In the Wilderness is a feature in which a group of Strange Currencies contributors examine an overlooked or under-appreciated period of an artist’s career. In these “Slack chats,” we discuss highs, lows, and misconceptions, in order to shed new light on an era that we feel deserves a second look.
In the mid-nineties, few bands inspired stronger fanaticism – at least for a certain type of listener – than Weezer. Arriving in a post-Nirvana world, Weezer’s self-titled debut – aka the “Blue Album” – was a refreshing blast of hook-heavy, guitar-driven power pop. Its 1996 follow-up, the decidedly thornier Pinkerton, initially earned a divisive reception amongst the group’s fans, but would in time form the back end of a much beloved one-two punch – a pair of records that proved to be nothing short of fundamental for geeky teenagers across America.
The divisive response to Pinkerton – and its impact on Weezer’s principal songwriter, Rivers Cuomo – have become a source of considerable debate. Following the album and its subsequent tour, Weezer would enter a lengthy hiatus – not reemerging with new material until a second self-titled record was released in the spring of 2001. By this point, original bassist Matt Sharp had left the group, and the teenagers who had found themselves square in Weezer’s target demographic in the mid-nineties had reached adulthood.
The three participants in this chat – Matt Ryan, Tim Ryan Nelson, and Matt McReynolds – were amongst those teens who came of age during Weezer’s hiatus. However, all three – Ryan in Flagstaff, Arizona; Nelson and McReynolds in the suburbs west of Portland – had built a foundational relationship with both “Blue” and Pinkerton, and were among the many anxiously anticipating the return of Weezer. In this Slack chat, they discuss their thoughts on the band’s output from the 2000s, and how Rivers Cuomo’s second act fit into their lives as young adults.
TRN: This has been a harrowing assignment.
MR: Yeah. I’ve had a monumentally shitty week. This has made for a perfectly fitting soundtrack.
TRN: I’ve been listening to all this crap for several days. Most of it is better upon second listen, with the big exception of “Can’t Stop Partying.” That song made me like the other crappy songs a lot more actually.
MR: We typically start these things off by explaining why this era could be considered a “wilderness.” Anyone want to explain?
TRN: Basically, Rivers Cuomo thought everybody hated Pinkerton, so he didn’t know what to do and made a series of bad creative decisions to try to make people happy again. By the “Red Album,” I think he stopped caring about what the fans thought and made bad decisions for unknown reasons.
MM: That continues to this day, and really begs the question if “Blue” and Pinkerton were flukes.
TRN: Well, there was the Matt Sharp factor back then; not really sure how much influence he had though.
MR: We’re all of an age group that experienced the first two albums in (close to) real time. Those were essentially sacred texts to a particular brand of nerd by the time “Green” came out in 2001.
MM: Yeah. I would say that of Tim and our group of friends in the 90’s. Nothing was more discussed than Weezer and Rivers’ creative proclivities. Our music nerdery really started with Weezer.
TRN: Yeah, they were the main band back then. There was an authenticity to them. Hearing him sing about Dungeons and Dragons back then felt real. If he wrote a D&D song now though, it would sound completely false.
MR: Yeah, and Pinkerton – creepy as some of it is – really does seem authentic. Oddly enough, those first two albums still really seem to resonate with teenage kids of later generations with a similar sense of nerdery.
MM: Weezer were the first modern band, that I was aware of, who weren’t guys with long hair doing heroin. They seemed relatable and average – in the best way possible.
TRN: Totally; just hanging out and jamming, playing hacky sack.
MM: I was never going to be Kurt Cobain or Scott Weiland (thank God) or Eddie Vedder, but those guys standing on the cover of the “Blue Album” – not sure what to do with their hands – that was us.
TRN: Right. Just normal outfits and awkward arms.
MR: Yep. That normalcy/awkwardness really resonated with my group of friends as well.
MM: And then the melodic sensibilities behind the wall of loud guitars. This was rock for kids who secretly liked West Side Story and The Beach Boys.
MR: I suppose this is a wilderness, at least in part, because the people who loved the first two albums had moved on to a different phase in their lives, while Rivers Cuomo (perhaps) didn’t.
TRN: I think he had moved on but was afraid to reveal that at first.
MR: It still seems like he’s playing to a teenage crowd throughout these six records, and it must’ve sold something, since he kept doing it; and still is…
TRN: Oh man, his weird man-childness is extremely annoying and strange.
MM: I really didn’t see it when I was a kid, but now, I wish he’d grow and stop being creepy. I still have a hard time not being put off by that line in “The Greatest Man that Ever Lived” about “playing in your underwear.” Like, when I heard real hip-hop people singing explicitly sexual things, it comes across as bravado. When Rivers does it, I want to hide my children. I think, with Rivers, each album is a reaction to the reactions of critics and fans to the previous record. He’s barometric.
TRN: Yes, but I think that all started after Pinkerton specifically. I think the Rivers who made the first two albums ceased to exist after Pinkerton got panned.
MR: I know that is part of the narrative, but he’s not corrected course since; despite the fact that many of these albums were panned far more than Pinkerton.
TRN: I have kind of an overarching theory about that.
MR: You know I love theories. Go ahead…
TRN: After Pinkerton, he still wanted to make the fans happy, so he made something in keeping with what he thought the fans thought Weezer should be. It was a failure…
MM: “Green” was a failure? “Island in the Sun” is their most streamed song.
TRN: FAILURE, I declare. I mean in the sense that the old school fans could tell it was a weak approximation of the earlier albums.
MM: “Green” was the safest possible color-by-numbers record.
TRN: So, for the next album, he actually reached out to the fans and asked for their input: song choice, even the album title. Fans helped shape Maladroit, but that was also kind of a failure, so at that point, I think he finally stopped listening to fans or caring about what they thought, and just started doing whatever. That was the point where he finally accepted that he wasn’t what the fans thought he should be. From that point on, he’s just been fucking around and having fun, but he’s been that guy ever since Pinkerton was panned by critics. His true form just finally emerged with the “Red Album.”
MM: I think after Make Believe and “Red,” he saw (correctly) that loud guitar music was not driving the charts and adjusted to try and make charting pop songs. He’s got a knack for that, but then again, in a reaction to alienating fans, Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014) was, explicitly, an attempt to get back to rockin’ Weezer to please the fans.
TRN: Yeah, I think he has done a little course-correcting, post Hurley, but then he alternates between that and troll-y bullshit like the “Teal Album.”
MR: We’ve already started talking about “Green,” so let’s move on to it. I imagine that we were all anxiously expecting it, right? Five years was a long layoff for a band back then. I remember thinking it was almost “surreal” that there was even a new Weezer record.
MM: Oh yeah. I was a missionary in Sheep Springs, New Mexico on the Navajo reservation – officially banned from listening to secular music. But my companion was a HUGE Weezer fan like I was, so he had a friend in Omaha dub the CD onto a mini disc and send it to us. We got it not quite a week after it came out, and huddled around one pair of headphones.
MR: I bought it on release, along with R.E.M.’s Reveal – which came out on the same day.
TRN: First listen reaction?
MR: I thought it was a bit underwhelming, but I liked enough of it.
MM: At first listen, I was horribly disappointed and depressed – a feeling that has persisted to this day, or at least until I got on medication…
TRN: I was just so excited that it was Weezer I think it clouded my judgment. I liked it on first listen, but the more I listened to it the more I realized that it was bad.
MM: Tim, I remember, just after I left for the mission, didn’t you go see Weezer live on their first post-Pinkerton tour, before “Green” came out? I think you all like hung out with Brian, Pat, and Mikey at an IHOP or something?
TRN: We saw them at the Aladdin Theater in summer of 2000. We went to the Hot Cake House afterward, but I don’t think any band members showed up. I just know that I got Pat, Mikey, and Brian’s autographs after the show outside their tour bus. Rivers was in the green room or something upstairs. We saw him peek out the window at one point.
MM: So, you probably had some preview of what the record would sound like?
TRN: No, because: A) they only played two new songs, and; B) neither were on “Green.” One of them, “Slob,” would appear on Maladroit, though. My opinion of “Green” has improved with time, I will say.
MM: The songs themselves are great little pop gems. He said he followed the A Hard Day’s Night formula of chorus-bridge-chorus structures, and I totally get it. The guitar solos are the verse melody of every song, just like the solo on A Hard Day’s Night. Rivers depends on formulae to a fault.
MR: I know we’ve all talked about the impact that nostalgia has on elevating mediocre music, and I don’t think any album illustrates this more, for me, than “Green.” It came out during a time in my life that I have a lot of nostalgia for, and it’s broad/generic enough that it served as a good soundtrack. If I listen to that album, I can kind of feel that time, where if I listen to something like Radiohead’s Amnesiac – which came out just a few weeks later – I just hear the music, as it is.
TRN: I don’t know if it’s a nostalgia thing for me at this point. I was a freshman in college when it came out, so there’s plenty of nostalgia there, but weirdly the only thing I associate with it nostalgia-wise is this terrible Duke Nukem game that came out for the N64 at that time. I used to listen to this while playing it. I know what you mean, but I just kind of like the vibe of the record from “Crab” on. It has a wall of sound thing happening to an extent, and a uniform feel that I like for background listening.
MM: “Green” was recorded, I believe, using a Line 6 Pod for all the guitar sounds, and it does sound like that to me. It’s just so clean and uniform. It bugs me.
MR: It is very “one note” throughout.
MM: The songs on their own are good, except it marks the start of Rivers writing, as he puts it, “Oasis Songs” with easy rhymes, because he doesn’t care about lyrics. The only song that feels authentic to me is “O Girlfriend.” All the others feel like product.
MR: Anything else that stands out? Tim, you mention liking the second half, but I actually prefer the first side.
TRN: My thing with the first half is that I don’t like “Don’t Let Go” at all. I think “Photograph” would have been a better opener. I don’t like “Island in the Sun” either, and I see “Hash Pipe” as a sort of standalone song, almost separate from the album as a whole. It’s just so different. It doesn’t sound so pale and generic as the other ones.
MR: I actually like the admittedly generic “Don’t Let Go” and “Photograph.” They have good hooks. I wasn’t much of a fan of “Hash Pipe,” although it does confirm the Hard Day’s Night influence that Matt M. spoke of. The opening lyrical phrase was stolen from “You Can’t Do That.”
MM: Exactly. That’s what keyed me off to the Hard Day’s Night influence, before I read Rivers say it. I do like “Hash Pipe.” It seems to be concurrent with “Slob” in writing timeline. It is the first of his “drug songs.” I think he’s a closet addict. “Photograph” could have been a single.
TRN: “Photograph” was a single but didn’t have a legit video or anything. The second half of the album (plus “Crab”) just seems more consistent in tone.
MR: “Crab” is weird. I like the melody, but there’s just something off about it as a song.
TRN: Well it doesn’t make any sense (“crab at the booty”?), but I like it for some reason.
MM: I guess “Green” is a good example of what infuriates me about 2000’s Weezer. Rivers has such a gift for melody, but he so often squanders it on terrible lyrics and trite arrangements. He needs an editor. He needs a Matt Sharp.
TRN: He’d rather have an enthusiastic yes man like Scott Shriner.
MR: I often wonder if Matt Sharp is given too much credit for the quality of the first two albums.
TRN: I honestly don’t know how big Matt Sharp’s influence was.
MM: Rivers has complained that Matt kept him from “doing anything remotely funky,” but that was probably a good instinct.
MR: Yeah, I don’t look to Weezer for funk.
TRN: Ha, that’s awesome. Rivers needs someone to be the funk police.
MR: We’ll see what happens later when the funk police aren’t there.
MM: And Matt Sharp is a songwriter who can give Rivers a run for his money. He also was cast as the “alpha male” role in Songs from the Black Hole, so I think Rivers felt a little threatened by Matt in a way that he doesn’t about Pat Wilson or Brian Bell.
TRN: Yeah, Pat and Brian don’t seem very interested in challenging Rivers. It definitely seems like Rivers hasn’t had anyone to tell him his ideas are bad for a really long time. It’s like George Lucas when he was making the prequels.
MR: Instead, we just get a generic power pop offering with Green. Given where we end up here, I’d say that’s not such a bad thing.
TRN: Yeah, the “Raditude Effect” is powerful. Raditude has the power to make bland albums and songs sound “pretty good actually.”
MM: Oh jeez. Just as a final plug for Matt Sharp; The Rentals’ post-2000 output is worlds better than Weezer’s. It’s worth checking out, if you haven’t.
MR: Any final thoughts on “Green” specifically?
TRN: “Green” is fine. And I do enjoy listening to it for fun, now at least.
MR: I’m okay with fine…and fun.
MM: Fine and fun are perfect for “Green.”
MR: Okay, let’s talk Maladroit. Definitely a very different direction from “Green.”
TRN: Maladroit is big time course correction. No more of this wimpy sweater music, time for some cock rock. I actually liked it better than “Green” on first listen, with the exception of the douchier sounding songs, like the opener.
MR: Another release day purchase for me. I was pretty underwhelmed with most of it.
MM: I was in my last month as a missionary. My fellow missionaries found a copy of it at the Window Rock fair and got it for me as a going away gift. I put it on, and immediately thought God was punishing me. My friends worked at Fred Meyer and opened the box of numbered albums and set one aside for me. I still have it: #000193. I still haven’t felt compelled to open it, either. It was the first time I physically cringed at an album.
TRN: There are some real high points though, I think. “Death and Destruction” is nice, and “Slob” is one of those Summer 2000 songs.
MR: I’ve always liked “Keep Fishin’.” Excellent song.
MM: It further proves my point about Rivers wasting great melodies on almost unlistenable lyrics. But, that said, with today’s listen, I enjoyed Maladroit more than “Green.” I like the rawness of the guitar sounds, and the metal-ish solos.
TRN: During this past week, I’ve had “Love Explosion” pop into my head and get stuck there several times. I like that one, even though it’s a “Locomotion” rip off.
MR: “Death and Destruction” is pretty okay. “Slob” is alright, but I hate the lyrics in the chorus. So dumb… I think “Burndt Jamb” is decent.
MM: Yeah. Its lyrics are sparse and impressionistic, which was a step in the right direction.
TRN: I’m not a big fan of “Burnt Jamb,” because that was one that came out as a demo in the months before, and it was instrumental. The vocal part always felt tacked on to me, which is kind of a dumb reason not to like it.
MM: To this day, I have three CDs full of early web Maladroit takes that a friend burned for me – but not the actual finished album (except for the unopened one).
TRN: They were putting everything on the website back then. It was part of the fan input thing.
MM: I will say, it is not unlistenable, which I admire them for. Rivers has always tried to actively engage fans in the creative process.
TRN: But according to Wikipedia, Rivers ended up saying that the fans picked “the wackest songs,” and the only one he kept from the “Summer Songs” was “Slob.” But a fan did name this album.
MR: There are a few forgettable tracks, but there’s nothing outright bad on here, which is – regrettably – the last Weezer album you can say that about.
TRN: Yeah… at least in this grouping? I haven’t listened ahead beyond Hurley.
MM: “Possibilities” is just awful.
TRN: Yeah, but not as bad as “Can’t Stop Partying.”
MR: While not great, these first two albums are generally be viewed as being on a higher level than the other ones that we’re covering today. There seems to be a spirited debate between fans over which one is better. Which do each of you prefer?
TRN: Which one I like better is tough…. “Green” is more consistent, but perhaps just more consistently bland. Maladroit has a bigger gulf between the highs and lows, but I think I like it more overall.
MM: Yeah. “Green” is consistent. I remember liking “Green” slightly better than Maladroit, but this morning I really enjoyed Maladroit much more.
MR: I’d give a slight edge to “Green.” Even though there was only a year or so between them, I was a full-on “responsible” adult by the time Maladroit came out. “Green” is sort of a “last days of youth” album for me. I’ve been tired almost ever since…
MM: But “Slave” is the best song on either of those records.
MR: Yeah, I like “Slave.” Then again, that one could’ve been on “Green” and no one would’ve batted an eye.
TRN: “Slave” is a good one. I think “Slob” and “Death and Destruction” are my favorites.
MM: They came out almost together to me, because I really couldn’t listen to either of them until I got home, and they were both out by then. However, Harvey Danger’s King James Version and Death Cab for Cutie’s Photo Album totally outshined Weezer.
MR: Okay, let’s get through this shit show. Make Believe. I have bought an ungodly amount of records over the past eight days – I received two stipend checks that were specifically earmarked for a vinyl shopping spree – and yet, I’ve hardly listened to any of them, because I’ve been stuck listening to this garbage instead.
TRN: Oh yeah, it’s been hell. I’ve been driving to and from work with sour looks on my face all week. That said, Make Believe is better than I thought it would be. It’s bad, but I think it has a mini Raditude effect happening. “Beverly Hills” and “We Are All on Drugs” really elevate the rest of the songs.
MR: Right off the bat, “Beverly Hills” killed Weezer for me. Heard the single once, and decided that I would never buy the album.
TRN: Same. “Beverly Hills” is just godawful. It was a completely different band. What the hell happened?
MM: Rick Rubin happened. Rivers needed a guru, Rick was the producer with the longest beard, and also a Buddhist. Ba-da-bing. This explains the terrible “gimme gimme” samples and woebegone spoken part in “Beverly Hills.” Rubin has some serious credit, so I expected that Rivers would have been embarrassed to show him the lyrics on half these songs, but…I would apparently be wrong.
MR: Is there anything redeemable about this album?
TRN: Yeah, I think so. If you ignore “Beverly Hills” there are a handful of okay songs. They’re just not “Weezer” songs. You have to adjust your expectations.
MR: Hmm. Go ahead.
TRN: Like, if I listen to this album hoping for anything like “Blue” or Pinkerton, it’s just not there to be had, but if I accept that this is some pod-person band of Weezer lookalikes, then I can evaluate the songs on their own merits; and they’re fine, except for “Beverly Hills.”
MR: Hmm. I will say, the one moment that I didn’t hate on this thing (from “The Damage in Your Heart”) does sound quite a bit like “Falling for You.” I’m making myself listen to it again now, to try to isolate where it happens in the song. Oh, it’s the second half of the chorus. That’s not awful.
TRN: Yeah, I can hear that a little.
MM: I do like that one.
MR: That’s probably my favorite song on the album, but it’s a damn low bar to clear.
MM: I like “Perfect Situation” and “Hold Me.” “Haunt You Every Day” is an effective album closer and harkens back to the Weezer of yore.
TRN: I think I liked “Hold Me.”
MR: “Perfect Situation” isn’t terrible, I guess.
TRN: Yeah, that one’s okay. But it’s the callousness of putting “Beverly Hills” and “We Are All on Drugs” on the same record that calls the whole album’s integrity into question.
MR: There’s a little stretch of mediocrity from tracks 2-4 that isn’t awful at least. I maybe only prefer “Damage” because it comes right after “Drugs.” That’s pretty close to their nadir. Again, the Raditude effect.
TRN: The bad songs always make the next one sound better. “The Other Way” was written about Jennifer Chiba, who was dating Elliott Smith at the time of his death. She was Rivers’ ex-girlfriend, and he wrote that song instead of contacting her to offer any support.
MR: What? That’s weird.
TRN: If you listen to the lyrics, it’s all about how he’s doubting his motivations for why he would contact her… Like, is he really trying to console her or is he trying to get back with her?
MR: Not sure if that makes it better or worse. It’s still bad either way.
TRN: It’s very weird.
MM: Was Rivers not married by this point? If I remember correctly, Make Believe came out in the aftermath of him starting to meditate for, like, three hours a day. In interviews before its release, Rivers stressed that he was regretting the post-Pinkerton rejection of writing personal, emotional songs, so this album was supposed to be his return to writing songs that meant something. The problem is that the early-twenties Rivers had been replaced with the mid-thirtiesm born-again Buddhist Rivers, and his emotions weren’t interesting anymore.
TRN: According to wiki, he wasn’t quite engaged yet, but it sounds like he was dating his eventual wife. And yeah, he was doing a lot of meditation, which may have made for songs that were less interesting than his early stuff, but probably more interesting than the stuff he was writing when he was really in the factory/formula mindset.
MM: “The Other Way” shows Rivers’ complete inability to relate to other humans in a normal way. Exhibit 2 is “Pardon Me,” in which he tries to pass off a blanket apology to everyone he’s ever hurt. I used to idolize this guy, and this record came out and I had to kind of feel bad for him. The early Weezer awkwardness wasn’t a put-on, nor was the uncomfortable way he relates to women. Both “Blue” and Pinkerton are full of problematic portrayals of womanhood.
MR: Anything else on this one? I hate it, but it’s actually not the worst. Somehow…
TRN: Yeah, that’s my basic opinion. It’s not that terrible, but I don’t think I would ever just casually listen to it for fun; and it does have one of their all-time worst songs on it in “Beverly Hills.”
MR: No. There’s a very likely chance that I will never listen to it again. Just bad. Perhaps we can salvage a song or two for the playlist.
MM: That’s a thing. If you were trying to build one good post-Pinkerton album made of cuts from this time period, there would be two or three songs from Make Believe on it. Conversely, if you were making a “Worst Moments of Weezer” – and limited it to fifteen or so tracks – there’d probably also be two or three tracks from Make Believe. The rest is just mediocre.
MR: Let’s move on to “Red.” There’s a bit to discuss here.
TRN: Yeah, “Red” is interesting, I think. Like I said before, this is true Rivers coming out of his cocoon.
MR: Interesting, to a degree, but I think it still sucks.
TRN: It has a couple bright spots.
MR: This begs the question: is Rivers worse on autopilot, or when he’s trying too hard?
TRN: If trying too hard is the “Green Album,” then he’s worse on autopilot. I don’t know if this one is necessarily autopilot, it’s just him not giving a fuck and moving forward with all his bad ideas.
MR: I see “Green” as autopilot and something like Raditude as trying too hard. Like, he could write the “Green” songs in his sleep, but you have to be trying something new in order to fail as bad as a song like “Can’t Stop Partying,” right?
TRN: Oh, I see. I think these weird later albums are more just him exploring bad ideas. Trying something new, yes, but there’s a massive lack of effort in a way. No effort to make something that’s actually any good. Does that make sense?
MM: Yeah. I go back to the “Rivers as a barometer to the reactions of the past record” hypothesis. He’s talented enough to be able to adapt and write “hits.” He’s always trying to stay relevant, but can never settle on who he wants to please.
MR: I think “weird” is a fitting word for “Red” and Rad. They’re almost like watching a car wreck in slow motion. Tim, you mention two highlights from “Red.” What are they?
TRN: Well first, my thoughts on this album, as far as it being “Nu Rivers’” coming out party, are that he clearly felt like he was being “oppressed” before. He blatantly talks about record label pressure, and a lot of the stuff here sounds like a deliberate middle finger. It’s him just doing what he wants and who cares if it’s any good.
MR: I care.
TRN: …but the bright spots are “Dreamin’” and “Automatic.”
MR: Wow. Not the ones I expected.
TRN: I weirdly like “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” too, just because it’s so epic and strange. “Dreamin’” is solid and “Automatic” is a Pat song. I like his band – The Special Goodness – so I kind of automatically like that one.
MR: I figured you were gonna say “Greatest Man” and “Pork and Beans.”
TRN: No, fuck “Pork and Beans.”
MR: “Greatest” tries to be like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but I don’t particularly love “Bohemian Rhapsody” – even if I respect it.
TRN: Yeah, it’s really going for something, and maybe it doesn’t achieve it, but it’s a big swing that you kinda have to respect.
MR: I actually don’t hate “Pork and Beans” the way that I hate a lot of their other singles from this batch of albums.
TRN: “Pork and Beans” is okay, I guess. Just the title makes me cringe.
MM: “Pork and Beans”? I mean, who titles their singles “Pork and Beans” and “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”?
MR: Yeah, awful title, but it’s decent for a “big dumb rock song.”
MM: Those titles are meant to make the transition from Weird Al fan to Weezer fan as seamless as possible – a bridge that Weezer is constantly cultivating, for some reason – and yet, Yankovic has not parodied a Weezer song yet, has he? Is their entire career motivated by this unfulfilled dream? It explains much.
TRN: That would be hilarious if Rivers’ only goal this whole time has been to get Al to parody Weezer, and he won’t stop until it happens.
MM: The message of “Pork and Beans” (“I’m going to do whatever I want no matter what you say”) is possibly the second most cliché message in rock (the first being “Hey baby, let’s bump uglies”). It’s just irrelevant for a guy in his late-30’s. “Yeah, Rivers, you’re a full-fledged adult. Do whatever you want. As long as you get vaccinated and wear a mask, I don’t care.”
TRN: Yeah, it has some “help I’m being repressed!” vibes. Victim complex stuff. Give “Dreamin’” a listen. It has some very old school Weezer things going on. It’s “Across the Sea” plus a couple others, and it changes gears several times in interesting ways. It gets interesting about two minutes in.
MR: Listening to “Dreamin'” now. It’s not terrible. I think it suffered from the reverse of what we described as the Raditude effect. The previous song – “Everybody Get Dangerous” – is sooooooo bad, that it just kind of makes me hate Weezer for a while, before I can reset enough to approach them objectively.
TRN: Interesting. If anything, I think “Everybody Get Dangerous” helped me like “Dreamin’” better, a la the Raditude effect.
MM: Yeah. Following “Everybody Get Dangerous” – and the absurd list of mildly rebellious things – anything sounds good. But, I think, even out of that context, “Dreamin’” succeeds as a doo-wop Weezer song – something they’ve always excelled at (like “Holiday” and “Waiting on You”). This is part of what makes Weezer so frustrating. There are so many painfully bad moments, and then peeks of what made old Weezer so great. They’re like an abusive spouse who degrades and beats you up, but is so sweet when playing with kittens that you develop a glimmer of hope that the old person you loved is still in there. And then they wallop you with Raditude.
TRN: I think that adds to the overall frustration with Weezer, or at least Rivers. He’s obviously still capable of making the kind of music he used to make, but he doesn’t seem interested in doing that. But that’s his right, I guess. The Raditude effect made me like “Cold Dark World” a little better, which I initially thought of as an abomination. The lyrics were written by Rivers, but the music is by Scott Shriner, who also sings lead. It’s not great, but the chorus is kind of alright?
MM: “Cold Dark World” might be the worst. Or “King.” Both songs by the imposter bass player douchebag whose name I will not dignify by typing it. Can we look at his sunglasses on the cover? This is not the guy who played with Star Wars action figures in Junior High. He would have been giving Rivers wedgies and calling Brian a “f**.” He wouldn’t beat up Pat, but that’s only because Pat would fight back. He’d probably shoot spitballs at the back of his head, though.
TRN: I can see Scott as a weird goth kid, actually. Lots of acne. Had a big growth spurt and started wearing leather jackets, and that’s when jocks stopped beating him up. He still sucks though.
MR: Not sure if it’s fair or not – I know nothing about the guy – but I’ve also decided that I don’t really care for Scott Shriner.
TRN: Oh yeah, he’s just glad to have a job, I think. Not sure why he’s even there.
MR: I just can’t imagine a full-grown adult so enthusiastically joining Weezer at that time for anything other than a paycheck.
TRN: I mean, he was probably a fan. And like I said, he was just happy to be asked, I think. I’m sure he knows that being in Weezer is the biggest thing that will ever happen in his life.
MR: Brian and Pat probably don’t deserve a pass either though.
TRN: I’ve always thought Brian was pretty lame, but I really do like Pat’s solo stuff. He’s really talented in general, and I like his voice.
MR: I’ve always disliked Brian’s mugging in their videos. It comes off as particularly grating. Can’t say that I agree with you on “Automatic,” but I’d be willing to give Pat’s solo stuff a chance.
TRN: It all pretty much sounds like that, but a little better. But it’s different to hear on a Weezer album. You expect to hear Weezer songs, so anything else is going to sound very out of place and wrong.
MR: Yeah, it just comes off as a generic rock sound, but a different generic rock sound than the one on say “Green.”
MM: I like “Automatic” as much as anything on the Special Goodness records. And we gotta give Pat some love for being a Portlander. I also think that Brian has the most conventional “rock star” look and voice in the band. I really liked Space Twins and think he’s a good guy, but I also am disappointed in both of them for never speaking up to stop Rivers’ constant ill-advised musical decisions. You get the sense that they don’t really care, so long as the gravy train doesn’t dry up.
TRN: Pat’s solo output is a little frustrating, though. He’s basically recorded the same album three times. I think Special Goodness is really good, but Pat doesn’t seem like he’s motivated enough to really take that band any further, and definitely content to just go along with whatever Rivers wants for Weezer. As far as Brian, I’ve never listened to Space Twins, but I’m not a fan of that “Yellow Camaro” song.
MR: “Red” seems to be an album that a lot of fans really love. I can’t say that I agree. It’s better than the two that surround it, but that doesn’t make it good. I’d argue that these bonus tracks are better than most anything that actually ended up on the album. There’s what sounds like a Mellotron on “Pig,” which is at least something cool.
MM: Yeah. Mellotron = automatic bump.
TRN: “Red” is Maladroit-esque to me, in that it has highs and lows, but the lows are much lower and the highs aren’t as high.
MR: Okay, we’ve delayed it, but we now must face our inevitable discussion of Raditude.
TRN: This album really breaks your brain. Like what the hell is going on here?
MM: This is deeper than I’ve ever been. I can actually feel the brain tumor forming. I think he just sang “shorty.” Dear God, please let me forget this. Replace it with scenes from The Exorcist if you have to.
TRN: The first song is at least a relatively normal song, but it just goes off the rails after that.
MR: Yeah, I don’t dislike the opener. It’s kind of charming, in a dumb way.
TRN: I dislike it, but not as much as the rest.
MR: Everything else on this record – except the closer – is straight-up awful.
TRN: This album has an interesting Wikipedia article, specifically something involving Brian. I said earlier that he and Pat didn’t seem interested in challenging Rivers, but apparently Brian did have a talk with Rivers about what the hell they were doing with all these outside collaborations (like with Lil’ Wayne, etc.). Rivers told him “this is just one album out of many more that we’ll make in the future,” and that was good enough for Brian.
MR: “Humor me for this one. You’ll still get your per diem.”
MM: “Humor me for this decade. I promise, we’ll rock again during the 2010’s.” “Oh. Ok. I’ll just go home and swim in my pool of royalty checks and leftover props from the ‘Greatest Man’ video.”
TRN: Yeah, which is interesting, because it ended up being true in a way. Who knew Weezer would put out so many albums that this one could basically be ignored and that’s just fine? But it also sounds like some bullshit you’d say to your guitar player to shut him up while you’re working on your vanity project.
MR: You mentioned in our recent podcast about The Doors that lyrics don’t matter in rock music. After listening to these albums this week, do you stand by that statement?
TRN: Oh yeah. I barely listened to the lyrics in any of these albums, unless something really weird stands out or the whole premise of the song revolves around dumb lyrics about partying. My opinions are still mostly based on the song as a whole, the way it sounds, but I agree that Rivers’ lyrics stopped giving a shit a long time ago.
MR: I think of a song like “I’m Your Daddy.” The lyrics are so bad that I just dismiss it without ever even really considering the music. I mean, could that song have been decent – cheesy, but decent – with better lyrics?
TRN: No. It’s really mostly production value that puts me off of these albums. I mean, the drum machine is my immediate turn off with that one. The lyrics on most of these albums are bad, but I mostly object to them sonically. Especially when they have so much obnoxious production behind them.
MM: When this record came out, the stupid titles put me off, and I have never listened to it all the way through until now. I should have gone with that first impression. “If You’re Wondering If I Want You To” is a charming little pop song that reminds me of the Homie solo stuff from circa ’98. I like it – not necessarily as a Weezer song, but as a song.
MR: What’s the low point on this one?
TRN: The low point is “Can’t Stop Partying” for sure. It’s embarrassing.
MR: I’m inclined to agree, even if it seems obvious. There are some other contenders though. “Trippin’ Down the Freeway” is a travesty, if for no reason other than it reminds me that I should be listening to The Beach Boys’ vastly superior “Honkin’ Down the Highway.”
TRN: Of course. I wonder if that’s actually a direct reference.
MM: Which marks the first time anyone has ever ranked “Honkin’ Down the Highway” as superior to anything. Somebody get Al Jardine on the phone!
MR: The stretch of three that follow is particularly abysmal. “Love Is the Answer” is so awful that it almost makes “Norwegian Wood” retroactively bad for first incorporating Indian influences into pop music.
MM: “Love Is the Answer” is the third most tired rock and roll cliché. If you’re playing along at home folks, that’s almost a “bad cliché” bingo for The Weezers!
TRN: For me, “Partying” just ruined the whole album to the point where I don’t feel like I can even form an opinion on the rest of the songs.
MR: Gotta love the tone-deaf reference to the then-current recession in “Let It All Hang Out.” It was really tough on artistically-bankrupt-but-still-rich rock stars.
MM: And…that’s a BINGO!
TRN: Listening to “Let It All Hang Out.”
TRN: Sonically, not that offensive; but content-wise, yeah pretty obnoxious. Even Hurley I listened to several times and found things I liked about it, but this one I just wanted to throw into the fire.
MR: I’ve always really hated the phrase “I can’t even…” but I’m really feeling it with this album.
TRN: I think that phrase is a totally legitimate review of this album.
MR: This is the worst album that I have ever listened to multiple times. I was willing to at least see the dog on the cover as a silver lining, but I found out that it died a few years back. Just another thing about this album that sucks…
TRN: Ah shit. That was a National Geographic photo.
TRN: Yeah, and it won an award or something. All long before Weezer got to it of course.
MM: Ugh… And for our next episode, how the “Raditude Effect” has impacted National Geographic.
MR: Well, the cover is easily the best thing about the album.
TRN: The cover actually adds to the obnoxiousness of the record for me.
MR: Oh, it’s obnoxious, but still better than the sounds contained within.
TRN: I suppose. No offense to the dog; it’s just such a “dogs are rad,” “look at this cool dog” kind of vibe. I think it’s safe to say that Raditude killed that dog at least.
MR: Too bad. It wasn’t his fault that the album sucked.
MM: The very title “Raditude” is not clever, and slapping the dog on the cover eliminates all doubts that anyone might have had that the album is a steaming pile of dog excrement.
TRN: The title was suggested by the guy that plays Dwight on The Office, by the way. He probably thought he was so cool and funny when he suggested it. The closer isn’t too bad. You mentioned it earlier.
MR: Yeah, not bad. Plus, you know that the album is almost over, so that helps. I’m ready to put this one behind me. Forever.
MR: I worry that our season finale on The Beach Boys may force us to listen to something even worse. The Rate Your Music score for Raditude is a 1.60. Summer in Paradise is 1.05.
TRN: Can’t wait. I bet it’s better than Raditude. Or maybe it’ll make Raditude seem better….
MR: Okay, Hurley. Would’ve have been a more appropriate title for Raditude.
MM: Yeah. All this time I thought Hurley was an adjective, describing how this album makes the listener feel.
TRN: Hey-o! First of all, using a picture of Jorge Garcia as your album cover and naming it after his character on a super popular TV show is objectively funny, so I’ll give them that.
MR: Never watched Lost, but I’ll accept that point.
MM: Joking aside, it’s the most concrete example of the Raditude Effect; this one’s not as bad as the previous one.
TRN: This one is slightly better than Raditude. It has, like, normal songs on it.
MR: Yeah, way better than Raditude, and yet, it’s still not good.
TRN: No… It has this weird uniformity to it, to the point that it feels like a concept album of some kind. Like they’re going for this big rock sound that’s really based in a genre that they aren’t normally a part of. I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like they’re trying to sound like other more modern bands. Is this what Twenty-One Pilots sounds like? All American Rejects?
MR: It came out on Epitaph Records, and – having listened to some of the Epitaph bands in the 90s – I imagine that this may have been somewhere close to where those kinds of groups were in 2010. Maybe?
TRN: I guess. The only Epitaph band I think I listened to back then was Rancid, and I don’t think they ever got to this point.
MR: I liked Bad Religion and NOFX for a while in high school. I’m only imagining what an Epitaph band might have sounded like in 2010.
TRN: Gotcha. All I know is that they also did a lot of outside collaborating for this record, so I assume that those people’s bands rubbed off on them a bit for this album.
MR: Yeah, there were a lot of outside contributors listed on the RYM page. Weird ones too, like the cast of Jackass.
TRN: Yeah, they sang on the chorus of “Memories.”
MR: The most daring Jackass stunt ever: listen to Raditude, twice!!!
MM: Heavens no! Can’t I just get another tattoo in the back of a moving truck?
TRN: I’m Johnny Knoxville and this is Raditude! (that dog bites him in the balls). Jackass in general is way better than Weezer in general, to be honest. I’m noticing now that one of my few highlights is the only song without a cowriting credit: “Unspoken.” When I say “highlight,” I don’t mean all that high.
MR: “Unspoken” seems to be really liked by the fanbase, but it’s just fine for me. I mean, yeah, probably the best thing here, but again, low bar.
TRN: I like it until it gets all loud.
MR: Agree. It goes from sounding somewhat sincere to cheesy.
TRN: I don’t mind “Run Away,” but that might just be because it comes after “Where’s My Sex.”
MR: Yep. “Where’s My Sex?” is another unfathomably awful song. I mean, eight-year-old me would have found that humor beneath me.
TRN: Yeah, that’s one with weird enough lyrics that my ears pricked up. “Mom made my sex.” “Sex making is a family affair,” or something like that? The origin of the song is pretty weird too. It comes from his daughter asking where her socks were, but she said “sex” instead of socks. So Rivers wrote a song about socks, like literally the same lyrics, but with socks in place of sex, then went back and changed all the socks references to sex.
MR: Yeah. Dumb. Stupid kid.
TRN: Kids are dumb.
MR: So are their dads. If their dad is Rivers Cuomo.
MM: We all have that friend who makes a dirty joke that no one else finds funny, and you try to ignore it and move the conversation on, but he just won’t drop it, and the whole group becomes uncomfortable. Rivers has become that asshat friend.
TRN: Perfect analogy.
MR: The rest of the album – with the exception of the also terrible “Smart Girls” – just kind of settles into an equilibrium of mediocrity that makes it impossible to love, but not quite bad enough to hate.
TRN: Yeah, “not quite bad enough to hate” is a good way to put it. But just like, why would I listen to this?
MM: It’s not as unequivocally awful as Raditude, but nothing stands out as particularly good, either. I would skip it entirely in the compilation.
MR: Yeah, it’s just there. Barely…
TRN: I would never put this record on for fun, or even in the background while building IKEA furniture.
MR: Oh God, I left “Unspoken” playing, and “Where’s My Sex?” played for nearly thirty seconds before I shut it off.
MM: I had to physically restrain myself from skipping any songs during this whole exercise. I’m sure people have exercised less willpower kicking cocaine habits.
TRN: Gross. Go listen to some Pixies. Cleanse your ears.
MR: Gonna need something even stronger than that.
TRN: Oh God, “Smart Girls” started playing. So bad.
MR: Anyway, Hurley sucks. Not as bad as Raditude or Make Believe, but it’s pretty terrible.
TRN: I think it’s worse than Make Believe. Like I said before, I think Make Believe is mostly plagued by one very powerfully bad song, and another that’s also pretty bad. Otherwise, it’s better than this, I think.
MR: I view these albums as existing in pairs, on three separate tiers: Not bad at all – “Green” and Maladroit; Objectively bad – “Red” and Hurley; Fucking terrible – Make Believe and Raditude.
TRN: I agree with the first tier, and I think “Red” and Hurley probably belong on the same tier, but I would call it “bad but who cares?” Raditude is on its own sub-level of terribleness.
MM: I’m in Tim’s camp. I think Make Believe limps in a little better than “Red,” but it’s by a narrow margin and all the fans went home hours ago.
MR: Your opinions on Make Believe may be more fair, but opening with “Beverly Hills” just immediately makes me angry at the rest of it. And yes, Raditude really does deserve its own tier.
MR: It would probably be more appropriate to make this week’s playlist have all of the truly awful songs on it. However, I have enough goodwill toward the first two Weezer records, that I’d like to try to make a single 15-song playlist that does the best possible job of salvaging a really regrettable decade of albums.
TRN: I agree. I thought about picking some bad ones, but I think we can make an actual good one by being selective. I’ll take a bullet or two by picking some of the brighter spots from the crappier albums. I think I was able to spend a little more time listening to them than you guys were. I refuse to pick anything off Raditude though.
MR: I’ll take the Raditude bullet. You pick first, Tim.
TRN: Okay, I’ll start with “Dreamin’.”
MR: I’ll start with what I think is the best song here: “Keep Fishin’.” Round two:
TRN: I’ll go with “Run Away” next, from Hurley.
MM: “O Girlfriend”
MR: “Photograph.” Round three:
TRN: I really feel like “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” should be on the playlist, but I don’t know if I want to commit to it.
MR: Don’t do it.
TRN: I’m leaning towards it as an example of something experimental.
MR: Go with “Death and Destruction.” It’s not experimental, but it’s also not a single/obvious. Those are Tim songs.
TRN: Right. I was probably going to pick that one too, but for now I’ll go with “Hold Me” off of Make Believe.
MM: “The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World”
MR: I’m gonna take Raditude off the table – hopefully – by picking the opener.
MR: Like I said, I don’t hate that song. Round four:
TRN: Yeah, “Death and Destruction” next.
MR: I’m gonna go with “Burndt Jamb.” Last round:
TRN: So, I should pick something off of “Green” or Maladroit next, because I picked one off each of the crappier ones besides Rad… but I’m still considering “Greatest Man.”
MR: Go with your heart, unless your heart likes “Heart Songs.”
TRN: Oh God, we didn’t even talk about how bad “Heart Songs” is. Yuck.
MR: Terrible. I love/hate the whole “can you guess which album I’m referring to” thing. As if “1991” wasn’t already enough of a hint.
MM: So, as a surprise, my wife took me to the Arizona State Fair to see Weezer live. This was on the “Red Album” tour. Between the first intermission and the second set, a stagehand went out and placed a little portable turntable on a plastic chair, then mic’d it. Coming out of the tinny speakers was “Heart Songs.” Then Rivers ran on stage, leaped onto a trampoline – SG strapped on and all – then drop kicked the record player and launched into “My Name is Jonas.” I am not making this up. It was clearly an admission that “Heart Songs” – and possibly the “Red Album” – sucked.
TRN: Wow. That is the best thing I’ve ever heard. I’m gonna go with “Slob.”
MM: “Fall Together”
MR: Umm… I said that I hate “Pork and Beans” less than most of their other singles from this era, so I’ll go with that to close it out.
MR: Closing thoughts?
MM: Thanks for the opportunity to opine a little about the band I am second-most passionate about. I think the crappiness of post-Pinkerton Weezer has helped me, overall, in my transition to actual good, mature music. So that’s a blessing in disguise.
TRN: Right. This sucks, so let’s find something better.
MR: Yeah, if they kept making decent music, I might have remained a superfan or something. That would’ve been bad.
MM: I am still waiting for an album’s worth of songs that sound like Weezer’s cover of “Velouria”; heavy, melodic, and dynamic. They have never come close to that again.
TRN: I love that cover.
MR: Final question, and one that you may not have much of an opinion on yet. Do you think the inevitable sequel (2010-2020) will be better or worse than this?
TRN: I think better, but only because every other album they’ve put out in the last ten years has come with some level of buzz about it being a “return to form.” Even if that’s partially true, it would be a better experience.
MR: There’s actually one album in that stretch that I think is (probably) better than any of these, and none that I immediately remember as being anywhere near as bad as Raditude.
TRN: Yeah, I’m somewhat looking forward to some of the next batch.
MM: I love both Everything Will Be Alright in the End and the “White Album.” Not to spoil next season, but those are the records that I let Rivers move back in for, before he got drunk, slept with my wife, hit me with a hammer, shot my dog, wrecked my car, and burned down my house with every release since…
MR: Well, we’ve got Season 3 to look forward to then. And we never need to speak of Raditude again.