Rivers Cuomo sure painted himself into a corner with the Blue Album, didn’t he? In making an absolutely perfect pop rock album—10 magical songs that hold up after nearly two decades since their release—he had nowhere to go but down. Pinkerton was an anomaly; it was a trainwreck of emotions paired with an angry, seemingly underproduced sound. And though it was, too, what I consider a perfect album, I have a hard time saying it fits in with the Weezer sound that they mastered with the Blue Album, and began to exploit with their post-Pinkerton efforts. It’s a blip on the Weezer radar. An unforgettable, perfect blip, but a blip nonetheless.
But man, the Blue Album. I listen to it constantly, and it never loses its edge. Sometimes I forget about it for a few months, and when I finally come back to it, it’s like getting an early birthday present (or, ten early birthday presents). Every song is a classic, and I wish I could understand how they did it. How did they make ten perfect songs?
The songs Rivers wrote for the Blue Album haven’t aged a day; songs that kids know the words to today just as kids knew the words back in 1994. I took the above photo during Weezer’s Memories tour back in late 2010. To much surprise, Rivers and company decided they would tour their first two albums in full, two nights in a row in each town. If there was a heaven, I thought, those two nights would be it.
I’d seen Weezer a couple times before the Memories tour—once at a free show in Huntington Beach for the US Open of Surfing, and another when they opened for blink-182. That blink-182 show, only three years ago now, was my first concert (I went to my first concert when I was 19, I know…), and I couldn’t believe Weezer was the opening act. Weezer followed by blink-182? Does “my childhood was exploding inside my brain” count as an accurate description of that night? Because that’s how I felt.
So I saw Weezer perform the Blue Album in full one night, and Pinkerton the next. I’ve been to few concerts since that come close to matching the level of excitement in a crowd. I remember looking around, noticing more than a few gray hairs and bald spots, and an even greater number of young faces, a few quite a bit younger than myself. The Blue Album is a phenomenon I can’t quite wrap my head around; play it for kids at a middle school dance and I’d bet they’re not going to think it’s set to the “classics” station. The songs off Blue are perpetual modern classics.
First we got the Blue Album, then we got Pinkerton. A one-two punch of greatness. So what happened? What happened in Rivers Cuomo’s brain that made him take Weezer from being a hero of pop rock, to being the punching bag of critics everywhere no less than a decade after releasing two of the 1990s most important alternative albums?
Well, one explanation is Pinkerton. After the Blue Album, fans no doubt wanted another Blue Album. What they got was Pinkerton, and initially they weren’t all too pleased. So, after Pinkerton, fans wanted another Blue Album, and again, they didn’t get what they wanted—a return to form.
By the time Weezer put out the Green Album album, they were all in their 30s, and incredibly successful. When the Blue Album was recorded, Rivers was as old as I am now: 22. I can’t say from experience how much changes in a decade or so after 22, but I think it’s clear Rivers wasn’t having as many feelings at 32 as he was 22. And if Rivers’ songwriting proves anything, it’s that you can’t recreate feelings.
I don’t think Weezer is good at making happy songs. Sure, their songs make you happy, but at their best, Rivers’ lyrics are songs of loneliness and longing. I’d go as far as to say that Weezer’s post-Pinkerton releases have been mostly unimpressive because their lyrics come from a place of happiness. Rivers appears to be content in his life, as do his bandmates, and they’re all grown up with adult responsibilities. I doubt any of them surf anymore.
Again, Rivers is a hard person to read. In the past decade, he’s penned more than a few brilliant songs. He’s making music constantly, feeding his own apetite of having a good old time doing what he loves. It just happens that what he loves right now isn’t what any of us want, but that’s fine with him. At this point in Weezer’s career, we’ve grown accustomed to more junk than anything else, but we also get lucky sometimes, with songs like “Island In The Sun”, “Burnd’t Jamb”, “Perfect Situation”, “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”, “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”, and “Unspoken.”
I’ve alluded to this in a previous post, but I’ll say it again: I don’t think Rivers is lazy. Much of his recent songwriting would seem lazy, and maybe it is, but you know what? I’m okay with that. Rivers is a compulsive person. He truly cares about what he makes. If you asked him if he’s proud of every single song he’s ever put out, he would probably say yes. We would all disagree with him, yes, but with all the great songs he’s put out in the years since Pinkerton, the massive amount of not-so-great songs that accompanied them seem more than worth it.
The release of the Blue Album and Pinkerton are reasons enough to forgive all the dumb, stupid, silly, and forgettable moments that have plagued nearly ever Weezer album since 1996. When Rob Mitchum reviewed Make Believe for Pitchfork in 2005, he entertained the thought that, because Make Believe was such a terrible album, it may well retroactively ruin any enjoyment to be had from Weezer’s first two albums. No way. Those albums, without a doubt, make up for anything less impressive they’ve thrown our way since.
I can’t wait for the next Weezer album, because we may get a damn good song out of it. Or maybe we’ll get a damn good album’s worth of songs again. Who knows. That Rivers guy does what he wants, and we’re just along for the ride.