‘In 1998, two years after Pinkerton debuted to poor reviews, Rivers Cuomo retreated to a one-room bedsit beneath a Los Angeles freeway. He painted the walls and ceilings black and on the windows he layered black bedsheets over thick fibreglass insulation,’ explained Pitchfork in their review of Weezer‘s sixth eponymous release, known as the Black Album. ‘Devastated by the negative response to Pinkerton and frustrated by an unproductive spate of rehearsals, he withdrew from his band and then from the world. For months on end he hid in his unlit bedroom, depressed, never going outside, never speaking to another human being.’
Since the revival of Weezer in 2001, five years after the critical backlash of Pinkerton, an album now revered as a classic, Cuomo and his associates have faced hostility with the release of each record for refusing to return to the days of their self-titled debut or its previously-misunderstood follow-up. Despite the positive reaction in the press to 2008’s Red Album, the band’s fanbase reacted with venomous disgust because the group once beloved as the geeky outsiders now seemed to be flirting with the mainstream. Further hostility would follow with Raditude a year later, arguably Weezer‘s worst-received release of their twenty-five year career, which would result in many life-long lovers finally turning their backs.
‘Real Weezer fans know that they haven’t had a good album since Pinkerton in ’96,’ mocked comedian Leslie Jones in a 2018 sketch on Saturday Night Live, in which a former fan and a devotee argued over the merits of the band much to the confusion of the other dinner guests. ‘What’s happening is Weezer put out two perfect albums, Blue and Pinkerton and the rest was pretty corny.’ The scene, which included Hollywood actor Matt Damon as the opposing opinion, highlighted a strict divide among the opinion of music fans towards the group, with those feeling Weezer should never have reformed after the long hiatus following Pinkerton, while others have enjoyed Cuomo’s uneven-yet-eventual journey into his midlife years.
The hostility truly began in 2005 with their fifth offering Make Believe, an album far-removed from the understated charm of its predecessor and marking their first step towards the commercial pop sensibilities of their future releases. Despite the positive response to its lead single Beverly Hills, the album would be considered by those hoping for a second Pinkerton to be the beginning of the end for a group who once produced such unique classics as Undone (The Sweater Song) and El Scorcho. From 2005 onwards Weezer gradually became a laughing stock among the rock scene and despite each album producing a wealth of overlooked songs the consensus has often been that their glory days were long behind them.
‘I love good reviews and I hate bad reviews for sure but there’s nothing I can do about it,’ Cuomo admitted in 2017. ‘Pretty much every album there’s a fan revolt…when fans get upset or the critics get upset it’s like you just feel the sick inside and physically pained.’ Yet the reaction each album has received since Make Believe almost a decade and a half ago echoes that which the band were subjected to following the release of Pinkerton in 1996, a record which is now considered Weezer‘s masterpiece. And while the closest they have come to returning to the rawness of their sophomore classic was 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In the End one can’t blame Cuomo for not wanting to revisit that moment twenty-one years ago where he literally retreated from the world to escape the negative reaction to an album he had invested his heart and soul into.
‘You can criticise me for anything,’ he dared listeners in the recent pop single Can’t Knock the Hustle, but while at times it may seem that Weezer have lost their way and touch with their roots, there have been moments on even their worst offerings that have demonstrated the songwriting genius of their frontman and why they are still the ultimate cool band for the geeks and the outsiders. A quarter of a century after first emerging during the height of the grunge scene and Weezer have remained, with the exception of two line-up changes, a consistent entity. ‘We all come from broken homes with not a lot of stability in our lives, so we just kind of stick to each other,’ confessed Cuomo.
MYKEL AND CARLI
When Weezer first appeared on the alternative rock scene in the summer of 1994, just two months after the death of Kurt Cobain, their debut single Undone – The Sweater Song would have a minor impact during its broadcast on MTV. But it would be its B-side Mykel & Carli that would prove to have the biggest impact on the band during the early days of their career. Mykel and Carli Allan, the eponymous characters from the song, were supporters of Weezer as they rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles live scene and would regularly attend concerts, prompting Cuomo to pen a track in tribute to their loyalty.
Spearheading the band’s fan club, the lives of both sisters would be tragically cut short in 1997 as the result of a car crash alongside their younger sibling as they returned home from a show. ‘The Allan sisters, well known to Weezer fans everywhere, were confidantes of the band members — the most successful act the sisters supported through the years,’ reported MTV at the time of their passing. ‘In fact, some of the band’s success can be attributed to their work through the fan club. Before Weezer hit the mainstream they ran the group’s nearly 4000-member club, sending updates on the band’s progress to fans as far away as Japan, spreading the word.’
Following the surprise success of their debut, which scored another hit for the Geffen label, Cuomo had felt disillusioned by the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and had intended to craft a concept album to express this frustration entitled Songs from the Black Hole. This would ultimately evolve into Pinkerton, an era during which the carefree attitude of their first release would be replaced by a darker and more sombre tone. El Scorcho, its lead single, would prove to be one of the band’s more unusual tracks but its B-side, Devotion, continued to remain overlooked even as the album finally gained its belated recognition. Intended to be included on Songs from the Black Hole but eventually omitted from their official release, the song was recorded shortly before the release of their breakthrough Buddy Holly in 1994.
Another self-titled album was a risky proposition, particularly for a band who had retreated into exile after the critical failure of their second release. The return of Weezer in 2001 with fan favourite Hash Pipe would erase the then-embarrassing failure of Pinkerton and would introduce the band to an audience who had been indulging in the pop sensibilities of Blink-182 and Wheatus. The Green Album, as it would affectionally become known as due to the colour of the artwork, would become for many fans the last true Weezer classic and while both Photograph and Island in the Sun would also enjoy minor acclaim it would be Knock-Down Drag-Out that would prove to be its most overlooked contribution. Originally appearing on The Hot Stuff, a free CD released with the latest issue of Kerrang! to promote up-and-coming music, the song would be ignored as a single despite its clear commercial appeal. A live version would later be included on the single Keep Fishin’ the following year, while the song would receive minor recognition from Louder during their ranking of the band’s albums in 2018 when they stated, ‘Knock-Down Drag-Out is a showcase for bassist Mikey Welsh, whose sole Weezer recordings come from this album.’
DEATH AND DESTRUCTION
Sandwiched in between their comeback Green Album and their first step into the mainstream with Make Believe, 2002’s Maladroit has remained one of the most ignored contributions to the band’s discography. Despite Dope Nose providing a similar kind of commercial appeal to both Hash Pipe and Photograph, one of the more uncomfortable moments of the album was Death and Destruction which, despite being dismissed by Drowned in Sound as ‘meandering,’ saw Weezer returning to the downbeat tone of Pinkerton, a slow blues number with Cuomo delivering a song that was lyrically minimal and yet expressed so much through its music. Stereogum would later describe the track as a ‘blissfully brash ballad,’ finally bringing it some much-deserved recognition.
THE GREATEST MAN THAT EVER LIVED (VARIATIONS ON A SHAKER HYMN)
When Green Day released American Idiot in 2004 they unexpectedly ushered in a new era for rock groups that were attempted to reevaluate their style in an attempt to avoid repetition. With its standout track Jesus of Suburbia incorporating several styles over its nine minute running time it became ground zero for bands such as My Chemical Romance to follow. Weezer would also experiment with their format, with 2008’s The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn) showing the band both at their most satirically arrogant and also their most adventurous. As The Alternative would note on their retrospective of the song, The Greatest Man That Ever Lived would see ‘the band imitating artists ranging from Jeff Buckley and Aerosmith, to Slipknot and Bach, across eleven different verses. Cuomo once called it his ‘favourite Weezer song,’ as well as ‘the most ambitious song I’ve ever attempted.”
PUT ME BACK TOGETHER
Currently thirteen albums into their twenty-five year career and it would seem that their seventh release Raditude still stands as their most despised and thus misunderstood. While the Lil Wayne collaboration Can’t Stop Partying was certainly a low point its lead single (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To showed Weezer at their energetic best, yet it also demonstrated an experimental side to the band with the often-ignored Hindi-infused Love Is the Answer. But it would be the charming Put Me Back Together that Cuomo’s songwriting would shine, with the singer pouring out his emotions over a chorus that stated, ‘Here it’s clear that I’m not getting better.’
On 11 June 2010, a day before the World Cup was about to commence, Weezer released a brand new song in support of the United States. Published as a digital single in between Raditude and its rawer successor Hurley, Represent saw Cuomo at his angriest, with the singer growling, ‘I didn’t get in this position just by happenstance, I worked my bones beyond their limits just to have half chance.’ While like many football-related tracks it has since slipped into obscurity, at the time of its release the song gained minor exposure from the mainstream press, with Rolling Stone stating that, ‘Cuomo’s motivational track calls for perseverance, hard work and a desire for sports immortality – three ingredients the U.S. team will definitely need if they hope to beat the world’s best.’
III. RETURN TO ITHAKA
After its reassessment in later years, Pinkerton has since been hailed as Weezer‘s finest moment and every album in subsequent years has been compared to its nihilistic charms. While the band have refused to return to such dark waters their 2014 album Everything Will Be Alright in the End would hint at such a raw and uncommercial-sounding style. Arguably their most personal record for almost two decades, it would also prove to be the closest they would come to critical and fan acclaim since the glory day of the 1990s. The two-minute III. Return to Ithaka, one of their few instrumental recordings, would conclude both the album and its Futurescope Trilogy, providing a high-energy finale that would draw inspiration from heavy metal in a way previously unheard of on a Weezer record.
While far from their strongest release, 2017’s Pacific Daydream would perhaps best demonstrate their affinity for ’60s music, both the pop rock styles of the Beach Boys and the Motown ballads that had populated the decade. This would be best demonstrated with Weekend Woman, the fourth single released ahead of the album’s debut that followed Cuomo’s tried-and-tested formula of expressing his love of the woman of his dreams. Initially written during the making of Everything Will Be Alright in the End, the song would fail to make the final track listing and would instead serve as the highlight to its follow-up, released three years later. Cuomo would recycle the vocal melody from Burning Sun, a track recorded seventeen years earlier during the Green Album sessions but ultimately rejected from an official release.
HIGH AS A KITE
The Black Album had been a long time coming. With Songs from the Black Hole having been abandoned more than twenty years earlier and Weezer having since been reduced to a commercial parody of themselves fans were eager for a dark and gritty album to replace the bubblegum pop of their most recent offerings. Having been teased as early as 2016, at a time when Everything Will Be Alright in the End had hearkened back to the days of Pinkerton, expectations for a return to the mid-1990s were high among those who had followed them since the release of the Blue Album. ‘Cuomo has stated that the album will be darker and more experimental than the band’s previous releases,’ explained a 2018 article published by Medium. ‘This was particularly exciting news for fans because many, myself included, consider Pinkerton to be Weezer’s best album. Pinkerton is, at times, a very dark record and certainly on the more experimental side of Weezer’s history.’ Initial material released from the record, particularly the dance pop of Can’t Knock the Hustle, seemed to betray this promise but on 21 February 2019, two weeks before the release of the album, High as a Kite saw the light of day. Boasting one of Cuomo’s more sublime vocals, the song was a dreamy ballad that while lacking the darkness the band may have insinuated was one of their most underrated tracks in years. Released the same day as Living in L.A., its video would pay tribute to the classic family show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, just as the promo for Buddy Holly had heavily referenced Happy Days many years earlier.