In September, the indomitable alt-rock act will release Everything Will Be Alright In the End, their ninth studio album. Its first single, “Back to the Shack”, gives hope (albeit only a small amount) that there may be a return to form on the upcoming record. Will Everything Will Be Alright In the End take Weezer back to a listenable realm? Despite his years as the contrarian, it seems like Rivers Cuomo is finally entertaining the notion that the band’s early period was their heyday. The single includes ultra-personal lyrics, and the album itself is being helmed by Blue and Green producer Ric Ocasek. While the song isn’t perfect—it’s still a bit too corny and the production is greasy sleek—it’s miles better than anything they’ve done since long before they started hanging out that guy from Lost.
This list certainly reflects the notion that the group’s output in the twenty-first century has been spotty at best, ludicrous at worst, but their venerated place in rock ‘n roll culture is not to be denied. There are only entries from four of the eight albums they’ve released on this list, and, predictably, Blue and Pinkerton dominate. But this list is meant as a celebration of some of the best pop-rock songwriting since there was pop-rock songwriting. The band’s mediocre present doesn’t negate its excellent past (no matter how hard it seems to try); it’s foolish to dismiss Weezer despite their many missteps, because their high water mark songs are still—some twenty years later—endlessly returnable slices of geek rock done right.
20. In the Garage
Dungeons & Dragons, X-Men, KISS—from its first harmonica note, Rivers Cuomo takes up his mantle as patron saint of all things that could get you beat up and hung from your locker. Behind the geekdom, what wasn’t expected was the killer guitar tone to accompany the litany of uncool—Cuomo’s downtuned, fuzzed to hell sound has been endlessly imitated. This song in particular hints at the personal narratives Cuomo would further explore on Pinkerton. Here he provides a voice for the bullied and marginalized, and his message is clear: shout it from the rooftops… but don’t let anyone hear you.
19. Perfect Situation
Cuomo has never been shy about his preoccupation with wanking—guitar solos, I mean. On later era cuts like “Dope Nose” and “We Are All on Drugs”, Cuomo has often deferred to the fret board to do most of the heavy lifting since he stopped writing strange personal narratives in favor of banal platitudes. Make Believe’s “Perfect Situation” is an example of Cuomo’s six-string proficiency working to the song’s advantage rather than standing in for what made the band great in the first place. The song’s building introduction (a tiny bit reminiscent of “Only in Dreams”) and minor key melody reaches for a nostalgia not found in their other later work. While the bouncing chord verses aren’t very innovative, the simplistic song eschews being phoned in through the clever guitar accompaniment. The warm octave harmonies melt over the “oh ohs” providing an anthemic—but not pedantic—hook that’s one of the band’s best since ‘96.
“Jaime” is probably the greatest rock song of all time about a lawyer. A B-side that would have been right at home on Blue, the song begins (like a few others distinct to that time period) with acoustic guitars carving the path for the down-tuned fuzz to take over. Cuomo sings lyrics that make “Jaime” appear as love song (hey, maybe it is) instead of platonic adulation, and the playfulness of that line between earnestness and goofing off is perfectly characteristic of the wide-eyed young band adrift in the deep waters of the major label music business. Ironically, the song was recorded far away from that environment, by a student at Layola Marymount named Dale Johnson for his class project, and the track was done live with no overdubs—a very “indie” way of doing things. Johnson received a B+ for the project. Additionally, the song’s subject, Jaime Young, got another song about her, “Mrs. Young” by former Weezer member Matt Sharp. She must be one special litigator.
17. Island in the Sun
2001’s Green Album was Weezer’s return five years after the critical and commercial flop of Pinkerton. Truthfully, only elite fans were standing skeptical against what the band’s next step would be, as Pinkerton was still being parsed by casual fans for the strange masterpiece that it is, and the rest of the public had largely forgotten about that band with the Happy Days video. When “Hash Pipe” reminded everyone that, hey, these guys can write a pretty good rock song, the public gobbled up Green. Green is good—their best post-millennial album by a good margin—but its the first effort of diminishing returns. Green is the sound of the group’s assimilation into modern rock, the snap back of Cuomo bearing his soul on Pinkerton and it being met with apathy, puzzlement, or even distaste. While the band’s melodies and songwriting emerged still strong (perhaps due to Cuomo’s obsession of writing the perfect pop song while studying while at Harvard again), gone were the confessions and the deeply personal narratives of shortcomings and failures that resonated with a generation of bookish youth. That said, “Island in the Sun” is one of Weezer’s deepest earworms, the perfect mix of inoffensive and infectious, able to be played in every mall, coffee shop, or rock radio station in America. Part of me thinks Rivers was singing to himself, creating his own “happy place” where he could go should the criticism ramp up if he again felt vulnerable through songwriting.
16. Tired of Sex
An ode to the ultimate first world problem. As soon as the band became successful, Cuomo had wrestled with his feelings on being in the spotlight. Between Blue and Pinkerton, he tried to quell some of his apprehensions by enrolling at Harvard, and having a lot of casual sex. As Pinkerton’s first track, listeners immediately knew that the sophomore album was not going to be the same geeky romp as Blue. The song is snotty (especially the litany of women’s names), but its sentiment is raw and genuine. It’s an incised look into petulance—the only emotion that’s left when one becomes anhedonic.
15. Why Bother?
This song best showcases Pinkerton’s unrefined production—a far cry from Ocasek’s crisp sounding Blue. Weezer produced the album themselves, and the lo-fi aesthetics stripped the band to its bones, exposing the raw nerves of all that ailed the young gents thrust into the spotlight. Disguised as a simple love song, “Why Bother?” has their amps turned loud in an attempt to stave off the inevitable hurt of simple experience. They’re riling against the unmoving mover, but fully aware of the futility of doing so. Cuomo’s never been more manic than when he sings, “Won’t you knock me on my head/ Crack it open let me out of here.”
14. Surf Wax America
A friend once posed the question: “Where exactly do you think Rivers might have worked so that he was able to surf to his job?”
13. My Name is Jonas
Jason Cropper—someone who wasn’t in the band when the song was released—wrote the first notes of the first song on Weezer’s first album. I remember being eleven years old, walking through my small, shitty town with my Sony Discman cradled in my hand so as to not skip, and replaying “My Name is Jonas” again and again as I watched men in stained coveralls at the junkyard operate groaning machinery that stacked sheet metal and scrap. It was the first time I understood what the word plight meant. Cropper’s never to this day been allowed to speak on his departure from the band.
12. Mykel and Carli
This song was written for sisters Mykel and Carli Allan, Weezer’s biggest fans and founding members of their fan club. In the early days, the sisters helped the band respond to fan mail and made it a point to attend every Weezer show they could. Tragically, both of them were killed in a car crash after attending a Weezer concert in Colorado in 1997. It’s been said that the accident is a contributing reason for the band’s three-year hiatus after Pinkerton.
Pinkerton is loosely based on Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, and its last track is perhaps the most explicit in marrying the opera’s storyline to Cuomo’s personal life. The song is told from the character Pinkerton’s perspective, but it’s easy to conflate the narrator with Cuomo himself, given his open fascination with Asian women. It’s Weezer’s only officially released all acoustic track, and a high point for Cuomo’s songwriting—it’s the most subdued and prettiest song he’s ever written. The confessional mode acts as catharsis, opening a gateway of self-understanding: “I’m sorry for what I did/ I did what my body told me/ I didn’t mean to do you harm/ Every time I pin down what I think I want it slips away.”
10. No Other One
Aside from the waltzing ¾ time signature, the largest joy of this track is that you can hear the band having a good time. Pinkerton is filled with yelling, yowling, and miscellaneous noises that show a band living in the studio. After Blue, Weezer were pop behemoths and the group’s decision to leave all the extraneous intact is a calculated choice allowing a look behind the curtain. See? They’re still just dudes. It’s one of the reasons why Pinkerton—despite its strangeness—is so relatable.
09. Buddy Holly
You may not know how close this song came to not being included on Blue Album. So it goes that Cuomo didn’t think the bubble gum playfulness fit with the rest of the album (did he listen to “Surf Wax America”?). But don’t think about that. Even though you’ve seen it a million times (thanks to Windows95), enjoy again one of the best music videos that’s ever been made. Thanks, Spike.
08. Say It Ain’t So
“Like father, step-father, the son is drowning in the flood.”
07. Pink Triangle
A lot of Pinkerton is about sexual frustration, whether it’s too much sex, taboo sex, or, in this case, undesired sex. For weeks, Cuomo secretly watched a woman in one of his classes at Harvard. He began fantasizing of a life with her, as you do, and was then crushed when she came to school with a pink triangle (the Nazis’ symbol for homosexuality) button on her backpack. In 1997, when the song was released as a single, it tanked. Songs on homosexuality were not yet embraced.
“Devotion” is a swaying waltz—an almost love song—perhaps the only Weezer track with a hook delivered by an organ. The song may be the band’s most smirking (a feat), as Cuomo offers snark disguised as adulation through lines of platonic love turned romantic: “I commend your stubbornness/ without it we’d never get this far.” The song was recorded in 1995 for the Abbey Road inspired Songs From the Black Hole project that was eventually shelved in favor of the Madama Butterfly concept instead. The last line of the chorus states simply what it’s like to have a person be special in your life, never central but always in the periphery—“I, too, waiting for you/ you’ll always be my friend.”—a familiar sentiment, but one not often explored in rock music. Plus, there’s another Kiss reference!
05. You Gave Your Love to Me Softly
Hopefully you fondly remember Angus, the quintessential ‘90’s underdog teen film. If not, check it out. This track is prominently featured in the film, along with other great music. Really, it’s a killer soundtrack. The song’s visual marriage to the high school dance scene in Angus is inspired filmmaking. The scene is the embodiment of what Weezer were doing through their early career: making honest music for the outliers. The song speaks of a single night that lingers “on and on and on” which is exactly how pinnacle moments work for those who don’t get many of them. It’s safe to assume Angus relived the dance with his dream girl for the rest of his life, no matter the other happiness or sadness he undoubtedly encountered. Those of us with the tendency to overanalyze life’s natural ups and downs replay miniscule moments in our lives again and again—in the shower, in bed, on the bus to work—we derive energy from them and, if we’re lucky, use them to grow into better people. Weezer perfectly encapsulate what it is to be one of those overly affected souls with this immaculate cut of two-minute pop rock.
04. The Good Life
If you only knew how many times I’ve sung, “Tell me who’s that funky dude staring back at me?” to the bathroom mirror…
03. The World Has Turned and Left Me Here
There are many songs about being alone, just as there are songs about being in the throes of love. Fewer songs exist that examine the state of being after love has gone away and the bereft has to return to a normal existence, alone. Often, it’s an insurmountable task. This song’s power comes through its expression of disdain that one has not just for the lost love, but how a person’s entire milieu is colored differently through the pain. While its legitimacy is up for debate, Cuomo’s sentiment that the external world is responsible for wronged him is relatable, as the flash from being truly heartbroken leaves all things white hot, including the ego. “An empty space” is not only the marker of what’s gone away, but a personal void that consumes the self, and, in turn, the entire knowable world.
02. Across the Sea
Despite its creepy leanings, this is the band’s most tender song. Cuomo wrote it as a response to a fan letter he received from a young girl who lived in Japan. Instead of writing her back, he penned the song instead. That alone makes it special, but the song’s later half is what elevates it to the silver position. Cuomo sings, “At ten I shaved my head/ and tried to be a monk/ I thought the older women would like me if I did.” He then blames his mother for his romantic shortcomings. That’s as personal as it gets in the band’s entire catalogue. Cuomo has unlocked a conundrum over the truest sense of connection, how we long to be tethered not even to like-minded individuals, but just around people that are interested in what we are doing or those who give us attention. There are multiple gaps between the young girl and Cuomo, but he’s reaching for the kind of interaction he hasn’t found within contemporaries in the music business. He wrote the song alone and depressed during his Harvard winter after Blue, and the only help he could see was thousands of miles away. That’s usually how it goes.
01. Only In Dreams
The band’s undeniable magnum opus is their last track on their first album. At 7:59, it’s the longest Weezer song to date, and stands as the song that coalesces all that made the band great in its early period. The musicianship is their most accomplished, with Cuomo providing entangled guitar tracks of warm, building octave swaths during the instrumental crescendo. It’s a fine exercise in tension. Release comes through Patrick Wilson‘s drum fill at the song’s apex; it’s his finest moment, a perfect ignition to the entire sonic firmament of the extended jam. The guitars move through the listener like beams of light bounding through prisms until they just fall away, leaving Matt Sharp’s most recognizable bassline and Wilson’s steady rude cymbal. The bassline resolves only in its final note, and the lid closes on one of the seminal albums of the ‘90s, or any other time.
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