By Clayton Ambrose
If you have ever been a fan of Weezer’s Blue Album or Pinkerton, you have probably spent some amount of time lamenting the band’s steep and ugly decline. I was very much the same, shaming Weezer for their lackluster post-90’s output and clinging to their first two albums like holy grails, but then a thought occurred to me: had I actually listened to any of their other albums? Upon this epiphany, I set out to listen to their discography in hopes of possibly proving myself wrong and finding out that they were still good the whole time. I had it right the first time. All of the insults and criticisms waged at Weezer’s 21st century discography (at least from 2005 to 2010) are well deserved, but it does not make me happy to know that now. It is upsetting that frontman Rivers Cuomo was so affected by the negative reaction to Pinkerton that it irrevocably changed the way that he wrote and produced his art. Weezer eventually recovered and released some solid records in the past few years, but quality-wise the band never managed to again reach the excellence of their early years. Regardless, what we are left with is what we have got to deal with, so now that I am officially qualified to talk sh*t about Weezer, let me bestow upon you the completely objective and correct power ranking of the albums of the best and worst power pop band that ever lived.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here. Raditude is, without a single doubt in my mind, Weezer’s single worst output to date, and quite possibly one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard PERIOD. The list of grievances is miles long. This album is vapid, soulless, uninspired, and humiliating. Rivers Cuomo, at the time, was 39 years old writing teenage love songs that wouldn’t be out of place as the background music for a party scene in an early 2000s high school film, and no, it’s not charming. It’s all very sad, because you, me, and everyone else who ever picked up The Blue Album as a young music lover knows that this band is capable of much, much more than this. Instead, we get such gems as undoubtedly the worst Weezer song ever, “Can’t Stop Partying” featuring a phoned in Lil Wayne verse over a corny “hip-hop” beat. You Raditude apologists out there might be saying something like, “It’s purposely bad! It’s a joke song!”, but I would assert that a prerequisite for being a joke song is instilling some feeling of happiness in the listener, not despair. In fact, I think the whole album was meant to recreate some kind of youthful joyfulness that Cuomo may have experienced at some point in his life, but the end result is just embarrassing. At this stage in his career Cuomo was a middle-aged man clinging to some vague caricature of youth, like an aging high school football star or, more literally, an aging rock star. If I was Rivers Cuomo, I would wake up every night in a cold sweat remembering that Raditude exists because I made it exist, and that for many, there is no redemption great enough to keep this album from hanging over Weezer’s career like a grotesque and malicious spirit for which there is no holy cures strong to be put to rest.
9) Make Believe
Thankfully, Weezer never made an album as bad as Raditude again, but they did come pretty damn close with Make Believe. Make Believe’s primary offense is that it’s just so excessively, mind-numbingly boring. While one could theoretically derive pleasure from ripping into Raditude and its nonsense, this album doesn’t sink low enough to garner mockery (except for what I hold to be the second worst Weezer song, “Beverly Hills”), nor does it ride high enough to be an enjoyable experience. It’s like listening to radio static for 45 minutes; there’s no real impression made by the music and you’re really just waiting for it to be over. The songwriting is so passionless and painfully average that it feels like, in between Maladroit and Make Believe, the band had developed an algorithm for the typical Weezer song and just plugged in the numbers, rendering the music as cold and lifeless as the machine it was conceived on. Make Believe take so little chances that it could nearly be called cowardly, but it’s hard to tell if the music is so joyless because the band was afraid or if they had just become bored off their own supply. If I could sum up this album in a phrase, it would be: “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed”.
8) Weezer (The Red Album)
The Red Album is probably the most frustrating album of Weezer’s lineup, mostly due to wasted potential. Don’t get me wrong, this album is bad and is just as symptomatic of Weezer’s post-Pinkerton problem as the previous two on this list, but it really didn’t have to be. Songs like “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” and “Dreamin’” give glimpses of the creative prowess that the band undoubtedly possessed, like the hand of a drowning man that reaches above the surface for one last, futile effort at fighting off the approaching darkness that would manifest itself as Raditude a year later. This rest of the album serves as a middle ground between Make Believe and Raditude by being both boring and exceedingly corny, which gives the listener the sonic experience of stumbling upon some horrific beast mid-transformation into another, even more horrific beast. I understand that songs like “Everybody Get Dangerous” and “Troublemaker” are meant to be tongue-in-cheek and quirky with their overblown machismo but at times it becomes difficult to discern the reality with the parody, and I would point to this album as the period where the band’s effort to create a certain persona or aesthetic overcame their effort to actually create good music. At one time something like this may have been avoidable, but The Red Album was the official starting line for Weezer’s misguided race for validation.
At this point begins the upturn in the parabola of Weezer’s discography. Hurley is neither good or bad, but sits pretty in a sliver above mediocre, breaking a three-album streak of primarily unenjoyable tunes. Of course there are some stinkers like “Smart Girls” and “Brave New World”, but for the most part Cuomo and friends tightened up the songwriting and (mostly) did away with the groan-worthy lyrics and instrumentation. However, Hurley, like the album before it, is pop-influenced to the point of being saccharine, which leads to the record emitting that aura of triteness that’s smeared all over the two albums that came before it. This gives off the impression that the album is trying way too hard to be replayable, which ironically only makes me want to listen to it less. Other than that, I would vote Hurley to be the Weezer album most likely to make you shrug your shoulders and say, “Yeah, that was alright” once you’ve finished it, which is quite a big accomplishment considering the era of Weezer’s career it was released in. Therefore, Hurley mostly exists as a small blip on the proverbial heart monitor of Weezer’s career, and I think that more than enough justifies its existence.
Maladroit was Weezer’s last good album before their 4-year stretch of garbage began, and you can just barely see the signs of what was to come within it. No longer itching to take chances after Pinkerton’s failure, the band was forced to ride Cuomo’s songwriting for as long as it would take them, which turned out to be from 2001 to 2002, during which The Green Album and Maladroit were released. Despite Cuomo obviously running out of steam, the album is full of quality pop-rock tunes that, at the very least, feel inspired and full of life. Maladroit’s primary flaw is that it lacks the sonic variation of its predecessor, leading the album to occasionally veer into monotony, only to be saved by its concise 33-minute runtime. Because of this lack of diversity the record is void of anything truly noteworthy, and while not as offensively insignificant as Make Believe, it still fails to make any lasting impression with its music. Though I must say, I would much prefer a decade more of unremarkable and harmless songs like “Dope Nose” and “Burndt Jamb” over most of what came after this album. Thus, Maladroit shines in comparison, and any time I listen to Raditude, the better it gets.
5) Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Everything you need to know about Everything Will Be Alright In The End comes from the first lines of “Back to the Shack”: “Sorry guys, I didn’t realize that I needed you so much/I thought I’d get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks”. Whether through some personal or divine intervention, Weezer seemed to finally reach at least some level of self-awareness, and it really shows in the songs on this album. For the most part, the band abandons the squeaky clean, ultra-pop sound of their last few years and creates something, dare I say it, fresh. The love songs are still there, but the album is more preoccupied with exploring Cuomo’s relationship with the world around him, including his connections with love, music, and at one point parental figures in “Foolish Father”, all while taking some less serious detours, like on the Paul Revere tribute anthem, “The British Are Coming”. Even the love songs achieve the appearance of sincerity by seemingly refusing to cater to the romantic sensibilities of 15 year-old boys, such as on the cheesy but very sweet “Da Vinci”. The biggest complaint that I have for Everything Will Be Alright In The End is that “The Futurescope Trilogy”, a three-part miniature rock opera at the end of the album, feels mostly like wasted potential, and I would’ve liked to see that ambitious aspect of the band’s talents fleshed out more throughout the album The album is most definitely not perfect, but it is a much welcomed return to making music that actually feels inspired for once. Who knew what a little cognizance could do?
4) Weezer (The Green Album)
After a five-year hiatus, during which bassist Matt Sharpe left the band, Weezer released The Green Album in an effort to pick-up the pieces and move on with their career in the aftermath of Pinkerton, an effort that I would consider successful. The album is predictably toned down from the raucousness of the album before, but at this time Cuomo was still in peak songwriting form so it more than makes up for the loss of raw energy. While firmly planted in their power-pop niche, the album is diverse enough to keep the music from being damaged by tedium or listener fatigue. The album features not one but two modern pop-rock staples in “Island in the Sun” and “Hash Pipe”, and I would wager to say that both are deserving of their “smash hit” status as the last two Weezer singles to warrant the acclaim of the public (bite me, “Beverly Hills”). The one downfall of The Green Album is the inclusion of one of Weezer’s worst lyrical songs “Crabs”, which presents the world such gems as “Crab at the booty/’Taint gonna do no good” and “Crab if you need it/She put her knickers on”. This is only a minor hurdle, however, as the rest of the album mercifully never drops that low again. Overall, The Green Album is about the best recovery album you could expect from the band, making the most out of the band’s newfound reluctance to step outside of their self-imposed boundaries, and really, I can’t muster up a good enough reason to blame them.
3) Weezer (The White Album)
If you ever need a reminder about the importance of the quality of songwriting on an album, just listen to Raditude and this album back to back, because there’s really not a whole lot of discernable differences between the two. Both albums are chock-full of pop-rock anthems about girls and hanging out with your friends while occasionally bringing in a certain level of hip-hop influence. The most important difference between the two is that Rivers Cuomo got his head out of his ass and remembered that he’s actually a talented songwriter. The tracks on this album are all fun and catchy without coming off as insipid or lifeless, which marks the first time in a long time that you can feel real passion radiating from a Weezer album with songs like “California Kids” and “King of the World” harkening back to The Green Album and, to an extent, The Blue Album. The lyricism still doesn’t drag itself out of Cuomo’s seemingly eternal adolescence, but they’ve at least improved enough to the point where his age (46 at the time) isn’t constantly in the back of your mind while listening. The juvenile lyrics even find themselves becoming appropriate, due to the album’s intentional prevailing theme of nostalgia-soaked California summers, which puts the lyrics of the album more in line with a Beach Boys album rather than their old selves. Judging by their new single “Feels Like Summer”, the band is threatening to revert back to their old, terrible ways, but even if that ends up being the case, at least they came back and made one last album that kicked ass before once again succumbing to the darkness.
Pinkerton makes an extremely strong case for the top spot in Weezer’s catalogue, and while it ultimately falls short by hair, it is unequivocally the most important album in the context of Weezer’s career, along with being really, really damn good as well. Upon release, the album was lambasted by critics and fans alike, particularly for it’s rough, self-produced sound and Cuomo’s revealing and soul-baring lyrics. Pinkerton would go on to amass a large cult following and a cornucopia of retroactive praise from critics, but the damage had already been done; Cuomo, embarrassed by his folly, spent the next decade-plus retreating into increasingly safer and safer songwriting. The album itself, regardless of initial reception, was brilliant the entire time. Pinkerton comes from such a raw and vulnerable place in Cuomo’s soul and it really shows in the music. Granted, the lyrics do veer into uncomfortable territory at times (looking at you “Across The Sea”), but these feelings that are being communicated were all a part of Cuomo’s reality at the time. Weezer has played songs about sex and relationships their entire post-Blue Album career but this album is the only time that it really felt like they meant it. When you hear Cuomo’s pained wailing on “Tired of Sex”, it doesn’t feel phony or like an act to provoke relatability out of the audience; Pinkerton truly feels like an unflinching look into a troubled man’s inner turmoil. What’s not conveyed through Cuomo’s singing and lyricism is made cleared by the album’s bombastic and unclean sound. Songs like “El Scorcho” and “No Other One” sound like they’re about to fall to pieces at any moment, but the music still persists like a loud and ugly car that’s falling to pieces but refuses to die. All of this contributes to Pinkerton’s unhinged and unapologetic energy that, while unappreciated in its time, created a new brand of emotional rock that would be much imitated but never replicated in the years to come. It is worth noting that after initially disowning Pinkerton as a “hideous” and “diseased” album, Cuomo would eventually come around and accept the wayward child on his musical career.
1) Weezer (The Blue Album)
It could really only be the first. Pinkerton has its many merits and very nearly matches The Blue Album in quality, but Weezer only has one truly flawless album in their repertoire, and it’s their debut. From top to bottom The Blue Album is stacked with bona-fide power-pop classics, verging into legendary territory on tracks like “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here” and “Holiday”. Musically, the album is nothing fancy, but this simplicity has rarely been done so damn right. Any 4-piece rock band can try to replicate The Blue Album’s sound, but they could never replicate the quality, and I believe that’s partly where the album’s influence lies. It exudes an air of such innocence and naivety that it inspires an “anyone-can-do-that” feeling in the listener, planting the seed for countless of mediocre but passionate garage rock bands across the nation. Where The Blue Album succeeds, and where many of Weezer’s following output fails, is by having a heart. This music is the product of a band that was still driven by the desire to create something for themselves without pandering to an audience or worrying about their marketability. “Buddy Holly” was a massive hit, of course, but it just happened to be that way; Weezer weren’t aiming to be rock stars, they just wanted to do what they loved. Even with this aesthetic of simple and lighthearted music, one of the defining and unique features of The Blue Album is the underlying sense of melancholy that makes its way into just about every song on the album. “Say It Ain’t So” is about a fractured relationship between father and son, and “Only In Dreams” tells of a love so strong yet entirely unobtainable, at least in the waking world. To reference the Beach Boys once more, The Blue Album achieves a similar mood to the former’s classic album Pet Sounds, with both subverting the idea of one might expect within the substance of a typical pop album, and at the end of the day I think that’s what makes The Blue Album, along with Pet Sounds, so special. It’s a perfect pop album that doesn’t really have a place next to the Madonnas and Michael Jacksons of the world, instead crafting its own nook where those who feel rejected and alienated by pop music and popular culture may populate. It forever has its own place in music history as a pop album for the loners.
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