First off, I’d like to say that I don’t normally write “music” based articles for the magazine. That’s never been my forte and our staff writer Madd Amanda does a more than excellent job covering music in her own excellent and well written way. So I’m not trying to steal her thunder with this piece. Usually when I write something, it’s due to a spark I feel in my belly and I know I have something passionate to say about he subject matter. When it comes to music… I have artists I like and artists I hate. I love the ones I love and don’t really pay attention to the ones I don’t. I usually write about nerd stuff or review movies because that’s kind of my thing. Anyone who knows me in my everyday life knows that I’m super obsessed with film and tv. So that’s what I stick to… because I like to think I’m good at it. This time I wanted to challenge myself… plus what I bring to the table is not only one of my first favorite bands of all time… but a knowledge base large enough that I consider myself somewhat of an authority and have something intelligent to say. Today…I’ll be taking a look at the rise and fall and somewhat stalling out of the career of Weezer.
Weezer burst out into the scene in 1994 with their debut album Weezer (The Blue Album). Songs like Undone: The Sweater Song… Buddy Holly and Say It Ain’t So were all massive hits back then. And to this day all mainstays on modern rock radio. It really speaks to the staying power of this album that’s almost 25 years old and still has lasting appeal enough to be featured in constant rotation even to this day. The Blue Album is possibly THE defining rock record of the 90’s. I suppose one could make the argument for either Dookie or Smash being bigger albums commercially speaking, but they are ultimately representations of the punk genres emergence into the mainstream. The Blue Album, while displaying some passing punk influences, is a more well rounded “rock” record that features a number of different influences. You get the grungy guitars of Nirvana, the melodies of The Beach Boys and the alternative style of The Pixies. This was without a doubt possibly the best debut album of any band in a long time.
The Blue Album was such a monumental success that Weezer was given carte blanch in terms of recording the follow up. Everyone was expecting more melodic post grunge awesomeness that dominated that debut album. Weezer even decided to produce the whole thing on their own. The goal on the record was to capture the rawer essence of their live shows. Stylistically, they also decided to go a much darker and more emotional route this time out. Their second album Pinkerton was born out of these sessions. It was such a stark departure from the songs that brought them commercial success that it was almost instantaneously derided as a complete failure. These songs dealt with disillusionment with being thrust into the spotlight in such a short time. Of all of Weezer’s records to date… this was the most open Rivers Cuomo had been about his own thoughts and emotions. He had laid it all bare and the result was an even grungier and harder to access album that had just as easily removed them from the spotlight they had recently attained. The tight musicianship and excellent songwriting was still there in spades. It’s just that now it was wrapped up in tunes about sexual frustration, the malaise of being a celebrity and depression due to loneliness. The hooks and melodies were also present but weren’t as immediate or out in the open. This wasn’t a disc made for immediate air play, but more of a huge experiment the band decided to take a chance with. Still, a few singles were spawned to moderate popularity. Jams like The Good Life and El Scorcho are still very highly regarded amongst fans as some top-notch tuneage… but they never reached the meteoric rise of say Buddy Holly. The critical tongue lashing the band got for this very weird and out there record was enough to send them into what you could refer to as an “extended hiatus.” Rivers had written from his very soul, and the masses that embraced his debut album absolutely reviled his more emotional second album and that would have an absolutely profound effect on his output going forward all the way through the bands current releases. After the touring cycle for the album… Weezer had all but disappeared from the world. They were too burned by how the album had been received and decided to put the band on hold.
The interesting thought here is that if Rivers was aware of the cult following that would surround this album much later in the bands life, would that affect Weezer’s trajectory at all? Much much later… Pinkerton would grow to be the misunderstood masterpiece of their entire catalogue and some would even say the best thing the band has recorded. A lot of Weezer’s eventual peers would cite this album as a huge influence on their own work. Pinkerton would grow to be considered the grand daddy of what we would now call the “Emo” genre of music. An album that was universally hated for being different and not the same as what came before would eventually find its life as a critically lauded piece of art. It’s just a shame it didn’t happen sooner.
After the debut of Pinkerton didn’t do any favors for the band, Rivers and company went their separate ways and focused on their own goals and aspirations. Rivers went back to school and focused on his studies, Brian and Pat and Matt would also start their own side project bands. Matt Sharp probably struck the most post Weezer success with his project The Rentals. They were a much more moog/synthesized version of Matt’s previous band that featured more spacey lyrics than the often raw and naked nature of Weezer’s words. They never saw huge commercial success, but they were enough of a hit that Matt decided to focus his attention full time with The Rentals and never returned to the Weezy fold. Many years would go by and there would be no visible activity from the Weezer camp. Not that Rivers wasn’t recording the odd demo or jamming with his friends, but his main band had ceased all activity for the most part.
In 1998… two years after Pinkerton had been released and failed commercially. Rivers, Pat, Brian and new bassist Mikey Welsh would come together and start rehearsing and recording demos for what would be considered the follow up to Pinkerton. These particular sessions however would yield no results and by the beginning of 1999 Rivers had slipped into a big depression and Pat decided to move back home to focus on his side band until Rivers took the demo sessions a little more seriously. Brian would occasionally jam with Rivers on and off and in turn Rivers would show him some new demos that he had himself been working on.
All this time, the bands internet presence had started to swell and their popularity had also started to regain traction despite no new recordings being made available to their fan base. This, coupled with the renewed positive reception to Pinkerton and an offer to play the Summer Sonic fest in Japan reinvigorated everyone in the band and as such… they were reborn.
They had started playing more shows under the pseudonym Goat Punishment at first but eventually Weezer in all its glory made their triumphant return to the music scene. It was as if they had never left… they casually played bigger and bigger gigs culminating in a run on the 2000 Warped Tour. When the band saw how ravenously the fans were reacting to their songs… they had decided the time was right to give the masses what they had wanted…. new music.
At first, they had toyed with the idea of self producing again… but their label, Geffen Records, had put the kibosh on that fearful of having another massive failure in the vein of Pinkerton on their hands. So the band re-teamed with Ric Ocasek who manned the boards on their debut album and set about recording what would eventually become Weezer (The Green Album). This would prove to be an extremely creative time for the band because at one point there were at least 75 different demos that had been written and tracked for potential release on the new record. With the help of record execs and Ocasek… the band whittled it down to much more manageable 18 demos… 10 of which would end up on the actual release. During this time most of the demos would be circling around different message boards and file sharing services, many of which this intrepid writer himself is now in possession of. Not to take away from the finished product, but anyone of these demos could have been swapped out of what ended up on the official release and the record would still be amazing. If anything, this just speaks to Rivers ability to write and create the catchiest ear worms imaginable.
Eventually the Green Album would see its release and the band had reclaimed its throne atop the rock world. This would be Weezer’s quickest selling album yet and would produce arguably 3 of the bands most well known singles. Hash Pipe (which Rivers had to fight with the studio to release as a single), Island In The Sun and Photograph were all powerhouse songs that captured Weezer’s essence while signaling to the world that they were back and ready to rock.
Everyone was hailing it as a return to form and that the crunchy power pop that made up their debut was even more polished and crunchy here. In a very short time in terms of the life of a band, Weezer had risen to the highest highs, fallen to the lowest lows, and came back from the dead to prove that they never left and they were the vanguards of rock n roll. Weezer was back and they were never going to leave us again. We the fans were grateful… our band was back to represent us against the hellish landscape of popular music. However, this massive success would prove slightly problematic as from this point forward the band would go on to release a new album every year for the next few years. The creative juices were definitely flowing, but that didn’t mean it was necessarily a good thing. Next time we’ll delve into the middle years comprising Maladroit, Make Believe and the Red album and their slow decline from popularity yet again.