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Columns > Rob Kallick

Published: 2001/10/18
by Rob Kallick

Weezer: A Case Study

Ill start off by saying that, without a doubt, Weezer is one of my favorite bands in the world. But they are also one of the most perplexing and frustrating bands around, and I have the unfortunate problem of actually caring about what they do. My relationship with the band does not involve me obsessing over set lists and statistics, but rather it allows me to believe that rock music still is important in the purest sense. I believe that the events of this year concerning Weezer say a lot about the state of music today, maybe in more ways than most people realize. Regardless of how much you like this band (I mean, how could you not at least like them a little?) the fact remains that their little place in rock history is vital.
When I first heard Undone (The Sweater Song) back in 1994 I was a freshman in high school. Pearl Jam, Nirvana and the rest of the grunge bands dominated the radio and MTV. At the time it was a little overcrowded, but looking back I would trade that for whats popular now in a second. But somehow, out of the depths of alternative rock came a quirky little band from California called Weezer. I, like countless other kids across the country, was instantly hooked upon first hearing The Sweater Song. There was something instantly refreshing about their sound. To this day I cant quite put my finger on it, but in essence its a combination of the bands impeccable harmonies, Rivers Cuomos unconventional lyrics and the whole bands ability to bring the songs to incredible heights in a under just a few minutes. The Sweater Song reaches an improbable climax at around the 4-minute mark that would put even the best jam by a jamband to shame. Their debut album, dubbed by fans The Blue Album, has numerous moments that fall into this category. For example, when the whole band starts singing Do you believe what I say now? in unison during The World Has Turned and Left Me Here, I get a serious set of chills down my spine. And when the song kicks in again after the breakdown in Surfwax USA its almost impossible not to jump out of your seat with joy. Nearly all ten songs on The Blue Album have moments like these, even the overplayed Buddy Holly has a classic soaring guitar solo that peaks brilliantly.
Weezer continued producing pop gems on their follow-up masterpiece Pinkerton that was released in 1996. This was the album that separated the men from the boys – the quintessential tortured-rock-star-gone-crazy album that found the band losing more than half their fan base, including yours truly. I was off obsessing over another band and had forgotten about my lovable Weezers. But earlier this year my friend Eric handed me a copy of Pinkerton and pretty much forced me to listen to it. I had always written the album off and had never really given it a good listen. Boy was I wrong. In fact, I dont think I could have been more wrong. This album is pure bliss. To describe it in words would be unjust. It takes everything good about The Blue Album and turns it up like ten notches. The lyrics are introspective as Rivers tells all about his inner demons. In fact, I read somewhere that he described the album as getting really drunk at a party and telling everyone your darkest secrets and then waking up the next morning, hung over as hell and regretting it. Fortunately for us, Rivers loss is our gain and Pinkerton is one of the most honest albums youll ever hear. And combine that with more experimental musical excursions and you have a brilliant follow-up. The only problem was the Rivers hated it. He hated it so much he went into seclusion for a while afterwards and more or less disowned the album entirely. When he returned he felt rejuvenated and happy to have left what he considered a disaster behind him. However, during that time Pinkerton had gained a new legion of fans that had given it a legitimate cult following. People praised it for its honesty, frankness and sincerity, all attributes that separated it from the rest of the modern rock that had ceased being alternative long before. Fans wondered aloud what was going on with Weezer. The web was abuzz with rumors and hearsay, until last year it was reported that the boys were back in the studio recording with Ric Ocasek who had produced The Blue Album. When early this year it was announced that the follow-up to Pinkerton was due in May many fans, including myself, were overjoyed with the prospect of new Weezer. A tour preceded the release of the album and I was lucky to catch a show in San Francisco. It was amazing how many young fans were there and it proved that people were really counting on this band to bring the fun back into rock, especially with all the depressing nu-metal bands on the radio these days.
I nervously awaited their new album, know as The Green Album, because I knew this was a huge step for Weezer. I wondered whether they would continue down the path they had tread with Pinkerton by producing edgy non-mainstream pop, or would they go a totally different directionthe proof was in the neatly packaged, MTV-friendly Green Album. I rushed to my local CD Store the morning it was released an nervously placed it in my stereo. 28 minutes later I sat dumbfounded. I listened to it again to make sure I wasnt hearing things. I wasnt. This was, by far, the most boring, pointless collection of garbage ever to bear the name Weezer. Where were the epic guitar solos? The soaring three-part harmonies? The candid lyrics? There was none of this. All the guitar solos consisted of were the melodies of the song and Rivers was singing about hash pipes and photographs. Where were the half Japanese girls? Rivers and company had gone in the completely opposite direction and created an album that seemed aimed directly at the pre-pubescent fans on TRL. Dont get me wrong, The Green Album has some incredibly tight hooks, but none that affect you in the way they had on previous albums.
So, the main question is obviously, Why? Why did they retreat? Why didnt they challenge themselves more and make another album more like Pinkerton? I think the answer is simple and not entirely their fault. Bands are pressured these days more so than ever to come up with a product that can be sold to the demographic that spends the most money on music: teens, or teens who watch TRL. This is undeniably true and I feel Rivers felt pressured into releasing an album that had potential to do this. And it did. H*** Pipe aired constantly on MTV and the album sold very well, much better that the barely 500,000 copy selling Pinkerton and on par with The Blue Album. So what does one do when their favorite band sell out? The only thing I really can do is wait for the next album and hope that Rivers and the boys still have another Pinkerton left in them.

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