What happened to Weezer?
Ever since the band’s mid-90s hiatus after the commercial failure of their second album Pinkerton, frontman and chief songwriter Rivers Cuomo has completely squandered his considerable songwriting gifts. Their comeback record, Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album), was designed superficially to evoke nostalgia for their classic debut, but the re-appropriation of its cover art and title didn’t jive with the album’s weak riff-rock. Maladroit and career nadir Make Believe found the band falling even further, with the former’s quasi-metal and the latter’s faux New Age posturing further betraying the residual fanbase left over after this series of crushing disappointments.
But signs of the band’s former glory popped up in the lead-up to their sixth record. Cuomo’s release of several home demos had hints of the band’s previous successes buried among half-baked studio experiments. The album’s lead single, “Pork and Beans,” was a calculated but catchy reimagining of old-school Weezer, with fame-driven lyrics replacing Blue and Pinkerton‘s adolescent musings.
According to Cuomo, the song was a response to the label heads demanding more “commercial” material. While lyrically the song is clearly a jab at this interference, what’s sad about that is the built-in assumption there that “Pork and Beans” is not the direction in which Cuomo wants the band to proceed. I’m steadfastly against commercial interference by major label suits, but if a kick in the ass by Geffen is what Cuomo needed to write a song as good as “Pork and Beans,” I wish they had hit him a little more often.
In the context of the stunningly disappointing Red Album, “Pork and Beans” just seems sad. There have been little flashes of inspiration like this on every Weezer record since their reformation, and all they do is reinforce the suspicion that Rivers could write songs just as powerful as he did on their first two albums. He doesn’t seem to want to anymore, though. He’s become enormously self-indulgent, seemingly releasing terrible material on purpose to toy with his fans. Many of the songs on the album seem like they’re intended as jokes. But there’s something intrinsically wrong with asking a trusting group of fans still tricking themselves into believing that Weezer will someday return to glory into buying what amounts to a SNL parody of an alt-rock band.
“The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” encapsulates The Red Album‘s flaws in a tidy package. Its series of completely disconnected, musically disparate segments run on for nearly six minutes, yet none of its Queen-aping theatrics hit their mark. The band is clearly shooting for grandeur here, but it just comes off as trying entirely too hard to be something they’re not. The ridiculous acoustic balladry of “Heart Songs” suffers from the same problem. It all comes off as inauthentic and fake, a pose meant to camouflage a lack of new ideas.
On The Red Album, Weezer have tried so hard to grow and change that they’ve forgotten who they were in the first place. A complete makeover was likely necessary after the disaster that was Make Believe, but instead of looking back they ignored their past in favor of ridiculous egotism. Maybe in the future, music critics will see Cuomo as a kind of PT Barnum, with The Red Album as his biggest joke on the suckers of the world. Until then, all we can do is give up hope and stop buying Weezer records. But as The Red Album‘s chart success proves, that’s unlikely—especially with a new Weezer fan born every minute.