Monday, March 28, 2011

Thoughts of an Aspiring Music Snob:
Week 100 - Weezer

Chris is trying to compensate for his lack of musical knowledge by immersing himself in one new artist each week. At the end of the week, he will write up a brief summary of his opinions. You can read about the origin and parameters of this project here.

I know a lot of Weezer fans, so I had a pretty good grasp of the band's whole meta-narrative before I even started my listening this week. I had watched in confusion as, with each successive Weezer album, I saw my friends complain about how terrible Weezer had been for the past ten years before running out to buy it. It seemed like a strange form of sonic flagellation, atoning for one's enjoyment of the band's nineties material by enduring the half dozen mediocrities that followed.

So I guess the ending to the Weezer story had already been spoiled for me. Because of this, I ended up spending a large amount of time with the well-lauded Blue Album and Pinkerton, while continually procrastinating when it came to listening to the rest of their output. By the time the weekend rolled around, and I had the prospect of listening to six Weezer albums that had been described to me as anywhere from middling to blatantly offensive. 

The result was not as bad as I had been led to believe - but, as I said, the ending had been spoiled and my expectations for this material had been lowered well before I had ever listened to Weezer at all. I went through several albums that could be described as firmly mediocre. The great disappointment is not that these were insufferably bad, but just that they were so bland

21st-century Weezer reminds me a lot of 21st-century George Lucas. Both figures are decades past their creative prime, but have somehow convinced themselves that they're still relevant. Both figures keep making art that contains glimmers of interesting ideas buried beneath a lot of embarrassingly childish drivel. Both figures have transformed from countercultural icons to commercial entities obsessed with marketing and branding. Both manage to piss off a lot of nerds who complain that their childhood has been ruined. 

I don't think I'll ever be able to join the Weezer club, and start bitching about how many years I've been waiting for another good album to emerge. But the cult of Weezer fascinates me. I don't think I've ever come across an unapologetic Weezer fan - even the appreciation of their biggest supporters comes clouded with a tinge of embarrassment. And, in many ways, I find the conflict of the divided Weezer fan more interesting than a lot of the band's actual music. 



WHAT I KNEW BEFORE: I don't know if it's a hallmark of the nineties generation, or just my particular group of friends, but Weezer was a pervasive presence at most parties I went to in college. So I went into this week with some passing familiarity of the band's more popular stuff.

MY LISTENING: I listened to Weezer [The Blue Album] (1994) every day this week. I also listened to Pinkerton (1996) four times, and Weezer [The Green Album] twice. This weekend, I plowed through Maladroit (2002), Make Believe (2005), Weezer [The Red Album] (2008), and Raditude (2009), listening to each one once. If I still have time after I finish writing this, Hurley (2010) is next on the list. 

WHAT I LIKED: I'll admit that I never really liked "Buddy Holly" all that much, so I was apprehensive that the Blue Album wouldn't be as good as everyone always told me it was. Turns out I had nothing to worry about - "Buddy Holly" might be my least favorite song on that album. The songs are catchy in a good way (as opposed to Weezer's later output, which is catchy in the most annoying way possible), charming and disarmingly sincere and just fun to listen to. "Say It Ain't So," for example, is a really simple, almost repetitive song, and one I should have been tired of by the end of the week. But there's some indescribable quality that keeps this song from getting on my nerves, and kept me bobbing my head the entire week. See also: "No One Else," whose lyrics are creepy enough that I actually started to feel bad that I found the song so catchy.

On the Blue Album (and Pinkerton), Weezer also has a certain raw quality that they would never really get back. The final exhortation of "I come undoooooone" in "Undone - The Sweater Song" is just slightly off-key and out of sync, but that makes it far more exciting. The Weezer of the new millennium stopped ending their songs with atonal harpsichord noises and electronic drones, but this slightly unhinged quality only adds to their work. 

Pinkerton, on the other hand, was not as good as I had been led to believe (with the exception of the best song, which I'll get to later). "Pink Triangle" is another song in the "No One Else" camp, where I kept thinking that it was catchier than its awkward lyrics should allow. And "The Good Life" also manages to work as an excellent (though cheesy) party anthem without reflecting the cold, calculated appeal of the band's later "anthems."

The rest of Weezer's output was pretty uneventful - though, as I mentioned above, there are germs of good ideas contained on almost every album since Pinkerton. And (perhaps this is why Weezer fans retain hope against all odds), the good ideas on each album are actually pretty varied and different, as if the group still has a lot of creative juices flowing. So you get the Green Album's "Island in the Sun," an excellent piece of chamber pop that is the very definition of restraint, and the Red Album's "Greatest Man That Ever Lived," a sprawling schizophrenic mess of a song that I sort of enjoy but I have no idea why. 

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: This might be a sin, but my issues with Weezer even start on the Blue Album, with "In The Garage" (an ode to geek culture that I find way too cute) and go through Pinkerton, with "No Other One" (too whiny and pleating, even for this album). Still, these are minor complaints compared with the sheer dullness of their later albums. The Green Album is still pretty enjoyable, but the album's big showpiece - the rock-out "Hash Pipe," is trying way too hard to let loose. This is pretty much how I felt about Maladroit, too; I think I like Weezer a little more harried and a little more restrained. 

All these songs kind of blend together anyway, and I blew through them in a weekend, but Make Believe stands out as particularly egregious, an album that is so slick and polished that it's almost unrecognizable. "We Are All On Drugs" has Rivers Cuomo singing about taking drugs in his Mercedes Benz, and I can't tell if the band is making fun of eighties pop or embracing it - either way, the experiment doesn't work. "Beverly Hills" suffers the same problem to an even larger extent. Really, sometime after the Green Album, Weezer started acting like rock stars, and they were far more interesting when they hadn't yet figured out that they were rock stars. As much as I can get tired of my generation's ironic self-deprecation, this ironic self-congratulation is even worse. 

FURTHER EXPLORATION WOULD ENTAIL: I'm going to try and listen to Hurley (2010) tonight, and there's a collection of previously unreleased material called Death to False Metal (2010) that I'll probably make some excuse not to listen to. Even the die-hard Weezer fans I know have disowned the band, and I'm not a diehard Weezer fan by any means. I'll take the Blue Album and half the songs on Pinkerton and count myself lucky that I came to the band late enough to avoid the agony of high expectations fallen to earth.


While the Blue Album is easily Weezer's best album, this song is the best single thing they've ever done. Everything that shouldn't work - the screams and rooster noises, the warbling guitar, the slightly out of key harmonies, the sparse drums, the double-time bridge to a slow chorus, the generally ragged and defeated aura of the entire song - all of these somehow come together to make a track that oscillates between pathetic rejection and gleeful abandon, often in the same line. 


Ok, you've probably heard this one (I played it on Guitar Hero before I ever listened to it), but I gotta give props to a harmonica solo that's used to as much effect as this one.