets videos, has almost sold as many copies as Pinkerton has. Which I am not saying has any real bearing of quality, but what it does indicate is that there is more to the narrative of “everything after Pinkerton sucks” than most people give credit to: Weezer are the most popular rock band of the 21st century, and the only other band that comes close to claiming that throne is Coldplay, and like, would you rather have this than this? Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Remove Pinkerton from Weezer’s oeuvre all together, and you have an entirely different band with a different career arc. Weirdoes make pop-rock debut that has bigger hits than their label thought possible; they come back after seven years with an album that doubles down on the pop, and ups the big money sheen. The Green Album is seen as unlikely pop smash from returning ‘90s power-poppers. From there, they spend the last 15 years, and seven albums, continually refining their pop rock sound. They’re the Cars if they never stopped making music. They’re Def Leppard if they made albums about how it sucks to be lonely. They’re Poison with less hairspray and less misogyny.
The first Weezer album I actually loved was The Green Album. I was 15, and “Island in the Sun” remains my favorite Weezer single. Two years later, I drove myself to my local Target the day Maladroit came out, and bought Pinkerton then, but didn’t get around to listening to it till months after I wore out the CD grooves of “Burndt Jamb.” Which is to say, I listened to those albums again this week, and they are as good as I remember them being. But I already loved those things as a teen, even if Pinkerton spoke to my teenage existential loneliness more than “Hash Pipe” did.
So I guess that brings us to Raditude. The worst titled album since some band named their album after the big dude from Lost(oh wait). There’s a song on that album that is as revealing as anything Cuomo wrote for Pinkerton: It’s called “Tripping Down the Highway,” and it’s all about how Cuomo has decided to stay committed to his wife, despite her gaining weight, and them not having as much sex as he’d like anymore. Sure, he’s gained weight too, but in the throes of a relationship that is relying more on collective love than lust, it’s hard to see outside of yourself. But Cuomo decides that he’s made a promise, and his relationship is never going to “fade out.” And here’s the thing: that’s a message 40-year-olds need in their lives: commit to collective love, and don’t be like Cuomo and be wrapped up in your own shit. Of course, that message is going to be hard to take: it’s on an album called Raditude.
I was 17 when I related to Pinkerton, but let’s be real: I’ve never been able to really relate to a song called “Tired of Sex,” and neither have most people who love Pinkerton. But as those of us who love Pinkerton increasingly enter mid-middle age, what can we relate to more than a song about trying to be cool?
“They say I need some Rogaine to put in my hair
Work it out at the gym to fit my underwear
Oakley makes the shades to transform a tool
You'd hate for the kids to think that you've lost your cool”
Cuomo sings that during “Pork and Beans” a single from The Red Album.
Or consider “The Other Way,” from Make Believe,also known as “the album with “Beverly Hills”.” In that one, Cuomo is as open about his relationship foibles as he was on Pinkerton. Here’s how part of the second verse goes on that one:
“I have many doubts about my motives
I have many fears about my greed
I have always hurt the one that I love
so I'll turn and look the other way”
If that line was on Pinkerton, it’d still be in 17-year-olds AIM away messages.
You spend enough time doing a deep reading of Weezer like I did, and you begin to wonder how entire albums can be written off by the Internet commentariat when they have writing as open and direct as what was on Pinkerton. Is it because people heard “Beverly Hills” and refused to believe the album could be good? We all look past the ickier themes of Pinkerton all the time—as discussed in Tom Breihan’s essay on the album—why can’t we look past “Beverly Hills” or the title Raditude?
The answer is in Cuomo’s writing. After Pinkerton,he took five years off between albums, and lived a real life. He grew up. But the collective memory of his Pinkerton-loving fanbase didn’t; for them Weezer needed to be frozen in the ember of who they were on Pinkerton, regardless of when the listener discovered them, even if that was in 2004. Cuomo stopped needing to work through therapy via his music—and started meditating and going to therapy, like an adult. He peppers his song with autobiography—like the Red Album song “Heart Songs”—but he’s moved past being broken and being 24. He started writing about how he could afford houses in Beverly Hills but that made him uncomfortable. He watched too much Lost and named a whole album after it. He wrote songs about wanting to go back to the basics of when his band started.
That’s how “I can’t relate to this like I could an album from 20 years ago” becomes “Weezer have no good albums except Pinkerton.” Which has got to be profoundly irritating for Cuomo; he was told, again, emphatically, that no one wanted to hear his songs about being sad about being famous, so he’s never done anything like Pinkerton since. He changed, and we stayed the same. We owe it to Cuomo to at least give Weezer’s current music an honest chance. Start with this year’s White Album.
*- Green Album, Maladroit, Red Album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End