by Pope Penguin
Almost every review you will read of this album–known as the "green album"–will recount the entire chaotic, short-lived history of the band. From the double platinum status of their phenomenal 1994 debut "Weezer" (the "blue album") to its "disappointing"–yet even more phenomenal–1996 follow-up "Pinkerton," to the departure of bassist Matt Sharp–frontman of The Rentals–to frontman Rivers Cuomo's seclusion at Harvard and subsequent year long reclusion. But there’s only so many times you can read the phrase "Brian Wilson-like breakdown" before it starts to grate on you.
May 15th was a day full of pomp, circumstance and excitement. After waiting for this new album for almost five years, fans everywhere resorted to such tactics as camping out for it overnight. I was part of the hullaballoo at Tower Records in Los Angeles, where laminates were given out to the first 350 people to see a free Weezer show in the afternoon (which was also televised on a jumbotron in the parking lot). The next 250 received wristbands to meet the band afterwards.
The amazing turnout, at music stores all over the country, is a testimony to just how strong Weezer’s fan base is after all these years, and how people are clamoring for a breath of fresh air in today’s somewhat stale alt-pop-rock-whatever climate. And after all is said and done, it’s just that–the music–which we must all come back to.
In the words of XTC:
"After the pretty
There’s a gluttony of pity
On a cake called nitty gritty
And it’s ugly underneath."
Yes, folks. Weezer’s "green album" is thoroughly…well…okay.
The initial forecast came in the form of "Hash Pipe" just a few weeks ago. While some people think the single sounds like the band was trying too hard to keep up with the likes of its "hardcore" contemporaries – like Korn, Tool and Limp Bizkit–I thought it was a very refreshing and interesting conglomeration of the sounds found on Weezer’s hooky, polished debut album "Weezer" and the dark, sinister nature of its excellent follow up "Pinkerton." Based on a truly insidious guitar riff and with a neat falsetto vocal hook, but still with the signature "whoa-ooh-whoa" backing vocals, it sounded distinctly Weezer but with something new in the mix. Seeing them live in March also gave other glimpses of what was to come, both good and not so good, from the mellow, adventurous "Island In The Sun" to the somewhat innoccuous rocker "Don’t Let Go."
But it’s clear, when analyzing Weezer’s track record, that they have a trend of releasing one song on every album that sounds distinctly different from the rest of the songs surrounding it, and that, inevitably, that song is always the first to be released as a single. The debut album’s "Undone–The Sweater Song" is a joyful mix of lyrical gobbledygook over an off-kilter guitar riff that repeats ad infinitum and stays with you forever. "Pinkerton"'s "El Scorcho" is much the same. On this album, "Hash Pipe" serves the same purpose, with its sinister riffage and flippant lyrics about transvestite prostitutes that sound very cool but actually mean very little. "That’s the first time I ever wrote a song telling a story from a fictional point of view instead of a real life experience," admits Rivers Cuomo.
Rivers has also continually seemed to apologize for 1996’s "Pinkerton" and its lack of success. "Pinkerton," a stunningly dark 34 minute wash of noisy, ugly guitars and intensely personal lyrics, alienated many fans of the band (mostly casual fans, one would assume). But upon closer inspection, the hooks, melodicism and uneasy delivery were all still there…it just wasn’t wrapped up in a pretty little box with a bow on top. It was raw. Harsh. Brutal. Beautiful. A masterpiece.
And so, it’s to be expected that Weezer’s new album almost sounds like one huge – and thoroughly unneccessary, in this reviewer’s opinion - apology for 96’s "Pinkerton" and its lack of commercial success. The band even decided to repeat the strategy of the first album by taking up with the same producer–Cars frontman Ric Ocasek–and even emulating the first album’s artwork, right down to the shot of the four members against a solid background, and the minimal text on the back (though it's interesting to note that on the cover of this album, Rivers is standing out in front of the other three members). And of course, there's the title: "Weezer." Just why the band decided to name their third album the same thing as their first is beyond me. I can almost hear David St. Hubbins on stage uttering "you are witness to the new birth of Spinal Tap: Mark 2." Unfortunately, there are little signs of rebirth on this album. Just rehashing.
It is almost as if the overarching strategy for this album was the same as U2’s recent strategy behind "All That You Can’t Leave Behind"…the tired old "get back to basics" effort that reveals a step backward in terms of creativity and ergo generally reaps massive album sales. I find this fitting and almost expected for a band such as U2 that’s been around for over two decades, yet intensely bizarre for a band like Weezer, whose only been making records for seven years. And so, like the countless reviews of "…Behind," I also expect nearly every single review of the "green album" to be generally the same, and largely created out of ignorance. I can already hear the populace shouting "A return to form!" "Back to their roots!" "Best album ever!" "The real Weezer!" Yet having been a fan of the band since 1994, and after hearing the album at least five times in its entirety since yesterday morning, I still can’t quite make heads or tails of this thing. I find it enjoyable enough, yet hardly moving. I see it as sort of the "Episode I" of Weezer, attempting to go back even before the origins of the "blue album," which kind of fails, because, as they say, "you can never go home again." The "green album" almost plays out like a reunion album, and to some degree, I suppose it could be categorized as such, considering the band's five year hiatus.
The riffage of the opening tune "Don’t Let Go" hearkens some of the more rocking moments of the debut album, but in a much more well-mannered way. This is actually where the majority of the songs fall: a well-mannered "blue album." One fundamental difference between the "green album" and Weezer’s first two efforts is Rivers’ voice; on most of the songs herein, Rivers–sounding fresh and crisp after rumored vocal lessons–chirps out gleefully, but in a much lower register than on most previous efforts, which probably contributes to the overall more mellow sound of the entire record. The most typically Weezer moment on the entire record–and my favorite thus far–is probably "Photograph," which absolutely sounds like it could have been a refugee from the "blue album." Its handclaps and “ooh-ooh-ooh” backing vocals hearken the pop rock of "Buddy Holly." But whereas "Buddy Holly" spoke of alienation and reveled in being an outsider, "Photograph" presents a sunny-side-up disposition to the world: "if you want it / you can have it / but you gotta learn to reach out there and grab it." "Knock-down Drag-out" also oozes with "blue album" riffage, exemplified in songs like "No One Else," but the melody and lyrics are far more pedestrian. In fact, the less personal nature of the lyrics overall is one of the album’s real sour points, which Rivers has admitted are his attempts at being "more universal." “The lyrics suck...I wanted to concentrate on other things, like the structure, the melody, that sort of thing, and something has to take a back seat. This time it was the lyrics…The lyrics are so subconsciously originated…I didn’t sit down and write a song about something. Just whatever came out, came out…They’re more like early Beatles songs, where the lyrics are just kind of fluffy and they don’t really matter all that much, but the songs are great."
But 94’s "blue album" isn’t the only reference point herein. While the buzz-sawing, ragged guitar sound and personal lyrics of "Pinkerton" are gone, a dash of the spirit is evident here and there. "O Girlfriend" and "Crab" hearken the dour melodicism of "Pinkerton," but in more ear-friendly ways (though the latter has absolutely puzzling lyrics). With some loud distorted guitars and ragged production, "Island In The Sun" wouldn’t have sounded out of place on "Pinkerton." And yet, in its current form, it represents the biggest departure from Weezer of old, with its mellow, crisp guitar chords, free of distortion, and its quiet trot which could almost resemble reggae if the rhythm were altered ever so slightly. While it treads some new ground musically, lyrically it's still firmly rooted in the alienation that surrounded Weezer’s previous efforts.
Perhaps the problem with this record is the one that plagues all great bands…after a while you begin sounding like all the bands you inspired. Tracks like "Simple Pages" and "Glorious Day"–which sound like two parts of the same song–end up sounding more like someone like Everclear than Weezer. And yet, while the album does sound like an attempt to get back to the solid, polished rock of the "blue album," what is missing is what I would call the sense of play that the "blue album," and "Pinkerton," possess. From weird noises, to tricky rhythms, to different instrumentation, to wild exhortative vocals. In contrast to the first two albums, the "green album" is decidedly staid in those respects. There seems to be no sense of dynamics anymore. While the music on Weezer’s first two records is actually pretty diverse, and has lots of little things to draw in the listener, there is little on the "green album" that deviates from four on the floor straight ahead rock. It's almost as if Weezer set out to make their very own version of the Ramones' first album...both albums feature basic, no nonsense rock 'n' roll, clocking in at under a half hour. Perhaps they are trying to do for rock now what The Ramones did for rock in 1976. Unfortunately, you can't reinvent the wheel.
I think what I miss most is in the rhythm section. Pat Wilson's drum parts–usually stellar and inventive–are lacking their usual terrific fills. New bassist Mikey Welsh has been relegated to playing pretty much the tonics of the chords, while former bassist Matt Sharp was really becoming melodic on "Pinkerton." Though I truthfully don't think this was Pat and Mikey's decision. I think it was perhaps a deliberate decision by Rivers to keep the album simple. But even their recent Christmas songs–"The Christmas Song" and "Christmas Celebration"–sounded more rocking and adventurous than the music contained herein.
In essence, there really isn’t much to this record. Whereas the minimalism of the first two albums' production and artwork let the incredibly strong material within speak for itself, this album’s minimalism only bespeaks of the pretty standard fare inside. While the songs on the "green album" are all admittedly fine, with two or three that would even make welcome additions to any Weezer "best of" compilation, it is largely comprised of material that sounds like it could come from a number of other bands of the moment. And at an *excrutiatingly* short 28 minutes, it leaves the listener wanting a lot more after the last track has ended. Weezer continues its trend of 10-song albums with this one, but because of the brevity of the tracks–not to mention the somewhat standard delivery and structure–it ends up sounding more like a Ramones record, or perhaps even a mini-album, designed in order to test the waters before releasing more ambitious efforts.
And perhaps saddest of all, the fulfilling, gut-wrenching emotional desperation of the previous two album’s closers–"Only In Dreams" and "Butterfly"–is nowhere to be found. Instead we’re left with the maudlin but rocking "O Girlfriend," which, despite its rather dour lyrics and fine tune, begs more to follow it. "...Dreams" and "Butterfly" both made me want to weep because of their sheer power…"O Girlfriend" also makes me want to weep, but only in the sense that it leaves me thinking "so this is it?"
Maybe I have been spoiled musically. I've been listening to The Magnetic Fields' excellent "69 Love Songs" triple album for the last few weeks. 69 songs–over two and a half hours of music–from every conceivable viewpoint on love you could hope for, in a myriad of styles...and not one dud song among them. Fantastic. Now I get the new Weezer album...28 minutes, 10 songs, and I'm left feeling unsatisfied.
But having said all this, I haven’t given up on the band just yet. The "green album" sounds like a springboard to better things…Rivers in Zen mode purging his soul from the turmoil of the last five years so that he might be ready to move on. After almost 24 hours of non-stop Weezer-ness and "rawking," I too had to purge my soul. I was so perplexed–and maybe a bit depressed–by this album and the surrounding state of affairs that I had to listen to Dido’s great, but mellow, "No Angel" to come down. A decidedly different state of mind, I would say.
Rivers Cuomo is a very serious individual and at this shaky point in the band’s career–where, ironically, they are more popular than ever before–it seems he isn’t sure who to please. The fans…the critics…the record company…it seems a lot of people are expecting Weezer to be rock’s new messiahs–I even said the same thing myself once–which is an awful lot of pressure to put on a band. As stated before, the "green album" sounds more like a mini-album designed to test the waters. Or perhaps even one or two singles amidst a sea of b-sides. In fairness to Rivers and the band, you can’t please all the people all the time. Whatever way he–or any artist, for that matter–turns, someone’s going to take issue. Interestingly, Rivers, in typical self-deprecating fashion, has a dim outlook for the record. "I think it will fail on a commercial level and also alienate our fans." However, I think he’s only half right. On first listen, this album has "top ten" stamped all over it. And while I whole-heartedly welcome that success for the band and feel they deserve it in every possible way, I can’t say that I am not disappointed by the content. Perhaps my expectations were just too high.
I really don’t want to dislike this album, and perhaps it will grow on me in time. But certainly not in the way "Pinkerton" did: "Pinkerton" was a dirty, rough, autobiogrpahical and largely inaccessible record upon first listen, especially compared to their first album. Whereas the "green album," upon first listening, is perhaps *too* accessible and far too brief. I eventually saw "Pinkerton" as a masterwork. I can only see myself eventually just coming to peace with this one.
"The cool thing is now I know there’s going to be a fourth record," says Rivers. "I just have so much faith in our quality that I don’t fear anything. We’re totally in charge. I’m very optimistic about the future, now that I’ve got my groove back on." I guess all we faithful Weezer fans can do is grin and bear it, waiting faithfully until that fourth record materializes. Hopefully it won’t be another five years.
Before Rivers decided to return to Weezer full time, he spent a year holed up in a tiny Santa Monica apartment with no phone or TV, with the walls painted black and heavy curtains over the windows. After hearing their new album, I almost feel like doing the same thing. I’m utterly perplexed.
Almost two months later now, I've pulled the album out again and I'm beginning to appreciate it for what it is. A really short burst of passable power pop. For some reason, the album works better for me if I imagine it was released circa 1978. And I admit, as standard as the album sounds, it doesn't really sound like anything out there right now. This I can't deny.
Does it match the rocking power pop perfection of the blue album? No. Does it match the sturm-und-drang and jagged emotional intensity of "Pinkerton"? No. But I've come to accept it as the third album in Weezer's canon and actually can derive some enjoyment from it (though it seems to work better as background music).
© 2001 Crapple Records, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this article may reproduced without the expressed written consent of Crapple Records, Inc.
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