A lot of people who used to identify as Weezer fans share a common story. They loved ‘90s Weezer, stayed loyal into the early 2000s, lost touch not long afterward, and now it’s just too much work to sift through all the subsequent albums and who really cares anyway.
I totally get it. I was there for a while myself. Through all the ups and downs (and downs and downs), Weezer hasn’t made it easy for their fans.
Here’s something positive: Weezer’s last two records were high quality, and there’s a chance the hot streak continues with their upcoming release, “Pacific Daydream,” which drops on Friday. Maybe that piques your interest. To get up to speed on Weezer, compare tastes, or just for a trip down memory lane, please enjoy the list below.
‘The Blue Album,’ 1994
Weezer’s beloved debut may boast one classic after another, but it’s not hard to pinpoint the crown jewel. “Say It Ain’t So” is the band’s masterpiece. Even years and years of karaoke bar and “Rock Band” overuse haven’t diminished its power.
The iconic opening riff is still perfect; the thunderous, distortion-heavy chorus still rocks harder than you think it’s going to; and Rivers Cuomo’s vividly inhabited lyrics about an alcoholic father still feel like a universal cry of pain and anxiety. “Say It Ain’t So” is one of those stirring pop moments where epic and intimate collide.
A quick history of “Pinkerton”: Cuomo found fame isolating, his songwriting took a raw, confessional turn, many critics trashed the new style, the singles flopped, hardcore fans actually adored the record, it became a cult classic, now it’s widely held in high esteem. As with “Blue,” “Pinkerton” doesn’t lack for highlights—it fully deserves its belated place in the ‘90s canon—but “El Scorcho” is the only song that happens to be a blast on top of showcasing the album’s trademark touches.
It’s a funny, ramshackle sing-along with offbeat references, a rousing chorus, and a supercharged bridge that comes out of nowhere. When you factor in all of the insecurity and emotional neediness that’s on display too, there’s a case to be made that it’s the ultimate Cuomo creation.
‘The Green Album,’ 2001
The commercial failure of “Pinkerton” stung Cuomo hard, and, after the band went on hiatus for several years, he responded by withdrawing into a generic brand of songwriting. There’s very little about “The Green Album” that isn’t impersonal and overly streamlined.
“Island in the Sun” doesn’t escape criticism on those counts, but it doesn’t really matter, not with a vibe so divinely blissed-out and inviting. The irresistible opening hook sets the tone, and from there Cuomo paints a picture of pure escapism: golden seas, drifting off, and leaving all your cares behind. At some point in there you end up totally transported, and there’s not much more you can ask of a pop song than that.
“Maladroit” is the sound of Cuomo wearing his heavy metal heart on his sleeve. The geeky, bespectacled dude who came of age on a healthy diet of Judas Priest, Slayer, and Metallica spends a lot of the album rocking out and soloing like his life depends on it. The moody power ballad “Take Control” packs the most punch. The guitars are big, dense, and throbbing, and the zig-zagging solo has “Gibson Flying V” written all over it. It’s one of those songs that immediately shoots up to the rafters and keeps returning there. If Weezer ever revisits this style, I won’t mind one bit.
‘Make Believe,’ 2005
“Make Believe” leaves a lot to be desired, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Weezer’s fifth record has a few rock-solid tracks (“The Damage in Your Heart,” “Haunt You Every Day,” maybe “Perfect Situation”) and one absolutely fantastic entry: “This Is Such a Pity.” Weezer’s intentions go totally undisguised on this song. From front to back, it’s an unapologetic new wave/Cars pastiche. All the necessary elements are there: punchy momentum, gleaming texture, Casio keyboards, and even a dueling guitar solo.
I can’t help but smile at how committed the band was to nailing that retro sound. Bonus points to Cuomo for the comically serious way that he delivers the line, “You think I’m a fascist pig!”
‘The Red Album,’ 2008
“The Angel and the One” ranks as perhaps the most unlikely, out-of-place song Weezer has ever released. Capping off “The Red Album,” which mainly consists of puerile nonsense and experiments gone wrong, it’s a lovely, sweeping ballad in the style of “Only in Dreams.” But this is “Only in Dreams” from the perspective of Jesus. Yes, that Jesus.
If you’re a Doubting Thomas, read the lyrics. The character in question fends off the temptation of human desire, exalts a higher love, identifies himself as the way to it, “ascends,” then issues a Jewish farewell. That’s a very recognizable Christ, just hidden in plain sight. No figure in human history has been subject to more reinterpretation and personal projection than Jesus of Nazareth, but Cuomo’s impressionistic approach is admirably restrained and on-target.
Raditude is bad. Really bad. Like, bottoming-out bad. As a devout Weezer fan, I’d rather not talk about it. In fact, I’m not even going to designate one of its tracks as “the best.” Or not any of the recordings that made the final cut, anyway.
The closing number, “I Don’t Want to Let You Go,” isn’t horrible, but there’s a much superior demo version that Cuomo included on the second of his “Home Recordings” compilations. Listen to that instead. It’s a ghostly little strummer that bears the influence of the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers. It’s also rather sweet and affecting (albeit melodramatic). When Cuomo sings, “No one likes too much attention from a desperate fool,” you know he’s been that guy more than once.
“Hurley” snapped Weezer’s inglorious streak, dating back to “Make Believe,” of each release being a step down from the previous one. It’s actually an okay record. Even so, “Unspoken” is the only song that arrives somewhere north of decent. Cuomo has said it’s about the struggles he went through when confronted with the compromises of marriage. He didn’t handle this new reality well, and “Unspoken” was his way of acting out the resentment that had seethed inside of him.
The song goes to a dark place (“I’ll never forgive you, can’t you see?”), especially toward the end when the sonics have escalated from jangly acoustics and light strings to full rock band aggression. At that point, Cuomo is basically throwing punches at the wall. It’s “Pinkerton”-level intensity.
‘Everything Will Be Alright in the End,’ 2014
It was a fool’s hope for close to a decade, but at long last Weezer put out another awesome record. On “Everything Will Be Alright in the End,” the emotions feel sincere, the choruses are big and booming, the guitar tones have the ring of 1994, and the melodies hit your ears just right. In other words, Weezer started caring again!
The full repertoire comes together most memorably on “Foolish Father.” Inspired by “King Lear,” it’s a plea for familial reconciliation that builds and builds and finally culminates in 30 seconds of pure magic. Just listen to the song. Describing it in detail could detract from the moment. You might think that offering someone comfort with the line, “Everything will be alright in the end” is the stuff of empty cliché (on paper, big time), but here it’s thrilling, cathartic, and life-affirming. My heart is singing just thinking about it.
‘The White Album,’ 2016
Even if “The White Album” doesn’t quite maintain the level of EWBAITE, it still represents another welcome addition to Weezer’s body of work. It also has the distinction of featuring the band’s most “Pinkerton” song since “Pinkerton” (“Do You Wanna Get High?”) and most “Blue Album” song since “The Blue Album” (“L.A. Girlz”).
The latter is a total dream. When I’m in a bold frame of mind, I argue it’s Weezer’s finest outing since the ‘90s. If you know the B-side “Susanne” (of “Mallrats” fame), it’s similar but with beefed-up guitars, a relentless vocal from Cuomo (one of his best), and an exquisitely crafted bridge that connects right with the heart. From start to finish, the whole band sounds so engaged, energetic, and emotionally alive. More of this, Weezer!