Some hard truths about Weezer from a Weezer fan


Weezer have just put out a new track, “Back to the Shack”. The Red Album is six years old, so it must be time for the band to trot out another back to the roots effort. I love this band, and I do actually like “Back to the Shack” but it’s probably safe to approach this with some cynicism.

Conventional wisdom holds that Weezer is a band making sometimes enjoyable but bland music, which pales in comparison to their early brilliant work. They are essentially The Simpsons of power pop bands–wonderful and popular in the ’90s but shadows of what they were in their prime. Much like their animated counterpart, Weezer have amassed a dedicated fan base, which loves to lament the current conditions of things while simultaneously attempting to cull highlights from recent efforts. Of course, fans flocking to early work is an almost universal occurrence.

I was thinking about some of Weezer’s earlier, lauded output today, and some truths about the band dawned on me.  In hindsight some of their early work is probably praised too thoroughly, and their third and fourth albums are dismissed too quickly. The mythology surrounding the work is actually absurd in my opinion. Also, many of the idiosyncrasies, which now get the band mocked have been present all along. Plus, given the band’s producer and strong start, their decline should have been obvious from the start.

  • In retrospect, Ric Ocasek producing an excellent debut album was sort of ominous

Ric Ocasek is most famous for being the front man for the awesome new wave band The Cars.  The Cars debut is so loaded with hits that even members of The Cars joke it’s essentially a greatest hits collection. Nothing in The Cars’ discography comes close to matching the quality of their debut, which is sort of disconcerting, because Ocasek produced Weezer’s eponymous debut. The album, called The Blue Album by fans, was an absolute smash hit and contains many of Weezer’s best songs. Although, I personally feel Weezer did go on to create other good, or even excellent, albums, Ocasek’s involvement seems like foreshadowing in hindsight.

  • Weezer’s first four albums are their first two albums done twice

I’m a big fan of Weezer’s self-titled album produced by Ocasek. The one referred to by a color. You know, the album with the ode to vacations. The one with the outrageously catchy song with lots of background “Ohhs.” The one with a falsetto-voiced genre pastiche.

The Blue Album and The Green Album, the band’s third album, have all of the above in common. Both were produced by The Cars’ lead singer and the songs referenced are “Holiday”, “Island in the Sun”; “Buddy Holly”, “Photograph” and “Surf Wax America”, “Hash Pipe” respectively.

Pinkerton and Maladroit differ quite a bit, but are both follow a similar premise: imagine Weezer, but through a different, harsher rock subgenre prism.  Pinkerton is Weezer’s grunge album, and Maladroit is Weezer’s cheesy metal album. Both are phenomenal guitar records, and neither record sold particularly well. Both albums are highly regarded now.

I love all four of these albums, but Weezer basically found two winning formulas and worked them twice before returns totally diminished.

  • The Hip-Hop appropriation has been there from the beginning

There was definitely some negativity when Weezer teamed up with Lil Wayne for “I Can’t Stop Partying“, and before that the rap featured in the lengthy suite “I am the Greatest Man that Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” was met with mixed responses but mostly harsh snickering. This absolutely boggles my mind. Sure these songs were cheesy, and Rivers Cuomo has no business rapping, but he’s been doing it from the very beginning. “Buddy Holly”, the band’s signature song, starts off with the lyrics, “What’s with these homies dissing my girl/ what do they have to front?”; There is a Public Enemy quote in Pinkerton‘s “El Scorcho” and “Dope Nose” on Maladroit references busting rhymes. Weezer’s songs have included lame use of Hip-Hop lyricism from the very beginning, for some reason it’s only laughable now.

  • Return of the Rentals and Pinkerton are probably better combined than Songs from the Black Hole would have been.

There is a lost Weezer concept album/ rock opera, which is speculated to be amazing. It’s one of their bizarrely numerous similarities to The Beach Boys.  The album was going to be called Songs from the Black Hole, SFTBH, and it was going to be a space opera allegory for the band’s sudden meteoric rise. For a variety of reasons, the album never came out, and if Wikipedia is correct, only three demo copies of it exist. However, because many of the songs intended for the album were either used on Pinkerton or have been released as b-sides or rarities, fans have cobbled together their own copies of SFTBH, and it’s generally underwhelming. The rough mixing of many of the tracks is to blame for this, but somehow a geeky Weezer space opera is not as wonderful as you might expect.

One of the events frequently cited as contributing to the non-release of SFTBH was Matt Sharp’s formation of The Rentals and the subsequent release of Return of the Rentals, ROTR. There’s probably some truth to this. The Rentals’ album definitely mines the same sonic terrain as some of Pinkerton‘s wonderful b-sides. Plus, ROTR is a pseudo-concept album about a band reunion that inexplicably features a lot of imagery related to space and robotics. Furthermore, Sharp and Cuomo have a rocky relationship, and Cuomo has cryptically hinted that ROTR derailed the project in the past. Cuomo has also called the incredible song Only in Dreams, “Gay, gay Disney gay,” in the past, so his online statements are best taken with a grain of salt. This kerfuffle often overshadows the quality of The Rentals’ off kilter debut.

ROTR is an awesome, delightful synth-rock record. It isn’t life changing, but it’s hummable, catchy and weird. It also spawned a modest radio hit with “Friends of P”.  Considering the stature of Pinkerton, it doesn’t seem like the legend surrounding SFTBH is totally deserved. It might not ever exist in a truly finished form, but it also may have been a disaster that spread Weezer too thin, and in its place are one of the best albums of the ’90s and a goofy, solid pop album.  I think it’s a fair trade.


My least defensible favorite album

I absolutely love Hippies by Harlem. It was released in 2010 by a band whose most notable achievement is either opening for Jack White’s side project, The Dead Weather or an incredibly entertaining Twitter account. Still, Harlem’s 2010 release, Hippies, is one of my most listened to albums of all time. It’s also probably the least defensible album among the ranks of my other favorite albums. Hippies is not a transcendental album, and it was made by a band almost no one has heard of.

Harlem is a trio from Austin, Texas by way of Tuscon, Ariz. They tend to to produce fuzzed-out pieces of garage rock with scuzzy lyrics, confrontational titles and incredibly catchy hooks. Harlem have released two albums and an EP–Free Drugs, Hippies and LSD Saves, respectively. According to Wikipedia and Twitter, the band is on indefinite hiatus to the my, and other weirdos’, chagrin

Of Harlem’s three releases only Hippies was reviewed widely enough to generate a metacritic page. The album, which was released by Matador generally well-received, Songs were praised for their effective hooks and comedic sensibilities. It received criticism for its 18-song running length and for a handful of songs that are essentially only a repeated chorus.

Hippies is certainly guilty on all charges. The majority of the songs are simple, quirky deconstructions of dysfunctional relationships. Any vitriol tends to come off as incorrigibly mischievous instead of malicious. Lyrics reference immolation of an ex, drug use, Casper the Ghost and make good use of the occasional curse word. Every song is also simple and catchy enough to make the album an inadvertent singalong. The songs will be wedged in your head, and the sparse arrangement is begging for another voice.

Of course, it is also true that Hippies contains 18 songs. None of these songs runs much longer than three minutes. Hippies fits on a single CD, but it is sort of an approximation of what a Ramones’ double album effort might be like, but with a greater folk influence. 18 songs hellbent on beating their way into your skull and then abruptly ending. I’m a fan of this quality, but there is definitely a feeling that maybe the band could have done more with less. A tight, 13-song album would definitely contain all of Hippies‘ highlights, and it would still display the band’s bottomless reservoir of garage rock ear worms. However, the album never entirely wears out its welcome given the brevity of the tracks themselves. Also, considering Harlem’s dearth of material, there has been time to get to know every song on Hippies extensively.

Ultimately, this is an imperfect album. Its songs certainly aren’t cerebral, and there sure are a lot of them. Still, in my opinion it is undeniably great despite these minor flaws. It’s a collection of garage rock and punk songs. The irreverent lyrics are more clever than they need to be and the musical arrangements sound much prettier than they mean to. There’s just the right amount of feedback and roughness around the edges of Hippies to capture the scuzz a band called Harlem desired without taking away from the stellar tunes. All in all, Hippies is an awesome collection of songs from a quasi-existent band, and it’s definitely worth a listen. Just don’t be surprised when you find yourself revisiting its warm tones.

Whistlin’ Pixie, the seminal indie rockband skewered love songs in a fantastic way


“La La Love You” is the tenth track on the Pixies’ unassailable classic, Doolittle. It is a great song, and it continues a proud tradition.

A Tex Avery-esque wolf whistle, schmaltzy sentiment and halfhearted innuendo make up the entirety of the song’s lyrical content. Musically, the song employs energetic drumming to contrast syrupy singing and breezy guitar work.

“La La Love You” is a bizarre, catchy song, which makes it the perfect heir to Surfer Rosa‘s tenth song, “Tony’s Theme“–another song that subverts genre expectations and melds a hummable tune with lyrics rendered bizarre by their simplicity. Both songs also immediately alert the listener to the musical genres being turned on their ear. In the case of “Tony’s Theme” the song is explicitly stated to be a superhero’s theme song, whereas the sappy crooning reminiscent of Kurt Cobain’s Morissey impression in “La La Love you” implies the targeted genre.

While this song has kindred spirits in the Pixies’ catalog, it is it’s an entirely unique, enjoyable listen.