At some point in high school, a friend of mine loaned me a copy of Weezer’s first album, and I listened to it a lot. And by a lot, I mean constantly. It was in my headphones every bus ride, and I knew all the words by heart. Even today, if you held a gun to my head and made me pick my favorite album of all time, I would be hard-pressed to find one that I enjoy more than that simple blue CD. It’s such an intoxicating blend of poppy melodies and squealing guitars, and it sounds darn good when you crank up the volume. I didn’t come around to their second album Pinkerton until several years later, but it’s also a masterpiece for many of the same reasons, and for some totally different ones. Dark and transgressive, it plays a lot like the stereotypical misogynistic poster on Reddit who is obsessed with wondering why women don’t like him. Of course, since Rivers Cuomo is a rock star he could get women, and the interesting thing about Pinkerton is that it’s about that brooding nerd who keeps wondering why that doesn’t make him happy. It’s bizarrely specific to Cuomo, and though I’ll never like it as much as their debut, (how could I?) I’ve listened to it plenty of times.
But even my generous heart can no longer pretend to enjoy what Weezer has become. I think Raditude was where I finally bailed, and I’ve only listened to Hurley on Spotify a couple of times. With the benefit of hindsight, I really wanted Make Believe and the Red album to be better than they clearly were. I’m somewhat more charitable to Make Believe than the average music fan, if only because the lyrics don’t sound like your weird uncle trying to sound cool. But it’s unbearably bland, all of the sonic edges sanded away until they sound like a flavorless mush. The words follow suit. Unfortunately, the Red Album and Raditude carry that bland sound and pair it with lyrics that are inexplicably terrible. Hurley is a slight improvement, but at this point it’s too little too late for me to care anymore.
But what about those two little albums that brought Weezer back to the big time? Recently I dusted off the Green Album and Maladroit and gave them a spin, and I was thrilled to discover that they were much better than I expected. I had made the mistake often made by music fans, and I assumed that everything since Weezer returned was dreadful. It’s simply not true, because their first round of comeback albums were both terrific. The Green Album functions a little like a second debut album, and as such it succeeds wildly. It’s ten tracks of intense pop rock, simply composed but with a ton of muscle behind them. The riffage is very basic, but I can’t deny the punch to the gut that is “Don’t Let Go,” and it never lets up. It’s helped immensely by the fact that it’s so short. It would be exhausting and monotonous at 45 minutes, but it’s over at 28, and it’s the right length. Maladroit has a lot of the same qualities, in that it’s short and punchy with some real adrenaline behind it. But it’s even more amped up, laced with metal influences and squealing angular guitar solos. It’s not quite as tight as anything that’s come before it, and it starts to run out of gas a little in the back half. But it’s still wildly underrated. I would rate “Dope Nose” and “Take Control” as some of the most insane guitar licks Cuomo ever composed.
Neither album taps into the raw emotion of Pinkerton, but they don’t need to. The lyrics never get in the way or feel overwrought. They might be an afterthought, but both albums are more about rediscovering that intense sound and getting the band excited to play music again. It’s too bad they had to follow it up with Make Believe and then follow that into a rabbit-hole of tripe. But at least I have those first four albums to rock out and push the limits of my car speakers.