Crab At The Booty: Weezer (Green Album) Turns 20

The time has come for the band’s third LP to be deemed a masterpiece

Weezer’s Green Album turns 20 (Art: Ron Hart)

Unlike a great many artists who strive for it and go completely insane, Rivers Cuomo sounds comfortable with perfection.

We all know he strained mightily over his success and various tribulations in its wake — graduating from Harvard and going celibate for two years leading up to his wedding were probably much less painful than having a leg lengthened. One thing no one ever says about Weezer’s third album is how much Cuomo deserved its perfunctory, mechanistic ease after baring his soul on Pinkerton. That second album is still one of the only albums where a cis man has openly discussed how his own sexual leanings — including attractions to teenaged fans he wielded power over — were harming others and making him sick. He even allowed half a decade to pass and accepted all psychic and financial consequences before moving on with his life and bringing Weezer with him.

Nothing about Weezer’s “green” album (their second self-titled and first to introduce color-coded reboots into their oeuvre) sounds strained. It’s pixelated early Beatles, Kraftwerked Ramones, grunged-up early Cars. Much has been made of the fact that single guitar solo on it is just a third verse, but has anyone stopped to think about how the melodies and chord sequences are so airtight that there’s no room to fuck around?

Instead of trashing Weezer’s third album as too well-plotted or or whatever, let’s celebrate the fact they put ten “That Thing You Do!”s together with the gain knob up to nine. “Photograph” is easily the greatest Weezer song that doesn’t need a therapist. The chords of “O Girlfriend” and “Smile” fracture exactly where your heart’s supposed to tug, from trembling sweet verses to the brief threat of minor-key loneliness. “Crab” and “Hash Pipe” honor Cuomo’s affinity for utter nonsense, and “Island in the Sun,” possibly the most innocent song in the band’s entire 16-and-counting LP studio catalogue equates feeling fine with “I can’t control my brain,” the flipside of Pinkerton’s screeching loss of control that sent its auteur tumbling down a spiral of fear.

 

VIDEO: Weezer “Island In The Sun” 

Even if these heavily barricaded songs were forced, stressed, squeezed from a wannabe genius’s ailing renewable resources, they succeed in emulating a big-guitar, assembly-line power-pop that never quite actually existed and would never come so easily to this band again. “Knock-Down Drag-Out” is perhaps the most formulaic (or is it formalist?) song in the Weezer catalog that’s actually good; the diction follows the chug of the guitars to the letter, the same way that “Lithium” and “Polly” do.

That isn’t a coincidence; at this time Rivers had binders and notebooks of Nirvana and Oasis songs like the guy from Aronofsky’s Pi trying to make mathematical sense of musical pleasure. Fan forums loved how geeky it was, and if the obsession sounds unhealthy, well, Beyoncé probably pushes herself to inadvisable extremes for art’s sake, too. Few multimillionaires in music have exemplified more than Rivers Cuomo how much it pays off to be a student. Doing spiritual and technical justice to the disparate likes of “Paranoid Android,” “Stand by Me,” and “Billie Jean” is just one of many hustles and brain teasers where an up-for-anything nerd virtuoso continues to challenge himself into his 50s.

 

VIDEO: Weezer “Hash Pipe”

What happened to Weezer after Green? They recognized perfection as fleeting and promptly stopped aiming for it; the follow-up Maladroit came less than a year later and remains their (proudly) sloppiest album. It retains its own cult; they ultimately became the kind of band whose albums have individual, segregated followings, as sent up brilliantly by Leslie Jones and Matt Damon on SNL recently. This year alone they’ve dabbled in oversweetened chamber-pop and inspired ‘80s metal. They’ve never succumbed to the temptation to release a best-of or two-disc anthology even though they probably should. Or an unplugged live reshuffle.

For all their so-called fans’ complaints about the majority of their catalogue, there’s plenty of good albums (after Green, proceed to Red and White) and worthy cherrypicks (“Go Away,” “Smart Girls,” “Trainwrecks,” “The Prince Who Wanted Everything,” “Blue Dream” —and that’s all just post-2010) and few ripoffs. Most importantly, their many wipeouts are honest and they rarely fail in the same way twice.

Play the new Foo Fighters album to compare just how much trouble their peers of half a century have when they try to do something fresh and different. And play Spoon’s best-of to remind yourself how much less fun it is to hitch your wagon to the risk-averse.

 

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Ted Miller

Ted Miller is trying to collect the head of every Guns ‘n Roses’ guitarist for his rec room. He currently has three.

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