If Living Well Is the Best Revenge, Is Weezer the Most Successful Band of All-Time?

As their blue debut turns 25, its time to ponder if these dudes really are The Greatest Band Who Ever Lived ™

Weezer 1994

At this point, it’s true: Weezer announcing a new “color” album is as important to those outside their subculture as ICP announcing a new Joker card deck. (Think this analogy’s a joke? Then explain why both acts have their own cruise.)

I’m on record as hating the term “victory lap.” It’s overused, but worse, it’s rarely applied to something worthy of the title. An artist records a song that’s a happy flex after a successful album? Please. But January’s “teal” album was the rare emblem of that very thing. It’s a masterclass in how Weezer’s popularity has stabilized in large part due to their willingness to play other people’s games.

To wit: a 14-year-old Weezer fan dared, pressured and campaigned on Twitter for Weezer to cover Toto’s “Africa,” which was already reaching a cultural saturation point in 2017. Eventually they caved, though in true nerd-troll fashion they first respond with the pump-fake “Rosanna” a cover of a different Toto hit. Joke’s on who, exactly? “Africa” became Weezer’s first Hot 100 entry in a decade, so why not follow up with a whole surprise covers album?

 

VIDEO: Weezer – Africa (Starring Weird Al Yankovic)

Eternally reverent to the religion of Pop Song, the boys who look like Buddy Holly tried their shaky hands at “Billie Jean,” “Take on Me,” “Stand by Me,” “No Scrubs,” and the like. The result was so painstakingly close to the originals (yes, even TLC) that you either found within you a newfound respect for the geeks’ encyclopedic virtuosity (especially some of Rivers Cuomo’ most impressive singing on record ever, maybe not so much Patrick Wilson’s unimaginative plod) or a new nadir of disdain for their gimmickry. One more thing to argue about on Twitter.

But wait, that was a cultural moment, too. In December, one of SNL’s biggest curveball sketches since “More Cowbell” found Leslie Jones and host Matt Damon ruining a dinner party with an, ahem, knock-down drag-out war over whether the progenitors of pocket-protector power-pop fared better with Matt Sharp or Scott Shriner on bass. (Spoiler: one punch line puts 2008’s undervalued “Pork and Beans” in a cruelly untenable position up against “Buddy Holly,” though it’s hard to put ten funnier words together than “Why don’t you grow the hell up, listen to Raditude?”) The sketch even name-dropped the “black” album that would appear three months later, the kind of press you can’t buy for a record that sucks ass. But this is no ordinary band that sucks ass.

Weezer are, by all accounts, living the dream. Like Nine Inch Nails are to industrial or Green Day to punk,  Weezer are the biggest power-pop band of all-time. Their first two albums are beloved by almost everyone, neatly distinguished by the “blue” album’s multi-pronged conquest of alternative radio and Pinkerton’s bizarre journey from queasy disappointment to diseased cult masterpiece. When they returned five years later, the sales returned like they’d never left, while the love did a funny thing. Weezer became some kind of Chicago Cubs: people who swear by them refuse to quit despite disappointment after disappointment. And they can’t even agree on what those disappointments are. The closest thing to a consensus is that Make Believe (2005), Raditude (2009), and Pacific Daydream (2017) are all pretty butt. Maladroit (2002), Everything Will Be All Right in the End (2014), and the “white” album (2016) are close to well-regarded. And I’ll throw my hat into this chaos dimension and call the “green” album (2001), its “red” successor (2008), and the much-despised Hurley (2010) all pretty misunderstood. But we’ll get back to that.

Weezer are as lucky as rock bands get in 2019 because they’ve got it all. Two historical works of art, made men in sales, regular radio interest, an uncanny understanding with their weirdo fans that they’re going to do whatever the fuck they feel like, and no expectation to answer for the unjust events of an increasingly unjust world. Many people would say Dave Grohl’s hard-touring rivals Foo Fighters have the edge of being the most successful band in the universe.

Leslie Jones x Matt Damon: SNL Weezer War!

But no one writes an SNL sketch about the Foo Fighters. Whether Weezer diehards can admit it to themselves or not, Rivers Cuomo gives them a thrill. Even the ones who believe he only drops dud after dud have to admit that he rarely makes the same album twice, and for that matter, rarely fails in the same way twice. The “black” album has a mariachi single, a trap-influenced closer about cocaine, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek behind the boards, and a token great song, a truly tasteless, horn-filled anthem about Prince, who wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. You’ll miss it if you’re not along for the stupid ride, which if you’re honest with yourself had plenty of bumps in the first place (the lurching “Only in Dreams,” which ruins their “masterpiece,” is the real zombie bastard).

And if you’re willing to believe that neither the “blue” album nor Pinkerton is one of the hundred best albums of the 1990s, maybe you’d also be willing to engage the idea that they’ve written plenty of songs up to that standard in their wake: the Best Coast duet “Go Away” in which Cuomo does not get the girl, the toxic-relationship-as-triumphant-we’re-still-standing-anthem “Trainwrecks,” the Van Halen-worthy arena-rock Lunchable “Dope Nose.” The entirety of the “green” album, which mimics “Smells Like Teen Spirit”’s guitar-solo-is-just-the-third-verse on every single song playfully sleeps through its Turing exam. And a fair amount of the “red” album is a paean to midlife crises every bit as goofy and warm as “You Can Call Me Al.” At the very least, you have to admit none of these descriptions are alike.

Rivers Cuomo will do anything for a buck, and plenty pro bono: hire Lil Wayne, cover “Un-Break My Heart” or “Paranoid Android,” rip himself off (“L.A. Gurlz”), trash his previous record (“Back to the Shack”), use a cannoli as a literary device and Freudian signifier (“Thank God for Girls”). But he’ll also cut a hook for B.O.B. (“Magic”), slag off Timbaland (“Pork and Beans”), refuse to grow up in 2008 (“Troublemaker”) and complain about being old in 1996 (“The Good Life”). Then there’s that time we don’t speak of where he thought CTRL+Ring the word “socks” over “sex” was funny enough to make it past the Gchat window.

Weezer Weezer, DGC 1994

Fans may hate Cuomo’s literally algorithmic approach to lyrics, his alleged lack of feeling (as if “No One Else” captured a sound mind), his occasionally craven commercialism (“Beverly Hills,” “Feels Like Summer”). But they’re posers if they’re not nerd enough to appreciate this analogy. Remember the show Sliders? Four misfits appearing in a different timeline in every episode, with the purpose of trying to find their way home with the implicit knowledge that as long as the show must go on, they never will? That’s the show.

Conceive this band’s unpredictable adventures as episodic and they’re a lot more interesting. Weezer finding their way home would be supposedly what their fans want, and it would also kill them. Few fanbases long to bury their heroes as much as this one, but said heroes are much happier for the money, the SNL tribute, the chance to bring Toto and TLC onstage, the 14-year-old fans double-dog-daring the dad-rockers to do something silly one more once. And don’t think they don’t love the fact you argue over their particulars far more than Dave Grohl’s pocket-liners do. What other band maintains this level of airplay, notoriety, headline generation, and yes, still the occasional killer tune, or even album, a quarter-century in? Almost no other artist regularly makes both good and bad music with all the traceable trajectory of a Magic 8-Ball. That’s the show.

VIDEO: Weezer – “Weezer” (Full album)

Dan Weiss

Dan Weiss is a freelance music journalist based in Collingswood, New Jersey. He is the former (and last-ever) reviews editor at Spin magazine.

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