Weezer

Weezer (The Blue Album)
Pinkerton
Weezer (The Green Album)
Maladroit
Make Believe
Weezer (The Red Album)
Raditude


Weezer (DGC ‘94) Rating: A+
With Cheap Trick's goofy persona and hooky riffs, The Beach Boys’ creamy vocals and fragile psyche, Kiss’ simplicity (lovingly paid tribute to in “In The Garage”), and Nirvana's buzz saw guitar roar as starting points, Weezer (later christened The Blue Album) delivered a great air guitar junkfest. And though the lyrics might seem pretty tossed off at first, upon closer inspection they’re actually quite clever and moving. Lines like “I want a girl who will laugh for no one else, when I’m away she puts her makeup on the shelf, when I’m away she never leaves the house” reveal the insecure self-doubts that our geeky hero feels throughout the album, and when group leader/dictator Rivers Cuomo sings the chorus to “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here” it’s pretty obvious that “here” isn’t where he wants to be. Likewise, when he opens another song with “what’s with these homeys dissing my girl, why do they gotta front,” it’s painfully obvious just how unhip he is. This dorky charm is part of what makes this album so great. The other part? The grungy guitars, which are perfectly cheesy and loud, and the big choruses, which are faultlessly catchy. The clutch guitar solos that are thrown into the mix also don’t hurt, being a welcome oddity within the mid-'90s “alternative rock” scene that the band was marketed within (bring back the guitar solo!). Personal favorites include the monstrous power riffing of “My Name Is Jonas,” which was fittingly later featured in Guitar Hero III, the perfect power pop of “Buddy Holly,” the minor hit that will always be indelibly linked to the great Happy Days video that brought the band some recognition, and "Undone (The Sweater Song)," with its soft-to-loud dynamics, silly lyrics, and impossible to not sing along to chorus. But the entirety of this oddly wonderful mid-‘90s power pop masterpiece is great trashy fun.

Pinkerton (Geffen ’96) Rating: A-
Like many sophomore efforts this one suffers in comparison to their great debut (and yes, it was great), feeling like more of the same only not quite as good. It’s still plenty good, though, as the band delivers another batch of goofy but catchy rockers that possess a guileless charm. This album is a little heavier than the last one, as it leans more towards Nirvana than The Beach Boys, while humorous lines like “I’m dumb she’s a lesbian, I thought I had found the one” always manage to make me smile. And though the bulk of these intensely personal songs reveal Rivers Cuomo to be a hopeless loser with women, the band’s pop smarts and unpretentious delivery keeps me from ever getting depressed. You would think that the left field success of the band’s debut album might’ve brought the guy a little confidence and contentedness, and I can only imagine his sorry mental state now that this second album has come and gone with nary a commercial ripple. Which goes to show that the record buying public can be as fickle as the women Rivers has been chasing, and that sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw no matter how good the catch.

Weezer (Geffen ’01) Rating: B+
With air guitar worthy hooks and singable songs about Buddy Holly, Kiss, and sweaters, Weezer’s 1994 debut was a geeky power pop gem that went double platinum. When the darker, anguished Pinkerton went bust by comparison Weezer went away, while bassist Matt Sharp left for a full-time gig fronting the Rentals. But last year Weezer launched a low-key but surprisingly successful comeback tour, and now the band returns with new bassist Mikey Welsh and ten brand new tunes on Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album). This third album returns with a sunnier disposition that recalls the band’s debut. And though pleading lyrics like “I’m lost without your love” hark back to the angst of Pinkerton (a very underrated album, by the way - just ask the album’s belated cult audience), the lyrics on the whole are much less meaty, as Weezer focuses instead on fun and hook-filled melodies rather than self-loathing introspection. The end result is ten instantly disposable but largely enjoyable power pop songs, most of which again match Beach Boys inspired vocals with grungy but melodic power chords. The lovely “Island In The Sun” (which puts you on one) is probably my favorite song here, and "Hash Pipe" was another hit, and deservedly so, but there's plenty of catchy hooks and singable choruses dispersed throughout, though at 29 minutes long some fans might feel slightly shortchanged. Still, Weezer (The Green Album) was a welcome return by a band I hadn’t even realized I'd missed.

Maladroit (Interscope ’02) Rating: B
The Green Album did what it set out to do - it re-established Weezer as a major commercial force. And though in retrospect it was a little too safe and samey sounding, there’s no denying that it had a lot of catchy songs. Plus, its success gave Rivers Cuomo the green light to do just about anything he wanted to on Maladroit, especially since he’s taken the nearly unprecedented step of severing all ties with his record label. Leaking the album on the Internet and then releasing it a mere year after The Green Album (against his record company’s wishes) - all while acting as his own P.R. man - if Maladroit fails he’ll have nobody to blame but himself. However, there’s no obvious smash hit here a la “Buddy Holly” or “Island In The Sun,” and my prediction is that Maladroit will only be a modest hit. After all, the rough, roaring guitars (contrasted by its poppy, doo wop-ish vocals) recall Pinkerton more than The Green Album, and we all know how well that one did. The lyrics, while a far cry from the self-laceration of Pinkerton, are also more personal and revealing than on the emotionally detached Green Album, which ought to please the band’s “emo” base who feel that they “sold out” with The Green Album. In addition, the band’s hard rock moves here ought to play well in the arenas that they’ve now graduated to, where rumor has it that the band extends this album’s plentiful guitar solos for up to minutes at a time. Fortunately, most of the album sounds good coming out of my stereo speakers, too, and “Dope Nose,” “Keep Fishin’,” “Take Control,” “Slob,” “Burndt Jam,” “Slave,” and “December” are welcome additions to Cuomo’s quickly expanding songbook of impressive compositions. Perhaps Cuomo could’ve taken more time to further mold several of the songs here given the under-developed nature of some of them, and the album reinforces rather than improves upon past strengths, but this was another solid if less consistent collection overall.

Make Believe (Geffen ’05) Rating: B-
It’s a sad thing when once good bands become irrelevant. For the fourth album in a row Weezer get a little bit worse, and more and more it's starting to look like the legacy of the band’s comeback years will be to remind people how good The Blue Album and Pinkerton were. Don’t get me wrong, most of the music here is perfectly acceptable, with the customary big riffs, singable choruses, and self-deprecating, seemingly satirical lyrics that can be endearing and embarrassing (“we should all give our love to each other, not this hate that destroys us” - yeah right, tell that to Osama bin Laden, Rivers). It’s just that everything seems so obvious, and the band’s performances and Rick Rubin’s slick production seem less than energized. After rushing out Maladroit (I was wrong, it was barely even a modest success) and then taking three years to come up with Make Believe (in part cause Rivers went back to Harvard yet again - remember, this is a man who asks “why am I so obviously insane”?), one would think that Rivers would’ve written more songs that stand out. The album’s first single, “Beverly Hills,” has a strong mid-tempo stomp (another Weezer trademark), satirical lyrics making fun of the shallow bling-bling (God I hate that idiotic term) crowd, and tongue-in-cheek details like the Frampton-styled talking fuzz box, but the rapped verses seem wrong, and the overall sense of deja vu ultimately makes this song (and many others) disappointing. That said, songs such as “Perfect Situation,” “Hold Me,” “This Is Such A Pity”, and “We Are All On Drugs” are enjoyable to listen to provided you don’t think about them too much. Elsewhere, is Rivers apologizing for his disappearing ways and then pledging his devotion to his bandmates on “Pardon Me” and “My Best Friend”? I don’t know, but at least these songs make you think a little, and - I’m trying to remember some of the other songs here, but the truth is that most are mediocre and aren’t worth getting worked up about let alone remembering. Time to reverse this downward trend or disband, Rivers.

Weezer (Geffen ’08) Rating: B+
Well this is certainly better than the last album, even though Cuomo's lyrics still leave a lot to be desired; this guy went to Harvard? True, some of these lyrics are so bad you'll think that he can't possibly be serious, and maybe he's not, in which case he's simply insincere, and as such these songs don't really grab me from an emotional standpoint (other than to annoy me at times, that is). Fortunately, much of the music is quite good, starting with "Troublemaker," whose sheer catchiness overcomes its silly simplicity. By contrast, the epic, multi-sectioned "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived" is extremely ambitious, and though it's alternately awful and great within the same song, ultimately its melodramatic campiness, which is worthy of Queen, makes me give it a hearty thumbs up. "Pork and Beans," which resulted from a request from his record label to write a hit, shows that Cuomo could still write a superb power pop single, and "Heart Songs," a pretty tribute to various songs and artists that influenced him, is actually earnest and affecting. Unfortunately, the use of Stuart Scott's idiotic "boo ya" catchphrase seriously mars the otherwise catchy and rocking "Everybody Get Dangerous" before "Dreamin'" brings forth an epic attempt at a power ballad that's largely successful in its mixing of mellow (mostly) and rocking elements. The next two songs, "Thought I Knew" and "Cold Dark World," were written and are sung by guitarist Brian Bell (who sounds a little like Elvis Costello) and bassist Scott Shriner (who co-wrote the song with Rivers), respectively, and though neither are standouts, both are pretty good and are a bit darker hued than the other songs. Drummer Patrick Wilson wrote and sings "Automatic," which is a definite highlight, mostly due to its cool riffs, and the band's newly democratic approach bodes well for their future now that it's not all on Rivers anymore. Anyway, "The Angel and the One" ends the album with another attempted epic (6:46), and though it doesn't quite take off as I had hoped I again appreciate the game attempt, as the band at least is trying to recapture past glories, though it's highly unlikely that they'll ever match either one of their '90s albums, especially my beloved Blue Album (yes this is the band's third self-titled album out of six, as Peter Gabriel is obviously another heretofore unremarked upon influence). It's a pity about the poor lyrics, though...

Raditude (DGC/Interscope '09) Rating: B
I don’t know what’s worse, the album title, the album cover (which at least makes me laugh; dogs are funny), or the reviews this album has garnered (currently a barely mediocre 57 on metacritic and an embarrassingly low St. Anger-like 1.93 on Rate Your Music!). I don’t know, maybe I am enjoying this album more than I expected to because I’d heard it was so awful, but hearing this album makes me think “lighten up people! It’s not that bad, in fact much of it is pretty good!” Granted, it won’t make anybody throw away their copies of The Blue Album (forever their gold standard), Pinkerton, or even The Green Album, but on Raditude (just typing it makes me wince) the band set out to deliver a fun groove-based party record on which new wave influences are more pronounced within their ever-present power pop, and on the whole they do just that. By now I’m used to terrible lyrics so they don’t bother me so much; what’s more alarming to me are some regrettable lapses in musical taste and judgment, such as the pathetic Lil Wayne rap cameo that ruins “Can’t Stop Partying” and the equally awful female guest vocal on “Love Is The Answer” (please give The Chipettes their lead singer back). Elsewhere there are a few unimaginative Weezer-by-numbers attempts (such as “In The Mall”), but on the plus side "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To" continues the bands long history of fine singles, this one being a catchy power pop nugget that features a nice mingling of acoustic and electric instruments. “I’m Your Daddy” and “Put Me Back Together” deliver catchy new wave influenced power pop melodies, “The Girl Got Hot,” “Trippin’ Down The Freeway,” and “Let It All Hang Out” are examples of the band delivering upbeat “fun” songs that may not mean much but which still manage to put a bounce in my step and a smile on my face, and “I Don’t Want To Let You Go” delivers an affectingly airy Beach Boys-derived ballad, led by its pretty keyboard melody. Notice that the words “catchy” and “melody” (or “melodies”) appeared several times in this review? You see, they may undersell their talents by continuing to write simplistic, deliberately dumb ("tongue in cheek" or not) songs that lack any sort of genuine emotional wallop, but Weezer can still write and perform catchy, melodic songs. I can see why people continue to be disappointed in this band who many consider to be underachievers after such a strong start, but based on Raditude I can’t bring myself to write Weezer off just yet.

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