Weezerology

Well, it’s been a while. But – inspired in part by the fact that the band have a new album due out imminently – I’m finally getting going with this again. So if it’s new to you (and it has been over a year since the last part), this is a project to go through Weezer’s songs, from 1992 to the present, divided by era. I look at each block of songs as a whole rather than picking through every track individually, but it is an attempt to cover basically everything they’ve recorded that’s available to hear, and chart the development of their songwriting as it goes. Click here to refamiliarise yourself with the introduction/rules, here for part one, and here for part two. But we pick up the story in 1998, as the band slowly start to re-form following the failure of 1996’s Pinkerton

7. The Hiatus

1. American Girls. 2. Velouria. 3. Everyone. 4. Trampoline.
1 recorded early 1998 by “Homie”. 2-4 recorded August 1998 by Cuomo/Bell/Welsh/Wilson.

In the Great Weezer Legend, the story of exactly when and how Matt Sharp left the band has never been convincingly, definitively told. All we can state in terms of cold hard facts is firstly that in early 1998 – a little over a year before Sharp’s band The Rentals would release their second album Seven More Minutes – he and Cuomo were still recording together, albeit not as Weezer. And secondly, that in August 1998, Weezer went back into the studio for the first time as Weezer since the Pinkerton pickup sessions the year before, with a brand new bass player: Mikey Welsh.

Let’s deal with Homie first. And yes, I said I wasn’t going to cover side-projects in this series, but this is an exception due to how little original Weezer material from this period has ever made it out to our ears. “American Girls” had been floating around for some months as one of several demos Rivers was working on for a side-project that he’d dubbed Homie and which had played an assortment of live shows, albeit under various names (or sometimes no name at all). How this group came to be asked to record a track for the soundtrack of an otherwise-forgotten Paul Walker movie called Meet the Deedles doesn’t seem to be a matter of record – but it happened nevertheless. Among an assortment of friends and musicians backing up Cuomo on the track was Sharp, but only on backing vocals and some production duties.

It’s notable as the last time the pair would properly record together,1 but otherwise it’s a largely unremarkable track. What it does show is a slightly more upbeat, playful nature that’s in keeping with some of Rivers’ early 2000s work – although if it would fit anywhere, it’s probably in the 2003-era Album Five Demos rather than the couple of albums inbetween.

More indicative of Weezer’s more immediate new sound were the August ’98 sessions with Welsh. The band had convened to record a cover of “Velouria” for a Pixies tribute album – and yes, I’m once again including a type of track I said I wouldn’t (in this case, a cover of someone else’s song) because again, there’s so little material from this era out there. Weezer’s version of the song, of course, isn’t as good as the original – but it’s punchy, and features the heavier guitar sound that would characterise their next album.

The only two other tracks from this recording session to have made it out into the wild came along much later – released on 2010’s Death to False Metal rarities compilation. Listening to “Trampoline” and “Everyone” now, it’s hard to imagine either track conjuring much excitement in a deprived fanbase during the hiatus years of 1998 and 1999. “Trampoline” is notable for an opening riff that’s very reminiscent of a track from a few years later (although whether that’s deliberate or coincidence is open for debate – we’ll return to it when we land on the song in question), and the track as a whole is reasonably catchy; but “Everyone”, a crunching rocker, is instantly forgettable.

Despite the hope among fans that this brief recording session would herald a new Weezer record sooner rather than later, however, the band went on full hiatus – only regrouping for the odd rehearsal and some live shows under the name Goat Punishment in which they largely played Nirvana covers – for the entirety of 1999. Pat and Brian, meanwhile, also took the opportunity to both play live and demo with their side projects The Special Goodness and The Space Twins respectively. I likely won’t be covering either of these in detail on the blog, although they may get a spinoff post at some point; but the Space Twins in particular put out some pretty excellent stuff if you can get hold of it.

8. Summer Songs 2000

1. O Girl. 2. On the Edge. 3. Preacher’s Son. 4. Superstar. 5. The Sister Song. 6. Too Late To Try. 7. Peace and Quiet. 8. My Brain.
Recorded Summer 2000 by Cuomo/Bell/Welsh/Wilson.

Throughout 2000, Weezer began rehearsing and – finally – playing live again, and thrilled fans with an entirely new set of tracks. These songs would come to be known as the “Summer Songs 2000” (or “SS2K”), and while very few of them ever eventually made it to record, there’s an officially-sanctioned batch of ten tracks that were released by the band indirectly through a fan-run site in late 2001. It’s these tracks we’ll look at – but for my list I’m deliberately leaving out four of them as they were later re-used (two as actual album tracks and two in a later batch of studio demos), and adding in two that Rivers left out of the “official” list but which were widely circulated.

So, what are we left with? The SS2K tracks are raw, but they show positive signs of combining the heaver sound of the 1998 demos with a more Weezer-esque sense of melody and some occasionally bizarre lyrics. “The Sister Song” is a particular standout for me, with its spiralling intro and one of the most memorable choruses of that era – as well as the classically-Cuomo, self-loathing lyrical content (“Why am I so hung up on your sister?” he complains). “My Brain” is also a pretty great track, although it arguably sounds better in a Rivers solo demo that was released on one of the Alone compilations.

In truth, though, probably the best of the SS2K songs are the ones that the band persisted with – and so we’ll look at those in more detail when we come to the occasions they were repurposed.

9. The Christmas CD

christmasCD 1. The Christmas Song. 2. Christmas Celebration.
Recorded November 2000 by Cuomo/Bell/Welsh/Wilson. Released December 2000.

In December 2000, Weezer surprised fans by releasing their first collection of new material since Pinkerton – but The Christmas CD wasn’t a conventional release, instead being sent to radio stations and fan club members as something of a “thank you”, and as preparation for the new material that the band were getting ready to drop. The two Christmas-themed songs are drastically different from one-another, although they share a somewhat downbeat tone about the holiday itself: “The Christmas Song” is by far the better track, a melancholy 3/4 time ballad about seasonable heartbreak; while “Christmas Celebration” is fast-paced, punky, and somewhat petulant in its lyrics, declaring that “the pageantry is such a bore”.

10. Green Album Demos

1. Cryin’ and Lonely. 2. New Joint. 3. Burning Sun. 4. I Hear Bells
Recorded November 2000 by Cuomo/Bell/Welsh/Wilson.

Although fandom was largely unaware of them at the time, there were several tracks that went through the demo process for The Green Album without making it to the finished record. Of these, three made it out in their demo form a little while afterwards, with “I Hear Bells” released officially on the iTunes edition of Raditude in 2009. It’s hard to get a sense of the album sounding particularly different if they’d been included – all three fit its tone quite well, in that they’re perfectly listenable without being spectacular. “New Joint” is catchy enough, but plods along a little; “Cryin’ and Lonely”, meanwhile, is somewhat punchier, and it’s a shame it didn’t make it to a full-production recording.

“Burning Sun”, meanwhile, held a somewhat mythic status among fans for several years, as only a short snippet from it had been heard. It features Rivers at his most plaintive and multi-track-vocalled, and as such would seem to fit quite well with his Alone compilations in terms of sound; but structurally it’s very Green Album, and could have happily slotted in either as a B-side or mid-tier album track.

11. The Green Album

greencover1. Don’t Let Go. 2. Photograph. 3. Hash Pipe. 4. Island in the Sun. 5. Crab. 6. Knock-Down Drag-Out. 7. Smile. 8. Simple Pages. 9. Glorious Day. 10. O Girlfriend.
Recorded December 2000-February 2001 by Cuomo/Bell/Welsh/Wilson. Produced by Ric Ocasek. Released May 2001.

Given the positive reaction of many fans to the Summer 2000 songs, it’s perhaps surprising that only one of them ultimately made it onto the band’s next album. Or perhaps it isn’t surprising, because it represents exactly the kind of capricious whim that Rivers would demonstrate towards his own songs throughout the 2000s.

From the moment it was debuted, however, “Hash Pipe” was clearly never going to disappear. It was also, clearly, far and away the obvious choice for a comeback single. Record company Geffen may have been unhappy with the lyrics (and they are batshit mental, apparently inspired by a male transvestite prostitute Rivers had seen in Santa Monica, but some obscure phrasing and the lack of any official lyric sheet means that even now fans debate over the precise wording of certain lines) but the catchy hook (inspired heavily by Henry Mancini’s “Theme From Peter Gunn”, albeit indirectly via a video game Rivers had played called Spy Hunter) and pounding chorus were exactly the sort of thing to fire Weezer back into the public’s imagination. Even if they often had to change the lyrics to “Half Pipe”.2

After recording sessions that ran from December 2000 to February 2001, the band’s third album (self-titled, like the first, and so destined to be called The Green Album due to its cover art) was planned for release in the second quarter of 2001 – but this year marked the first time that tracks from a new record would leak online beforehand, in the burgeoning days of filesharing clients like Napster and Audiogalaxy. Along with “Hash Pipe”, “Don’t Let Go” and “Island in the Sun” made early appearances online in their entirety.3 Of the two, “Island in the Sun” is infinitely more interesting.

The most widely-licensed track in Weezer’s catalogue, and one of their biggest singles, “Island in the Sun” divides fandom – there are many who think it’s overrated, overplayed, and completely at odds with the kind of thing Weezer should have been doing around that time (if ever). But there are also those (this author among them) who think it’s an absolutely gorgeous, laid-back, summery pop song with an utterly lovely chorus. Yes, it was a bit daft of Geffen to keep tacking it on as a bonus track to subsequent releases, but that’s hardly the band’s fault for writing such a great song, is it?

“Don’t Let Go”, which was the label’s preferred choice for a leadoff single, is perhaps more indicative of the album – offering a clean, somewhat straightforward Ric Ocasek-produced guitar-pop sound, with almost entirely meaningless lyrics. The likes of “Knock-Down Drag-Out”, “Smile” and “Crab” all blend in to this somewhat homogeneous feel – none of them are especially bad, but nor do they really jump out. They make The Green Album a perfectly listenable – and, if you’re in the right, summery kind of mood, often highly enjoyable – experience, but none of them have the life-changing feel of pretty much everything on the band’s first two records.

One exception to this – at least in my eyes – is “Simple Pages”. Driving and pounding, the lyrics are as mealy-mouthed as much of the rest of the record, but there’s an urgency and emotion in Rivers’ vocal performance that’s more reminiscent of Pinkerton than anything else the “new” band had yet recorded. It’s also a track where the album’s habit of having guitar solos that simply replay the main verse’s vocal melody (a far cry from the one found on “Tired of Sex” just a few years earlier) actually works, rather than sounding trite. Although that trait doesn’t harm “Photograph” – the album’s purest expression of bubblegum fun and an endlessly replayable piece of power-pop single fodder – too much either.

While there’s plenty to enjoy on The Green Album – and it certainly sounds better in comparison to much of what would follow – that it feels like a regression in the band’s songwriting is undeniable. Maybe it’s just that they wanted to play it safe – and in an era where Rivers was still smarting from Pinkerton‘s commercial failure, it’s no surprise that he’d want to make an album that sounded as little like it as possible. But having got it out of his system, we could only hope that he’d go at least a little bit more experimental or profound for the next record.

12. Green Album B-Sides and Bonus

1. I Do. 2. Teenage Victory Song. 3. Oh Lisa. 4. Always. 5. Sugar Booger. 6. Brightening Day. 7. Starlight.
Recorded December 2000-February 2001 by Cuomo/Bell/Welsh/Wilson.

The majority of the Green B-Sides follow the pattern established by the album itself – so much so that any one of “Teenage Victory Song”, “Sugar Booger”, “Brightening Day”, “Oh Lisa” or “Starlight” could have quite happily fit on the album (although in my book, only “TVS” or at a pinch “Starlight” would really have been worthy of it). The more unusual ones, however, are “I Do” and “Always”.

The former actually did make it onto the record – on UK pressings, at least, where it closes the album.4 Like “Butterfly” on Pinkerton, it’s a sudden change of pace – a stripped-down track featuring vocals by Rivers and Mikey, guitar by Brian, and keyboard/piano by Rivers. It doesn’t really fit that well immediately after the album’s ten somewhat samey tracks, however, so you can see why it’s not “officially” part of the record. It actually worked much better when it was used as an introduction to live shows.

“Always”, meanwhile, is even better – a delightful acoustic track that’s essentially performed by Rivers solo, albeit with some Ocasek-produced strings dropped over the second half. Again, there’s no place for it whatsoever on the album proper – and it owes something of a cheeky debt to “Here Comes The Sun” – but it’s a hugely pleasant listen. It also seems to have more genuine emotion and meaning in it than almost every one of the album’s songs.

The Green Album was released in May 2001, supported by live dates in both the US and UK, and was a reasonable critical and commercial success. It was certified platinum in September of the same year, and earned Weezer a new listenership among early 2000s alternative rock fans without hugely alienating the existing fanbase. But even as they were promoting the release, the band were already looking forwards; and the tracks that would become their next album were starting to form in their minds – and their rehearsal sessions.

Weezerology continues with Part Four, For The Masses.

1 Well, apart from Rivers guesting on the Seven More Minutes track “My Head is in the Sun”, but that album was recorded over such a long period it’s hard to know exactly when the pair were together for that one.

2 Such as when they appeared on Top of the Pops for what I think was the only ever time.

3 Responding to the crowd’s cheering at the mention of “Hash Pipe”‘s title at one live performance – simulcast online in early 2001 – Rivers quipped “What, have you guys heard these songs before, or something?”

4 The other notable point about the UK edition of the album was that it was actually officially called “The Green Album”, unlike US pressings that called it “Weezer”.

One response to “Weezerology Part Three: Bein’ Green”

  1. Mike D says:

    By soon I hope you don’t mean another year!

    My opinions of the first three studio albums largely mirror those I hold for the original Star Wars trilogy – Blue Album is ANH, Pinkerton is TESB, Green Album is ROTJ. Similarly my opinions of the last three studio albums largely mirror those I hold for the prequel Star Wars trilogy.

    The saddest thing is that every album since Maladroit has made me seriously question the years of reverence and love I have held towards the originals, Weezer and Rivers. Maladroit is of course not without faults but I’ve always had a much warmer opinion towards it than most. My attitude towards Make Believe has also mellowed over the years, from denier to sympathiser – dare I say it’s a guilty pleasure, albeit only one that occurred due to what would follow.

    As things have descended increasingly into self-parody, jabs at the industry and the sometimes outright cringe-worthy I have conditioned myself into believing that Rivers has been trolling us all this time. I get that they have to pay their bills. I get that he doesn’t owe us anything. That he’s not bound by obligation to write songs that sound a certain way or follow certain topics. But I can’t let myself believe that they have been satisfied with what they have put out over the last decade.

    Plenty of great bands and artists have had weak periods and put out bad records but I’m struggling to think of any that have done so with such a run, so cruelly offering an occasional glimmer of hope here or there as someone (if not the band) laughs all the way to the bank.

    Everything Will Be Alright in the End already feels too knowing, setting us up for an apology and return to form delivered as self-pastiche.

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