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Weezer’s legacy doesn’t end with "Pinkerton" 

Wednesday, Nov 24 2010
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Sorry, but Weezer isn't your typical good band gone bad. Its old stuff is taken too seriously, and its new music is dismissed so easily that some of the criticisms aren't just overblown, but dead wrong. This may be because the band's red herrings infuriate like no other. For example: a bonus track on the band's latest album, Hurley, is called "All My Friends Are Insects." It lists companions like an earthworm and a butterfly before proudly concluding, "These are my friends, and yes, they're all insects." A lot of fans would probably come away from the song with their intelligence insulted, except, if the last decade of Weezer reviews are to be believed, they're used to it.

Weezer reissued 1996's Pinkerton this month, and the glowing reviews — including a Pitchfork 10.0 — explain why. The accepted critical narrative on the band goes like this: Weezer made two classic albums in the '90s, one instantly popular (the self-titled blue album) and another (Pinkerton) whose affecting, if uncomfortably intimate, portraits of adolescent lust gradually attained cult status. The slow-growing appreciation for the latter album aided Weezer's return to prominence in 2001, and the band has been on the radio ever since. This year's Hurley hit Billboard's Top 10, rather impressive for a group many had written off a decade ago. Yet strangely, the same critics and fans who helped Weezer rise again have largely disavowed its new music.

The band's alleged failures include: the green album (a not-hated attempt to carbon-copy the blue debut, down to the Ric Ocasek production and fearfully tight tunes), Maladroit (metal-influenced, taken in jest at the time), and Make Believe (fans wondered whether the band was still being funny while "Beverly Hills" outsold all previous singles). With critical goodwill almost entirely diminished, Weezer released another self-titled "color" album (red this time), Raditude (flying dog on cover, Lil Wayne guest spot, the possible hitting-of-bottom), and Hurley (received with only slightly more warmth than Raditude).

But let's get one thing straight about Weezer mastermind Rivers Cuomo and the perceived abuse of his fans. Rivers Cuomo, the character in the songs of Rivers Cuomo, was not a likable guy. Pinkerton is often tagged as a disturbing tunnel into a fucked-up star's cruel sexual psyche — most clearly on "Across the Sea," where he wonders how an 18-year-old fan touches herself and curses himself for touching himself too. But what about the blue album's "No One Else," in which he wishes for a girl who doesn't laugh or apply makeup when he's away? Fantasizing about teenage fans is on the first page of the rock 'n' roll handbook, and feeling guilty about it while examining those feelings in a song demystifies the disturbance. But "No One Else" is a perverse fantasy, ironic or not. Yet some fans and critics decided that the green album's lack of similarly sick vanity from Cuomo equaled a lack of integrity — and missed the fact that Weezer's third album was just as consistent, songwise, as its first.

Cuomo's persona finally became as likable as his songwriting around 2008, when he finally found a subject worthy of protest: getting old, and by extension, entering artistic irrelevance. The red album had fun with the aging process with a classically defiant single that excoriated Timbaland ("Pork and Beans"); a "Bohemian Rhapsody"–style egofest that pondered his legacy aloud ("The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived"); and an anthem that poked fun at those who would deny his right to make corny songs ("Troublemaker"). One of said corny tunes was "Heart Songs," in which Cuomo listed songs that changed his life. It climaxed with the same guitar finish as the blue album's "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here," and you can bet that was intentional. Even the buddy flick–ready "Everybody Get Dangerous" fit the concept, with a bridge about fatherhood and outdated "boo-yah!" slang in the chorus. These in-jokes and satires were Cuomo breaking new ground. But many older fans and critics seem only to await Cuomo's return to plumbing the depths of sexual shame, jealousy, and anger.

Pitchfork called Hurley single "Smart Girls" "laughably half-assed," with "lyrics that lack so badly for any sort of detail that you could simply replace 'Smart' in the title with 'Dumb' or any other adjective." Which is true: Cuomo sings, "Smart girls/Never get enough of those smart girls/Sleeping in the buff." But the interchangeability is the point. Creating guidelines for the "smart girls" he celebrates would literalize expectations of his own ideal, making it less funny (should it have been "Always wearing glasses/I like to slap their asses"?) and rather alienating. And it turns out he did write the song with another adjective in mind: Cuomo told Spin that he changed the lyrics from "Hot Girls" because that felt "too macho." Transferring his awe of hot girls "sleeping in the buff" to smart ones is a crucial difference. He isn't representing the nerds or Weezer superfans in the song. He wants to appeal to everyone, and "Smart Girls" celebrates universals. This man — now far more likeable than the envious boy he played on early Weezer albums — wants girls (and boys) to know that being smart and sleeping in the buff are both cool things to aspire to. The resulting song more than equals the supposedly insurmountable heights of Weezer's past work.

Cuomo must know that his aims are corny to a lot of old fans, because he seems to be trying to make something up to them: Weezer is performing the blue album and Pinkerton in their entirety throughout its "Memories" tour, followed by a set of hits. Those disdainful of the band's more recent work would do well to ponder the title of the tour. It's named after a new single — one hint that there's more continuity to Weezer's music than many people think.

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Dan Weiss

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