How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Weezer Again. Mostly…
There was a time, when I could quite comfortably, proudly and without reservation, tell anyone who would listen that Weezer were my favourite band. Then for the longest time they weren’t. Then they were again… sort of. Now? I don’t even know anymore. Weezer make it so hard to love them; they might just be the most infuriatingly brilliant yet inconsistent band on the planet. And I cannot wait to see them play live at Wembley Arena this Saturday night. Their last show in the capital, at the O2 Academy Brixton in 2016, was one of the best… well, ever. According to me, anyway. They played You Gave Your Love To Me Softly, so I’ve got science on my side here.
The California quartet release a new album this Friday. It’s their eleventh, it’s called Pacific Daydream and it’s one of those Weezer releases. It’s an objectively good collection of songs. They’re just not the-Weezer-I-love good. I’ve said that a few times before. I’ll probably say it again in the future. Such is the lot of anyone that loves this band.
The two records that preceded this one were excellent. Almost – almost – up there with the big two levels of excellent. You know the two I mean. Of those 11, I make it that six merit a place in any discerning alt-rock fan’s music collection and at least half of those are absolutely essential. In the fullest flush of my youth, I’d have foolishly considered this something of a love-hate relationship. It goes back more than two decades, and admittedly there have been many ups, downs and feelings of indifference in between. It’s complex.
I have Pinkerton to thank for this affliction. And I know what some reading this might be thinking, ‘Another old man on the internet, moaning about how Weezer don’t sound like they did in 1996. Boohoo.’ But it’s not as simple as that. It’s not about that at all in fact. Pinkerton changed everything for me. In a way it changed everything for them, too.
Weezer – El Scorcho
Weirdly, I was well aware of the band before that album. I, like everyone else, knew who they were because of the Happy Days-themed Buddy Holly video and thought it was as cool as Fonzie himself. But this was before the internet and easy access to anything within a few clicks. The band weren’t a big enough deal to be ubiquitous on MTV or in magazines then either – at least not on this side of the Atlantic. So a fleeting moment of interest soon passed and I largely forgot about them.
Then one summer during school holidays, aged 17, I was perusing the cassette racks in my local library (unlike the Fonz, I am patently not and never have been cool). Being a wannabe art student at the time, I stopped at the album with the cover image by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige. Yep, that’s what caught my eye. I recognised the band name, made the link, figured I’d take a chance and borrowed it.
When I got home, I put it on in my bedroom and laid down to flick through a magazine, the usual ritual. But unlike most stuff that tended to blend into the background on first listen, there was a spark of magic in those first few bars that pricked up my ears. The feedback, distortion and ting-ting-ting-ting of Pat Wilson’s cymbal demanded my immediate and full attention. Suddenly, I didn’t care about anything else, it was all about the sounds that were tumbling out of my speakers. And they did truly sound like they were tumbling: when the drums properly kicked in, when the guitars squalled in tandem, and when Rivers Cuomo screamed out his words, sounding completely and utterly hurt. He sounded like he was in agony, actually. And he was singing about being tired of sex. Tired. Of. Sex. Teenage me just couldn’t process what I was hearing. Nor did this sound like the same band with side-swept haircuts and cardigans I’d heard singing ‘oooh-weee-oooh’ before. This sounded like a raw as hell rock band, in a room, playing the crap out of their instruments as an instinctive, essential, emotional release.
I played that record all summer (and many summers more), barking the words back into my stereo speakers, thinking that sheer volume would drown me out. It’s highly likely that all I really managed to do was annoy my dad, my sister, my dog and the neighbours. I taught myself how to play guitar (terribly) listening to that record. It got me through depression, my parents’ divorce and the fact that I had a face full of acne and pretty much felt like I was completely alone in the world. Good times. Great soundtrack.
Weezer – Island In The Sun (Spike Jonze Version)
I wasn’t pining for the lost love of a girl half way across the world. I had never experienced the Madama Butterfly opera upon which much of the album was based. Nor had I gone through the painful leg operation Rivers had when he wrote a lot of its songs. Yet I absolutely felt every utterance and emotion that coursed through the album. It spoke to me. It felt like it was mine and it was genuinely really special. I hope you have an album like that too. Everyone deserves to experience such a rush at least once in their lives. It’s not really happened for me since. Not in the same way, anyway.
From there, my Weezer love blossomed into total obsession. I bought the self-titled debut, Blue, and although it bore much of the same crunch and kick, it was a little more refined. The songs were still ultra personal, and I felt like I was investing in someone’s story. I was all the way in. Little did I know that it would be four more years before I’d hear anything new and what I’d be letting myself in for. In the interim, I joined the fanclub, got into the side projects, spent obscene amounts of money on imported merch from the U.S., completed my collection of singles and international variants, and wasted more hours than was healthy, scouring the old Weezer discussion forums in the early days of the internet. I hung on every word Karl Koch (the band’s unofficial fifth member) had to relay on that damn place.
When Green came around in 2001, I instantly loved it. But it was the start of some cause for concern. The songs seemed more like simplified appropriations of the classic Weezer sound than the real thing. They were missing a certain something. For the first time, it didn’t seem to me that Rivers was singing from the heart or even necessarily about his own life. The words may well have been just as personal to him, but the emotion felt deeply encoded and bubble-wrapped. There was no listener connection to be made, even if the tunes were still super catchy. It all felt a little more disposable.
A pattern set, the following year’s Maladroit hit many of the same marks, and with each subsequent release, the band seemed to favour this new approach to Weezer albums rather than writing in the same way that the young men on those first two did. Or at least that’s my (perhaps naïve and simplistic) interpretation of events.
Weezer – California Kids
It seems Rivers Cuomo was so deeply affected by the criticism and commercial disappointment that befell Pinkerton, that he retreated from ever writing like that again. In interviews since, he’s detailed his remarkably mechanical songwriting process. He speaks of spreadsheets, formulas, overheard snippets of conversation as lyrics. He explains how he deconstructs what he loves about artists like The Beach Boys and applies the findings to Weezer. He does pretty much everything but really put himself in there (at least not obviously so), like he did in the ’90s. His lyrics are still clever, witty and characteristically knowing, but aside from some standout singles, for almost a decade, much of what Weezer put out was felt like a different band. To me, it seemed as if Rivers Cuomo had personally set about breaking my heart for 10 years; he just didn’t know it or mean to. Considering that period lasted longer than the one much of their cult following is based on, there’s a case to be made about that being the real Weezer, and that earlier stuff being the outlier.
I don’t really believe that though. Deep down I think – or at least hope – that Rivers Cuomo is still capable of writing a no frills, from the heart record again, some day. That doesn’t mean I want one that sounds like Pinkerton. It just means I want it to sound like it’s more than just sounds that sit well together, with lyrics that tap into that story I and so many others bought into all those years ago.
There were hints of the mask dropping a little on 2014 opus Everything Will Be Alright In The End. It’s the closest to opening up and being honest he’d sounded in a while. Or maybe he was just playing at being self-aware. You never really know, as anyone who checks his social media output will attest. By contrast, last year’s ‘White’ felt nothing like that and yet it’s arguably the band’s third best record. Go figure.
Maybe because ‘White’ felt like a peak and perfection of that certain type of Weezer album, Pacific Daydream had to be so different. Maybe this album marks the start of a whole new era for the band. Only time will tell. All I know is that I’ve stopped taking the Weezer albums I don’t love so personally. I’ve got to a point where they can do whatever they want and I’ll still think of the band fondly. I think I might even still love them, and probably always will, despite the flame flickering a lot more than it did 20-something years ago.
So Saturday night is going to be special. They can play whatever they want and I, alongside 12,500 or so others, will probably enjoy every single second of it.
Because it’s true what they say: you never quite get over your first love…
Words by David McLaughlin. Follow David on Twitter @glockeaux